Various women groups and members of the National Association of Nigerian Students vehemently kicked against moves by the Academic Staff Union of Universities to shut down the anti-sexual harassment bill at a public hearing organised by the Senate on Monday.
The Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters coordinated the session which was aimed at giving stakeholders an opportunity to make their input into the proposed legislation before its eventual approval by both chambers of the National Assembly.
Representatives of the Women Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative, Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre, International Federation of Women Lawyers, female lawmakers and students union, among others, spoke passionately in support of the bill.
They, however, urged the Senate panel, led by the chairman, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, to consider the interest of the stakeholders in passing the bill, sponsored by the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege.
The Director General, National Centre for Women Development, Abuja, Mrs Mary Ekpere-Eta, sought the extension of the law to also cover pupils and teachers in both primary and secondary schools across the country.
There was, however, a mild drama when the leadership of the ASUU, led by its National President, Biodun Ogunyemi, kicked against the approval of the proposed bill.
Ogunyemi’s presentation was intermittently punctured by jeers from the crowd made up of mostly women groups and students, when he said ASUU did not support sexual harassment but that it did not believe that a law should be enacted to tackle it.
He said, “Every university has structures through which disciplinary procedures are handled.
“If we follow the procedure that we have in place at the universities and we link with our existing laws, we can address the same problem without necessarily coming up with a law.”
The representative of NANS, Mr Peter Essien, said a committee set up by the student body had so far compiled over 2,000 sexual harassment cases across the various Nigerian universities, which had yet to be sufficiently addressed.
A sexual harassment victim, Monica Osage, whose case led to the imprisonment of an Obafemi Awolowo University lecturer, Prof. Richard Akindele, lamented that the OAU authorities failed to release her certificate because a lecturer was jailed after she reported the case.