While the tentacles of the #MeToo movement were wrapping around majority of its victims in the U.S, cases involving sexual harassment, in addition to being severly unreported and seen as normal behaviour of men, rarely gets any real consequences in Nigeria.
So it came a pleasant news on Wednesday 20 June, when the Governing Council of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, dismissed Prof. Richard Akindele—who also happens to be a Reverend of an Anglican Communion—for perpetuating a sex-for-marks scandal involving Monica Osagie, a student in the Masters of Business programme.
Osagie had, on 9 April, released a recorded telephone conversation, which went viral on the 29th of the same month, in which the lecturer identified as Akindele demanded five rounds of sex to enhance her marks to a passing grade. Prof. Eyitope Ogunbodede, the Vice Chancellor of OAU, announced Akindele’s dismissal in a statement on Wednesday, 20 June in Ile-Ife.
“The Council, at its meeting of today, Wednesday, 20th of June, 2018, having considered the recommendation of Senate, as well as the report of the Joint Committee of Council and Senate, decided that Professor Richard I. Akindele should be dismissed from the services of the university for gross misconduct.”
The decision by OAU to take action after a long period of silence validates a movement which fights against the ubiquity of sexual assault. Harassment often occurs to the point where it can be common knowledge in school, homes and religious institutions, and yet nothing is often done to investigate the truth of these occurrences, often passed around as rumours, allowing perpetrators invincibility in plain sight. Even more so when these individuals have the cloak of authority, preventing scrutiny from those who could call them out for their actions.
According to Sahara reporters, a Facebook user shared how Akindele solicited sex from her friend 20 years ago. Her post read: “Good Morning. I didn’t want to react to the piece you posted on the OAU case because of notifications after I do so. I left Ife twenty years ago and I remember one of my part two accounting friends telling us to pray for her because one of her lecturers insisted on sleeping with her before she can pass his course. She did not give in and we prayed over it. The man changed his mind and said he was only testing her. I sent this latest clip to her to tell her how things have not changed over twenty years later in the same department. She currently lives in Ireland. She responded to my message that this professor in the news was the same lecturer then who was pestering her. I have had a few chats with people who finished from that department and they said everyone knows about him.”
For a long time, students and victims of these institutions have had to live with things as they are because of the unbelief of their parents, teachers or guardians, the shifting of the blame to the victim, and the lack of faith in a justice system which fails to prioritise the safety of girls and women.
As at 2017, out of 2,250 reported rape cases, there were less than 20 convictions in Lagos state alone. A retrospective study of sexual assault victims managed at a large clinic in south west Nigeria recorded sexual assault among the males (6.1%), although female victims were in the majority (93.9%). Sexual assault was found to be higher in person’s less than 20 years and the unmarried.
Though slowly catching on, the fact that this issue is making its way to the forefront of public discourse with added repercussions will mean that societal behavior and attitudes on this issue will probably change in a fundamental way. The actions of those who abuse authority to the detriment of those more vulnerable will be put under the microscope while shattering walls of preconceived notions. Such changes and many more like them will be the direct result of the conversations that citizens of these countries are having now about sexual harassment, and the repercussions that follow.
The university has issued assurances that it has a legal duty to prevent sexual and gender-based harassment within the institution and ensure that both men and women are protected from this menace; and thereby provide conducive environment for teaching and learning.
“OAU has zero tolerance for sexual harassment and as a renowned university will do everything humanly possible to maintain the rules and regulations of the university,’’ a statement said.
While the university seems committed to its stance, there should be no hesitation to prosecute the offender in a court of competent jurisdiction in order to face the full wrath of the law.