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Facts And Fallacies Of Sexual Harassment In Nigerian Universities And The Dangers Of Panicky Reactions By VCs

By

Nwankwo T. Nwaezeigwe

‘Why An Nze Na Ozo Cannot Be Freely Brought To Trial In His Own Obi’

Once upon a time, in a remote village in Southeast region of Nigeria, an errant mob gathered in front of the imposing earth-walled compound of a notable Ozo man called Nze Obibundo chanting: “Yes we have finally caught him. We saw him naked with the woman inside his Obi. We mean Mgbeke the wife of Okonicha.” Before the riotous crowd could degenerate to explosive point, the elders of the village arrived to contain the situation. After all competitive shouts of “adultery”, “taboo”, and “sleeping with another man’s wife”, the elders asked the crowd one question: “Where is the Mgbeke in question now?” The crowd shouted: “She is inside Nze  Obibundo’s Obi.” The elders then responded by calmly telling the crowd that under the customs of their land whatsoever enters into the inner chamber of the Obi of an Nze man has become the property of the Obi; Mgbeke is no longer the wife of Okonicha. She is now Nze Obibundo’s wife.” And with that verdict they commanded the crowd to disperse.

I have watched with bemused amusement the on-going cacophony of stories and scenes of alleged sexual harassments by university lecturers against their female students from Lagos to Akwa Ibom, from Akwabom to Rivers, and recently from Rivers to Nsukka, and it appears to me that the Nigerian university administrations are helplessly lost in the torrential cacophony of social media assault on the revered academic profession by those female students and their hirelings who believe they can pass through the university academic system cheaply by blackmailing and setting-up of their lecturers whenever they fail to induce into their cheap and obnoxious biddings for cheap grades.

In the first instance, it is not just an abuse of university rule and regulations but an abdication of university autonomy for any Vice Chancellor to hurriedly transfer any incident of sexual harassment against an academic staff to the Police or court of law without first applying the necessary internal disciplinary mechanisms; as in the recent case of Prof Mfonobong Udoudom of University of Nigeria, Nsukka. The University authorities by allowing themselves to be subconsciously swayed into taking actions that are clearly detrimental to university autonomy by errant mobocracy are by no means leaving their academic staff vulnerable to the diktats of dubious students and members of the public who are majorly ignorant of the internal mechanisms of lecturer-student relationship within the university.

Every professional body has internal protective mechanisms against unwarranted assaults by external hirelings. There appears to be no such protective mechanisms for university lecturers who are vulnerable specie to both those they are employed to groom and members of the public who often see the lecturer-student relationship from the prejudicial and myopic angle of sexual harassment of the students by their lecturers.

Indeed, if this situation is not arrested in time it might degenerate into a situation where an indolent female student will boldly threaten her male lecturer that she would deal with him if he fails to pass in an examination her, and go ahead to fabricate frivolous allegations of sexual harassment against him, in which such an unfortunate lecturer would not have the objective ears of the already fixated members of the public, like a suspected thief encircled by irate mob. I could remember how my Primary School classmate a young girl, threatened to remove me as Class Monitor for punishing her for disturbing in the class, and in less than one week I was removed by the class teacher without any reason adduced.

Apprehending a lecturer naked or half-naked with a female student in his office for sexual intentions, as in the case of Prof Mfonobong Udoudom of University of Nigeria Nsukka, is not enough to declare him automatically guilty of sexual harassment. The concept of sexual harassment as defined within the context of the university system is not and can never be a one-way cacophony of guilt allotment to the man. It is an act of moral cacophony generated by the two opposing dialectics of academic performance and combustible social setting of the university environment; in which a sizeable portion of the female students are self-sponsored, married women see their new status outside their matrimonial homes as a new setting for freedom from their husbands, and young women exercise unrestricted freedom of licentiousness.

Under the setting of such conflicting dialectics, it becomes injurious to one party to simply apply the principle of prima facie evidence, which is a nominal form of Machiavellian principle, to determine who is guilty of sexual harassment in the University. Only the processes leading to such encounter can objectively determine if such act is truly a case of sexual harassment. These processes can only be properly applied through the internal disciplinary mechanisms of the university system which are at home with the intrinsic dynamics of lecturer-student relationship in the university system and not the Police or law courts.

The reasons are obvious by precedents if not publicly stated. First, in all the cases of sexual harassment being brought against university lecturers, no one talks about the academic standards of the said female victims. The point which many people have failed to note is that no average or above average female student by intelligence quotient has ever complained of sexual harassment in the Universities. Nearly, if not all the said victims of the so called sexual harassment in Nigerian universities are either below average students or outright dunces. These are people who make themselves vulnerable to such claims of sexual harassments because of their quest for cheap grades.

