…Passage Of Bill To Guarantee Safety Of Tertiary Institutions’ Students – Lawan

The Senate on Tuesday passed a bill for an Act to Prevent, Prohibit and Redress Sexual Harassment of Students in Tertiary Educational Institutions.

President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, in a statement signed by his Special Assistant, Press, Ezrel Tabiowo, said that the passage of the sexual harassment bill, sponsored by the Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege, APC-Delta Central, by the Senate will ensure the safety of students of tertiary institutions in the country.

The passage of the bill followed the consideration of the report of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters.

Lawan said, “This is a very important and landmark legislation that this Ninth Senate has passed. We have to protect our daughters from predators.

“In the process, we could see clearly that we wanted fair means of determining what offence somebody is accused of, so it is a balanced legislation.

“We want our tertiary institutions to be a very safe environment for everyone, and this is a legislation that will ensure that wish.”

Earlier, the Chairman of the Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, APC – Ekiti Central, in his presentation said the piece of legislation “attracted unprecedented support from not only distinguished senators as demonstrated by the 106 senators who co-sponsored the bill, but an overwhelming number of Nigerians, who see the bill as a necessary legislative intervention that will bring sanity and good order to the educator-student relationship in our tertiary institutions.”

Bamidele added, “The bill is not targeted at a particular community – the educators and it does not interfere with the autonomy of the universities – rather, it is intended to reposition and strengthen our tertiary educational institutions to maintain the core values of etiquette and excellence.”

He noted that with the passage of the bill, the piece of legislation will bridge the huge gap and give legal backing to any internal rule by educational institutions to check the incidences of sexual harassment; stating that contrary to ASUU’s claim that there are extant laws that can sufficiently address sexual harassment in tertiary institutions, the Committee found that there are no such laws.

He stressed, “This legislation is meant to address incidence of sexual harassment in tertiary institutions only, as there are other laws that address sexual offences in respect of persons under the age of 18 years such as the Child Rights Act 2003.

“By enacting this bill into law, the Nigerian government would be fulfilling part of its obligations undertaken through the ratification of the United States Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, CEDAW; the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights; the Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa; and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, amongst others.”

However, there were divergent opinions among the lawmakers, during the clause by clause consideration of the bill, on the retention of clause seven in the bill.

The Deputy Senate President, Omo-Agege, who proposed an amendment to clause 7, argued that it was unnecessary for the prosecution to prove the intention of the accused person or the condition under which the act of sexual harassment was carried out.

According to him, the commission of sexual harassment was sufficient to try any educator accused of a sexual offence.

Senate Leader, Yahaya Abdullahi, APC – Kebbi North, and Senator Abdullahi Adamu, APC – Nasarawa West, argued that should the bill make it unnecessary for the prosecutor to prove the intention of any accused person in a sexual harassment trial, the requisite standards obtainable in criminal proceedings would be lowered.

Senator James Manager, PDP – Delta South, averred that going ahead to pass the bill without making it compulsory for prosecutors to prove the intention of the accused person in a sexual harassment case, may expose educators to blackmail.

Manager said, “Laws are being made for the people, and when you make laws with a technical amendment like this, we have to be very careful.

“The rape cases that we have had in recent times, majority of them are outside the universities or the tertiary institutions; and they are all strict liability offences. We have not been able to amend that particular part of the law.

“When you isolate, because some of the rape cases are on children, who are even five or six years, but the burden of proof is still strict liability. You have to prove, that is for a separate law for a separate group of people.

“Mr. President, we have to be very careful, as we are trying to protect the female students, we must be seen to be protecting some innocent lecturers.

“In this day of the internet, a lecturer can easily be set up. We have to be very careful. For us to isolate by removing the intention, that will not be good enough.”

The lawmakers while voting on clause seven, voted for its retention as contained in the bill and recommended by the Committee.

The clause provides for strict liability, which makes it necessary for prosecutors to prove the intention of the accused, as well as the condition under which the act of sexual harassment was carried out.

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