Oct 28, 2016

Sexual Harassment Law in Nigerian Universities

The Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Educational Institutions Prohibition Bill, 2016; otherwise known as the Sexual Harassment Act is a welcome development to the body of law in Nigeria. The Bill comes to rescue students in Nigerian educational institutions who are victims of sexual harassment from preying lecturers, teachers and educators who use their position to sexually exploit students. 

Many lecturers have failed students for refusing to yield to sexual demands, others who are also uncompromising are made to spend extra semesters in the school. The University administrations have a large portion of the blame as most are seen to be paying lip-service to fighting sexual harassment in their institutions. Students have been known to resort to inviting their parents and guardians to plead with such lecturers in a bid to find personal solutions to the issue.

The Bill defines Sexual harassment to include -
(a)Sexual intercourse between an educator and a student where the student is below the age of 18 years or is an imbecile or of generally low mental capacity or physically challenged. 

(b) any unwelcome sexual attention from an educator who knows or ought reasonably to know that such attention is unwelcome to the student; or

(c) any unwelcome implicit or explicit behaviour, suggestions, messages or remarks of a sexual nature that have effect of offending, intimidating or humiliating the student or a related person in circumstances which a reasonable person having regard to all the circumstances would have anticipated that the student or such related person would be offended, intimidated or humiliated;

(d)any implied or expressed promise of reward by an educator to a student
or related person for complying with a sexually oriented request or
demand; or

(e) any implied or expressed threat of reprisal or actual reprisal from an educator to a student or related person for refusal to comply with a sexually oriented request or demand.

A lecturer is said to have an had sexual intercourse with a student when there is a penetration of a sexual nature of the vagina or anus or mouth of the student by the penis or mouth or finger of the educator or any instrument or toy by the educator and for this purpose, a male student can be sexually harassed by a female educator. 

Section 3 of the Bill recognizes the existence of a relationship of authority, dependency and trust between an educator and a student in an institution, breach of which is unlawful. A student who alleges sexual harassment by an educator may commence and maintain a civil action in Court for breach of this fiduciary duty.

According to Section 4 of the Bill, an educator shall be guilty of committing an offence of sexual harassment against a student if he/she –

(1) has sexual intercourse with a student who is:
  (a)less than 18 years of age; or
  (b)an imbecile or of generally low mental capacity; or
  (c)blind or deaf or otherwise physically challenged.
(2) has sexual intercourse with a student or demands for sex from a student or a prospective student as a condition to study in aninstitution; or Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Educational Institutions Prohibition Bill, 2016 by
 (3) has sexual intercourse with a student or demands for sex from a student or a prospective student as a condition to the giving of a passing grade or the granting of honours and scholarships, or the payment of stipend, allowance or other benefits, privileges or considerations; or
(4)solicits sex from or makes sexual advances towards a student when the sexual solicitation or sexual advances result in an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment for the student; or
(5)directs or induces another person to commit any act of sexual harassment under this Act, or cooperates in the commission of sexual harassment by another person without which it would not have been committed; or
(6)grabs, hugs, rubs or strokes or touches or pinches the breasts or hair or lips or hips or buttocks or any other sensual part of the body of a student; or
(7)displays, gives or sends by hand or courier or electronic or any other means naked or sexually explicit pictures or videos or sex related objects to a student; or
(8)whistles or winks at a student or screams or exclaims or jokes or
makes sexually complimentary or uncomplimentary remarks about  
student’s physique.
In reporting the offence, Section 7 of the Bill states that a complaint for the offence of sexual harassment may be made by a student or by any other person to the Nigerian Police or to the Attorney- General who shall take necessary measures to commence criminal proceedings against the educator. 

Furthermore, as seen in Section 8, any person who commits any of the acts specified above is guilty of an offence and shall, on conviction, be sentenced to imprisonment of up to 5 years but not less than 2 years and there shall be no option of a fine.

An educational institution can however still take action against such educator or lecturer as nothing shall preclude an institution from proceeding via the internal administrative discipline of staffs in related circumstances, provided that:

(a)Where criminal proceedings under this Act have been commenced and pending in a Court in respect of a complaint of sexual harassment, no disciplinary body in an institution shall have the power to commence or to continue disciplinary proceedings in respect of acts to which this Act relates.

(b)Where internal disciplinary proceedings have been concluded and appropriate sanctions imposed, such administrative or disciplinary sanctions shall not be a bar to prosecution in a court under this Act for acts of sexual harassment.

(c)Where internal administrative or disciplinary sanctions have been imposed before commencement of criminal proceedings, a court, in passing sentence, shall have regard to the sanctions already imposed on the educator.

An educator in the institution in question or in another institution who victimizes a student in respect of any complaint under this Act shall be liable to the same criminal sanctions, disciplinary punishment or damages as the educator whom the student originally complained against.

One shortfall of the Bill is its restriction to only tertiary institutions, such as public or private tertiary or post-secondary educational institutions in Nigeria, such as universities, polytechnics and colleges of education. Thereby, disregarding students in secondary school institutions and even working environments.

Adedunmade Onibokun, Esq. 

Adedunmade is the Principal Partner of Adedunmade Onibokun & Co., a corporate commercial law firm located in Lagos, Nigeria. He also publishes the Legalnaija blog, an online platform dedicated to educating Nigerians on their legal rights and obligations. He can be reached via dunmadeo@yahoo.com