The university system particularly University of Nigeria, Nsukka have established mechanism of checks and balances between the lecturers and students in respect of victimization of any sort. If any student feels he or she has any reason to suspect victimization by his or her lecturer for any reason, such student has the right to apply for a remark of his or her examination papers. In other words, if a lecturer victimizes a female student for the reason of not acquiescing to his demand for sex, such student can apply for a remark of her examination paper. But the truism is that any female student that accuses a lecturer of sexual harassment is a dunce and cannot afford to defend what she writes in her examinations.

There is no law in the university that bars a lecturer from any form of amorous relationship, either sexual or otherwise with his female student. Some lecturers have ended up marrying their students.

If a lecturer demands sex from any of his female students, such student has the right to refuse and damn the consequences if she is confident of her academic performance. But when a lecturer demands sex from a female student for any reason whatsoever and the student agrees and willingly enters his office or hotel for that purpose, only to set him up in the name of sexual harassment, as in the case of Prof Mfonobong Udoudom, such an act is tantamount to criminality on the part of the student and all those connected with the act.

I remember catching one of my female students cheating heavily during one of my examinations. What I simply did was to ask before the entire students: Did I not teach you very well to understand what to write in this exam? She said “sir I am very sorry” and immediately burst into tears. I said okay don’t worry. I tore her answer sheets and gave her fresh sheets to continue the examination. After the examination, she came to my office in the company of her female friend with money and a bottle of wine to thank me, promising to personally come back to thank properly. I told there was no need for a second coming and that I needed was for her avoid further disgrace for herself. I collected the wine but rejected the money. The question is if sex was my concern, would such a student have rejected my advances?

It might sound weird to some people that I said I rejected the money, including the sex which was to come by her proposed second coming. The fact is that my former students can vouch for me that I never demanded money or sex from them under any pretense, rather I gave out my money whenever any of them in need approached me. I was the only lecturer to have freely invited students and staff of the Department of History and International Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka for lunch in my house. I gave similar treat to the staff of the Institute of African Studies, hosted at the Institute. So it is wrong for anybody to think of lecturer-student relationship only in terms exploitation, either sexual or monetary on the part of lecturers.

Second, most people fail to even acknowledge that such dunces if unable to have their vile ways for cheap grades from their lecturers often turn themselves into instruments of heinous blackmail against their lecturers, mainly through setting them up or generating false claims of sexual harassment. Listening to the video clip of Prof Mfonobong Udoudom’s sad episode, one can easily adduce some elements of set-up orchestrated by those who purported to have caught him in his office; as one of them was heard saying that they had been following him. It simply means that the said woman was used to set-up the poor lecturer; otherwise what right has any student to bump into a lecturer’s office to find out what he is doing inside. This set-up hypothesis can equally be proved by the claim of his accusers that the said victim is a married woman.

It is instructive to state that the question of a woman being married and thus cannot be approached by any man is not important under the present argument because there is no civil or criminal law that stands against any form of association with a married woman or married man; rather it is a mainly a moral question.

The fact which cannot equally be denied is that most married students in the university often see their new status as a state of freedom from the anti-social drudgery of their matrimonial homes. So the shouting match that she is a married woman does not make any exclusive moral or legal sense in this regard.

She found herself in Prof Mfonobong Udoudom’s office for the purpose of which she willingly entered the office. She was never forced into the office by Prof Mfonobong Udoudom neither did she report any case of rape. What transpired was simply a case of consensual sexual proposal borne out of mutual agreement, which turned out to be a despicable set-up. It will therefore be an act of injustice not just to poor Prof Mfonobong Udoudom, but the entire male lecturers of the university, if the University of Nigeria authority fails to properly investigate the background to such hullabaloo and consequently bring the said victim and her cohorts to justice.

A timely alert to the security officers or the Dean of the School of Studies was all Prof Mfonobong Udoudom’s accusers needed to have done and not for student-miscreants to boldly break into the office of a lecturer and drag him out half-naked as if he committed murder. To me this is unacceptable and must not be treated with kid-gloves by the university administration.

The public cannot decide for the university how best to handle their internal problems. Today it is Prof Mfonobong Udoudom’s episode; tomorrow it might be another person.

My personal experience in this matter of set-up might be instructive. There was the case where I was accused of sexual harassment of an engaged female student by my colleagues in the Department of History and International Studies, University of Nigeria Nsukka, namely Jones Ahazuem, Egodi Uchendu, Uchenna Anyanwu, and Anslem Apeh, who jointly reported the case to the then Head of the Department Paul Obi-Ani, who incidentally is the current Dean of Faculty of Arts, to take immediate action. When the Head of Department invited me to present the allegation, I simply told him to immediately set up a Departmental Panel to investigate the allegation, or in the alternative inform the Dean of the Faculty to do the same.

