The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has expressed its displeasure over the Sexual Harassment Bill, 2016 currently under consideration in the Senate, arguing that it undermines university autonomy.
President of the union, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, made this known on Monday at a Public Hearing on the bill, organised by the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, in Abuja.
“As a global norm, universities and other tertiary institutions are established by law as autonomous bodies and have their own laws regulating their affairs. This includes misconduct generally among both staff and students, clearly articulated appropriate redress mechanism.
Any law or bill which seeks to supplant these laws violates the university autonomy. In this particular instance, the bill violates the Federal Government of Nigeria and ASUU agreement of 2009 and as such should be rejected,’’ he said.
The University Don further decried the agenda of the bill alleging that it was discriminatory because it was targeted at educators. He said it was unfair to come up with such a bill, stressing that sexual harassment is a societal problem and not peculiar to tertiary institutions.
According to him, the bill is also a violation of Section 42(1) of the 1999 Constitution, adding that it was embarrassing that the legislative arm could seek to make such law that violated the constitution. Prof. Ogunyemi also pointed out that besides violating the constitution, the bill failed to take cognizance of various extant legislations that adequately dealt with sexual offences.
He further faulted the bill, saying it failed to provide convincing evidence to show that sexual harassment in tertiary institutions had attained a higher magnitude than other spheres of the society.
“The bill is discriminatory, selective, spiteful, and impulsive and lacks logic and any intellectual base by attacking the character and persons of those in tertiary institutions rather than addressing the issue holistically. Furthermore the bill is dangerous and inimical to the institutions as it contains several lose and ambiguous words and terms which could also be used to harass, intimidate, victimize and persecute especially lecturers through false accusation.”
On the contrary, the National Universities Commission (NUC) supported the passage of the bill in view of its relevance.
The Executive Secretary of the Commission, Prof. Julius Okojie , said while federal and state universities had administrative structures for handling grievances there was nothing wrong in having a legislation to help with that.
“University Miscellaneous Provision Act gives them power to formulate policies and by-laws to guide them and most institutions have structures to handle these incidences. However, there is nothing wrong if there is a legislation to add to what is on ground. We are only saying that universities are doing something about sexual harassment, which may not be enough,’’ Prof. Okojie added.
Prof. Okojie also called on the senate to increase the scope of the bill to cover primary and secondary schools. The bill appears to have duplication of offences already created in our extant laws. It should be holistic in approach to accommodate existing regulations in schools.
He advised that beyond enactment of laws, Code of Conduct should be given to workers in schools, reiterating the need to be morally sound. He further called for more awareness on the matter as well as the need to have dress codes in schools to prevent any form of harassment.
According to him, “Senate is empowered to determine what a dress code should be. During a research, we noticed that the issue of harassment is linked to suggestive dressing.”