Abuja – The upper chamber of the National Assembly on Tuesday proposed a 14-year jail term, with a minimum of five years, without the option of a fine for any educator who commits sexual offences in tertiary institutions.
The decision of the Senate was sequel to a Bill titled, ‘A Bill for an Act to Prevent, Prohibit and Redress Sexual Harassment of Students in Tertiary Educational Institutions and for other Matters Connected therewith 2019,’ sponsored by the deputy president of the Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege.
The Bill, which has 27 clauses, listed sexual offences to include sexual intercourse with a student or demand for sex from a student or a prospective student or intimidating or creating a hostile or offensive environment for the student by soliciting for sex or making sexual advances.
Other forms of sexual harassment identified in the bill are grabbing, hugging, kissing, rubbing, stroking, touching, pinching the breasts or hair or lips or hips or buttocks or any other sensual part of the body of a student; or sending by hand or courier or electronic or any other means naked or sexually explicit pictures or videos or sex related objects to a student, and whistling or winking at a student or screaming, exclaiming, joking or making sexually complimentary or uncomplimentary remarks about a student’s physique or stalking a student.
Leading debate on the Bill, Omo-Agege said: “The most effective way to deal with the offence of sexual harassment in our tertiary institutions is to penalise the very impropriety of the act, with or without consent.”
He stressed that sexual harassment must be defined in tertiary educational institutions as statutory rape with strict liability for offenders to be prosecuted easily.
Explaining why the Bill was not extended to primary, secondary schools, worship centres, and the work place, the deputy president of the Senate said doing so would not be necessary because the criminal and penal codes already adequately dealt with these categories with sufficient clarity.
He, however, stressed that the Bill prescribed expulsion for students who falsely accuse educators of sexual harassment.
He said: “An educator whose character is maligned is at liberty to sue for defamation under the law of defamation which is well-settled in our jurisprudence and needs no duplication in this bill.”
Insisting that sexual harassment on campuses was a repugnant challenge to the values of the society, Omo-Agege said: “Mr. President, sexual harassment in our campuses is a repugnant challenge to our values as a people.
“For far too long, sexual predators masquerading as educators have plied the corridors of our nation’s higher institutions unchecked. It will continue in the absence of appropriate leadership response.
“Mr. President, by this Bill, this 9th Senate is sending a very strong message that we refuse to put our students at the mercy of any sexual predator in our tertiary institutions.
“Nigerian students, parents, civil society organisations, and our governments want us to strengthen our laws against sexual harassment and mandate the managements of tertiary academic institutions to act with a strong statute.
“They want us to stop the insulting and simplistic leniency of ‘suspending’ or terminating the appointments of sexual predators, without more.”
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari’s Finance Bill, 2019, has also passed second reading.
The Bill, which was sponsored by Senate Leader, Abdullahi Yahaya (APC, Kebbi North), seeks to promote fiscal equity by mitigating instances of regressive taxation; reforming domestic laws to align with global best practices; and introducing tax incentives for investments in infrastructure and capital markets.
The Bill also seeks to support small businesses in line with ongoing ease of doing business reform, and raising revenues for government by various fiscal measures, including a proposal to increase the rate of Value Added Tax from 5 percent to 7.5 percent.
Leading debate on the Bill, the Senate Leader said that the additional revenues to be made by the Federal Government when this bill becomes law will be used to fund health, education and infrastructure programmes.
He said: “It is absolutely essential to intensify the revenue generation efforts of this administration and its commitment to ensuring that the inconvenience associated with any fiscal policy adjustments is moderated such that the poor and the vulnerable, who are most at risk, do not bear the brunt of these reforms.”
Other bills which scaled second reading on the floor are “A Bill for an Act to Provide for the Establishment of the Federal University of Education, Kontagora,” sponsored by Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi (APC, Niger North), and “A Bill for an Act to Establish the Federal College of Education, Illo,” sponsored by Senator Yahaya Abdullahi (APC, Kebbi North).