Seeing how furious I was, he pleaded with me to sit down and brief him what happened. He knew I was popular among not just all the female students in the Department but the males as well. This was a girl that had visited my house on several occasions with her best friend and classmate whom she wanted me to marry. I just brought out my phone and showed him a text message from the student. Prof Obi-Ani immediately pleaded with me not to make the text message known to her fiancé since it might signal the end of their relationship. I told him how the student had earlier complained to me that a lecturer in the Department reported to the man who was planning to marry her that she was becoming too close to a lecturer in the Department. That was how that set-up fizzled into the thin air. But the interesting irony of the set-up episode is that the same student has remained till date one of my former students still in constant communication with me.

There was also the case where Anslem Apeh invited a female student from his hometown Enugwu-Ezike and attempted to force her into laying false accusation of sexual harassment against me, otherwise he would not allow her to graduate from the Department. The student who is presently happily married with children broke down in tears vowing she would never implicate me for something I never did, because I had been good to her and God will not forgive her. Anslem Apeh was forced to let her go.

There had equally been a number of cases where students were sent to offer me sex in my office in order to leak my examination questions to them. That was however an insurmountable task for them, because even as a lecturer, I never knew what questions I would set for an examination until about thirty minutes to the examination, when I would draft the questions and take them straight to the Departmental Secretary to type and reproduce in my presence while the students were already sitting in the examination hall.

Indeed it came to a point when no female student was willing to accuse me of sexual harassment that my accusers decided to victimize the entire final students in two major degree courses by impressing on the external examiner one Professor Anyanwu from Imo State University to deduct twenty percent scores from all the scores made by the final students in my two courses under the frivolous allegation that I was too lenient in my award of scores. That action subsequently denied most of the students their expected classes of degree.

Thirdly, most people also tend to forget the other side of sexual harassment of the male lecturers by their female students. I had one funny experience during my short stint in Humanities Department of the School of General Studies, when immediately after examinations and the students had begun to vacate the University, three of the most beautiful girls in one of my classes came into my office and said, “Sir, we want ‘A’ in your course.” I said how? They said anyhow, and that they had decided to stay with me in my house for the next two days before going home. I laughed, and told them that they all knew they would pass my course with my marking scheme, especially if they met the seventy percent attendance to lectures. They said they knew but that they all wanted to have “A.” I said okay, but that would not warrant them to stay with me, and that all I would promise them was that if any of them failed to make “A” but “B” I would upgrade her to “A”, and anyone that makes “C” I would upgrade to “B”, and they all agreed and left my office.

Coincidentally, all the three girls made “A” and believing that it was the result of my promise, they all bought me a lot of gifts on their resumption.

Furthermore, situations where a female student enters a lecturer’s office adorned with lap-exposing mini-dress complete with a menacing pointed or bouncing braless breast, is often too much a case of sexual harassment many people fail to put into consideration when accusing lecturers of sexual harassment. It takes only the Grace of God and strong moral discipline for any mortal man under such circumstances to play biblical Joseph. As the Igbo often say, “While chasing the goat away from eating the yam shootings, the farmer should as well advise the yam that produces the juicy shootings to be wary of how it exposes them to the reach of the goats. This is one of the ironies of lecturer-female student relationship in out universities.

But beyond, these nonsensical allegations of sexual harassments against male lecturers, there is no law barring sexual relationship between a female student and her lecturer, just as there is no law forbidding students from mutual sexual relationships. Many lecturers are married to their once female students or student colleagues. Thus it is not like it is taboo for a lecturer to have affair with his female student.

This explains why this emerging trend of sexual harassment in our universities should not be taken from its face value but must always be thoroughly investigated from the exceptional academic and social backgrounds of the university system.

Moreover, the university authorities should not allow themselves to become vulnerable instruments of public diktat to the detriment of their autonomy by deviating from their established social control mechanisms. How can a university claim to exercise its authority over both the staff and students when a case of sexual harassment against a Professor by a student is before a high court for trial, or the Police for investigation? This situation simply encourages a state of weird psychosomatic distrust between the lecturers and their female students. And if the female students and their public hirelings think they are on the victory lane today, the lane might change tomorrow.

You cannot freely bring an Nze na Ozo man to trial in his Obi. The lecturer is an Nze na Ozo man and the University his Obi. Let those who have ears hear it now.

NWANKWO T. NWAEZEIGWE, PHD, DD, IS ODOGWU OF IBUSA, AND PRESIDENT OF THE INTERNATIONAL COALITION AGAINST CHRISTIAN GENOCIDE IN NIGERIA (ICAC-GEN)

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