Mukhtar Yahya Usman
Imagine this for a moment.
Your wife had a miscarriage and died in the process.
While mourning, her phone kept receiving condolence messages from her friends and associates.
As a dutiful husband you read and reply to the messages.
As you browse through her previous chats you become intrigued by a particular conversation with someone named “Sir”.
Reading backward, you gradually come to realize that your wife died of a forced abortion not miscarriage as you thought.
Her reason? She wasn’t carrying your baby. She had been having sex with one of her lecturers who promised to help her pass all her examinations!
Now stop imagining.
This is a true story. It happened at one of the universities based in Kano. The lecturer has been dismissed but the student is dead and her bereaved husband is left to wonder whether her other children are really his offspring.
This is just a single incident of sexual harassment. It may not always lead to death but involves risks of carry-over, spill-over or even expulsion to non-complying students.
“For students to be confident enough to report sexual harassment “the grievance mechanism must be confidential, swift, with minimum errors and must be clearly defined and widely understood”
An investigation by KANO TODAY finds that majority of students being sexually harassed by their lecturers in Kano do not report to authorities, which makes the practice to continue.
According to experts the main reason is that tertiary institutions in Kano do not have clearly-defined, safe, and widely understood complaint mechanisms.
In a recent lecture, Isma’ila Zango, a Professor of Sociology and Director Aminu Kano Centre for Democratic Research and Training (Mambayya House), Bayero University Kano said about 70% of female students in Nigerian tertiary institutions experience a form of sexual harassment.
However, Professor Zango said only about 3% of the victims complain to authorities.
“For students to be confident enough to report sexual harassment “the grievance mechanism must be confidential, swift, with minimum errors and must be clearly defined and widely understood”. He said.
An in-depth analysis of the students’ handbooks issued by Bayero University Kano (BUK), Kano University of Science and Technology Wudil (KUST), Yusuf Maitama Sule University Kano (YUMSUK), as well as Kano State Polytechnic shows that students are not given clear guidance on what to do when they are sexually harassed.
Only YUMSUK has a reference to sexual harassment in its students’ handbook.
In page 115, the university categorized misconduct into three; gross misconduct, major misconduct, and minor misconduct.
Under the category called major misconduct, sexual harassment is mentioned along with “mishandling university property, mutilation and defacing of any library or university book as well as fighting”.
However the penalty for these offences is ‘rustication from the University for Two years’ showing that this statement refers to students who harass other students sexually.
If these institutions are not willing to acknowledge even the possibility of lecturers harassing students in their handbooks are they subtly condoning the practice?
Not so, says the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academics), BUK, Professor Adamu Tanko.
Professor Tanko said even though there are punishments for lecturers who harass students, it is unfair to state that in a handbook written for students.
He said over the years BUK has dismissed or terminated the appointment of several lecturers and non-academic staff who had harassed their students sexually.
“BUK has a strong committee that investigates allegations of sexual harassment.” He said.
“Any student who is sexually intimidated or violated should report to her Head of Department who will channel the case to the committee”. He added.
He however cautioned that the student must have genuine evidence at hand.
Like BUK, authorities in YUMSUK say they also have a committee handling cases of sexual harassment.
Vice Chancellor of the university, Professor Mustapha Ahmad Isa told KANO TODAY that complaining students should first report to their Heads of Department.
Thereafter the matter will be handled at several levels up to the governing council, he said.
He urged female students to confidently report any case of sexual harassment without fear of any possible backlash.
At KUST, Vice Chancellor Professor Shehu Alhaji Musa says the university has never recorded a single case of sexual harassment.
Professor Musa said the university too has a committee that is ready to deal with any case of sexual harassment should such an incident happen.
He however assured KANO TODAY that KUST is reviewing its policies and will insert a clearly-defined guideline on sexual harassment in the students’ handbook.
Deputy Registrar Kano State Polytechnic, Garba Ismaila told KANO TODAY that the institution has regulations preventing personal relations between students and lecturers in order to avoid sexual harassment.
Kano state Polytechnic consists of five schools including School of Technology Kano, School of Management Studies Kano, School of Rural Technology and Entrepreneurship Development Rano, School of Environmental Studies Gwarzo, and School of General Studies Kano.
Mr. Ismaila said the Polytechnic has dismissed three lecturers recently and is ready to punish any staff that is engaged in sexual harassment in the future.
He explained that even though sexual harassment is not mentioned in the students handbook, it is one of the topics discussed during matriculation and orientation exercises in the Polytechnic.
The fear is real
However, Professor Zango, who is also a former Dean of Students Affairs at BUK says students have real reasons to fear reporting cases of sexual harassment.
First, there is a danger that the student may not have enough evidence to prove her allegation. This may allow the lecturer to go free and enable him and his friends to wage a vendetta against the student.
Also, the student’s family may caution her against reporting in order not to spoil her chances of marriage if it becomes public knowledge that she has been assaulted sexually.
And in some cases it is the student who finds herself unable or unwilling to study and pass her examinations that tries to seduce the lecturer into a contract of sex for marks.
Professor Zango therefore urged universities and other tertiary institutions to make laws that will empower students to deal with predatory lecturers.
At the same time the law should have a section where lecturers can report students who attempt to seduce them.