By Olabisi Deji-Folutile
A lecturer at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, (UNN) has been in the news for the wrong reasons since the beginning of the week. Unlike some serious-minded dons in citadels of learning across the world who have been trying to find solutions to world’s diverse challenges, Dr. Chigozie Odum of the Department of Archaeology and Tourism, has reportedly chosen another vocation for himself. He has been allegedly busy with the task of sexually molesting and impregnating his own students. Unconfirmed reports claim he has so far impregnated four of his students although only one has officially lodged a complaint to the university authorities. The UNN has also suspended him indefinitely based on the complaint of the female student. The university has also promised to investigate any further claim of sexual harassment provided there are evidences to back such claims.
Odum’s letter of suspension has been trending in the social media since February 15, 2021 that it was issued. The letter, signed by the UNN’s Deputy Registrar, Mrs. Achiuwa F.C reads: “Following the accusation of sexual harassment made against you by a female student in the Department of Archaeology and Tourism, the Vice-Chancellor has directed that you be suspended from duty immediately. You are hereby so suspended from duty with immediate effect. You should stay away from your duty post until the final determination of the allegation against you. You should hand over any University property in your custody to the Head of Department of Archaeology and Tourism. The Bursar is by a copy of this letter advised to place you on half salary pending final disposal action on your case.”
According to media reports, Odum allegedly put a female student, Onah Chinyere, in a family way after coercing her into a sexual intercourse. Consequently, the girl’s family petitioned the police which led to his arrest by the men of the Crack Squad, Enugu State Police Command. There are insinuations that the university acted because Odum was arrested but the institution has since denied this. Whatever the case is, it is gratifying that the UNN at least called a spade a spade. The letter was explicit enough on the alleged offence and the steps being taken were clearly stated. It is also good to realise that in this new media age, it is getting tougher for any institution to shield any erring staff member. UNN should therefore hasten its investigation and make its findings public. Nigerians need to know the outcome of this probe. The public deserves to know if this man is found guilty or not. If found innocent, Nigerians should also know why he was wrongly accused in the first instance and the punishment for the person that wrongly maligned his character. This is the least the university can do especially now that this matter is already in public domain. This is very important because reports of sexual assaults can take too long to investigate even in sane climes.
Our higher institutions should start sending out a clear message to both lecturers and students that unwanted sexual behaviours will no longer be tolerated. They just have to start doing things differently. The truth is anyone that has gone through sexual harassment in the past can’t help but seek appropriate punishment for predators. The effect can be devastating. It is both psychologically and emotionally traumatising. You need to experience it to know how it feels. I was once there and the torture is still as if it happened yesterday. I suffered grade retaliation in the hands of a randy lecturer that wouldn’t take no for an answer. Imagine a lecturer old enough to be my father putting me through such an emotional stress simply because I refused to be slaughtered on his sexual slab. It’s horrible. Anyway, as God would have it, this lecturer left the University of Lagos for a private university years after I had left school. Since a leopard can hardly change its skin, he wanted to continue his sexual exploits there, the students reported him and he was sacked. He died a miserable man. I had the privilege of editing the story of his passing. For me, it was a pure case of good riddance to bad rubbish!
Until Nigerian institutions begin to make a scapegoat of randy lecturers in their midst, the problem of sexual harassment will persist. Let me also make it clear that sexual harassment goes beyond sexual advancements towards the opposite sex. Some behaviours or words could pass for sexual harassment. For example, a university lecturer at University of New Hampshire once lost a year’s pay for using sex as an analogy in class. He said he used the sex analogy so that students would better understand the subject. But, some students complained; the administration investigated and suspended him without pay for one year. Another English professor was fired for “reliance on sex as a theme and of sexually-explicit vocabulary.” Of course, both lecturers eventually won in court but they were not reinstated by their universities. This is the extent of seriousness attached to sexual harassment in some countries.
We know that there is nothing new under the sun. Sexual harassment is a global phenomenon and an ongoing issue across the globe. As a matter of fact, a report conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) notes that one in five (21%) of students at Australian universities are sexually harassed either on campus, at a university–related event off campus, or from someone associated with the university. In the UK, the BBC said that there were 1436 recorded allegations of sexual harassment against students from 2018-2019, which is an increase of 476 from 2016-2017. Similarly, a study into sexual harassment among universities in Norway shows that 15.2% of women (compared with 4.4% of men) reported unwanted touching, hugging, or kissing since they started their studies just as a 2006 study published by the American Association of University Women concluded that “sexual harassment remains a persistent problem for women on campus.”
Of course, most of the cases listed above are not about lecturers harassing their students. They are cases of students being sexually harassed by one another either on or off campus. A report by the AAUW says 80% of the sexual harassment reported by college women and men was hostile work environment, harassment by other students and former students and not faculty and staff. For example, a student of Columbia University once spent an entire year carrying mattress across campus to protest being raped by a fellow student. So, one can imagine what would have happened if such student was raped or sexually harassed by a lecturer. Elsewhere, higher institutions try as much as much as possible to provide support services for victims of sexual harassment. But here, the lecturers and the staff are the ones harassing students sexually. By the way, why should a lecturer demand sexual services from a female student before doing the job he is paid to do? This is despicable. It is an abuse of trust, power and authority.
Moving forward, Nigerian institutions should encourage anonymous reports of sexual harassment cases. Such cases should be independently investigated to help students that may be too shy to come forward in the open. Investigations should be transparent and everybody should be made to account for their actions. In this particular case of the UNN, the lecturer’s arrest by the police is a welcome development. But beyond that, the university should be joined in a law suit should a case be established against the lecturer. It is the university’s responsibility to keep students safe from all forms of sexual harassment.
As for the randy lecturers in Nigeria’s higher institutions, the earlier they know that the time when teachers see their female students as part of their perks of office is gone forever, the better for them. Any smart lecturer ought to know that this is not the time to play pranks with female students. In this age of new media, everyone has become a reporter, publisher and broadcaster. It is hard to keep such acts as secrets. So, it is in their best interest to keep that thing between their legs in check before it checks them out of their jobs.
Besides, it’s a share display of irresponsibility and an act of timidity for lecturers to be harassing female students that they are old enough to father simply because they think they exercise some powers over them. The same is the case with a boss trying to sexually molest a female worker at work. Such men are simply cowards. Otherwise, they would have been bold enough to approach women outside their sphere of power and influence instead of intimidating and harassing weak and vulnerable ladies around them.
Olabisi Deji-Folutile is the Editor-in-Chief, Franktalknow.com and member, Nigeria Guild of Editors. Email: email@example.com