The sex-for-grades scandal that has recently hit many universities in Nigeria and Ghana is about university dons asking their students to have sex with them for marks. This has been a part of what can be defined as “protocol” in many Nigerian universities. It’s been there for as long as when the first university was built in the country decades ago. Today, the society has taken on Nigerian university lecturers, looked them derisively in the face and blamed and castigated them. But that same society also seems to be turning a blind eye to the fact that this epidemic that is the general topic today equally invaded Nigerian secondary and even primary schools.
In my home town back in Nigeria last year, a teacher was simply transferred to another school after he impregnated a Year 10 girl in his school, an Anglican secondary school. The girl had to leave school to go deliver and nurse her child while the man was posted out to another school where he would probably impregnate another teenager since the authorities didn’t seem to recognize that an offence had been committed. The randy teacher’s wife was said to be a lecturer at the Federal University of Education in my home state. And I wondered how the poor woman would have reacted on learning that her husband had descended so low.
A lecturer and former sub-dean in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Lagos was caught on camera sexually harassing a BBC undercover reporter who had posed as a 17 year-old girl looking for admission into the institution. The university suspended the randy lecturer indefinitely. And a professor of Political Science and another lecturer at the College of Education in the University of Ghana were captured in a 53-minute video documentary released by the BBC Africa Eye where they allegedly made sexual advances at female students.
Where do we start from, and where do we end?
When Oby Ezekwesili was the minister of education by 2006, she had opportunity to sit in audience with a set of about 1,000 students. She had hoped that they would raise issues about their welfare, about better equipment, about infrastructural decay in their schools. But instead, each succeeding girl spoke about how she had continued to be harassed by her teacher to have sex for grades with him. As the education minister, Ezekwesili knew she had to do something about the dirty situation. But then she was called away to work in the World Bank where she had served earlier and had become literally indispensible.
In 2010 after a student was gang-raped at the prestigious Obafemi Awolowo University, the authorities initiated what they called WARSHE, an acronym for War Against Rape, Sexual Harassment and Exploitation. It was an initiative that meant well for female students who faced the ordeal. But what did they achieve? Some of the girls interviewed by journalists said it was a tough battle they knew they would not win. They sometimes realized that they had no real options than to give in.
And so, for several years, sexual harassment went on, not only in Nigerian universities but also in the secondary and even primary schools. Today, the scandal has dominated headlines in several media houses across the globe, especially after British Broadcasting Corporation, BBC, sent undercover journalists to some prominent universities to burst the culture.
Writing in the 26 July 2018 edition of Pulse magazine, Bayo Wahab noted that the culture of sexual harassment in Nigerian tertiary institutions had been allowed to go unchallenged to the extent that randy lecturers boldly made sexual demands from their students in exchange for marks. He argued that part of why the culture had continued to thrive was because inadequate punishment, and in most cases no punishment, had always been meted out to identified culprits, as in the case of the teacher in my town.
Of course the case of Professor Richard Akindele who was pointed out by his student at Obafemi Awolowo University is still fresh in the memory of most Nigerians. Akindele was jailed for six years, two years on each of three-count charges that were to run concurrently. One would wonder if that punishment can be considered as inadequate after the man lost his job and was not likely to get another similar job following his jail term; he had lost the confidence of his family and friends, lost his name and fame and reduced his integrity in public esteem. If you ask me, I think the punishment should have sent a direct message to other lecturers who might have been in the habit of asking to sleep with their students. Unfortunately that didn’t seem to be the situation as more recently, similar cases erupted in the University of Lagos.
The main reason this culture has become seemingly intractable in Nigeria’s institutions of higher learning is that there appears to be a follow-up culture of silence surrounding the affairs. No one seems to be ready to be involved in blowing the whistle against a fellow lecturer or a fellow student. No one seems to want to look for someone else’s trouble. Nobody wants to drink panadol over someone else’s headache. Second is that these lecturers have a certain degree of autonomy in their departments and the impression has been created that they are the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end there is, as far as their students are concerned. Third is that the students are said to sometimes come to see their teachers in very sexy dresses – a situation that tends to inflame the teachers’ passion and desire to eat the forbidden fruit. After all, they are human beings first, before any other thing. There is also a possibility that once a lecturer has been identified as making amorous advances to his female students, there is a gang-up of students and the general public to crucify him. In the confusion, some of the female students seize the opportunity to seek attention by being the most outspoken of an incident they may have silently endured when it happened to them. But the big issue is whether it is morally right for a teacher to sleep with his student in the first place, grades or no grades.
The fact that a student dressed in a sexy manner does not in any way diminish the responsibility of the lecturer over his student. He can as well tell the student to go change her dress before he can attend to her. If she refuses, the teacher can take a stand on not seeing her until she obeys him. That is called responsibility. Most of the lecturers are married and have families. They should worry about that because their attitude will definitely influence the values their own children place on relationships. They should worry about how these relationships are likely to affect their wives as well. Most wives will expectedly not be usually comfortable knowing that they are sharing their husbands with other younger girls who in some cases might be the age-mate of their own children.
Most importantly is the more vexatious fact that teachers sleeping with their students to pass them in exams in which they may not have excelled definitely lowers the standard of education in the country. And that is where government should be seriously concerned. Government should worry that a good number of the so-called graduates of Nigerian universities cannot speak good English today or even express themselves understandably due to the “magnanimity” of their teachers. The quality of education is always compromised when marks are given to students in exchange for sex. This is exactly where the federal ministry of education must come in and get the National Assembly to pass a more proactive law on sex-for-grades relationship between teachers and students in Nigerian schools, colleges and universities so that they have something meaningful to show the world at this stage. It’s like the CEO of a company having sex with his secretary or another member of staff. That relationship is bound to affect the quality of the company’s production and its capacity to deliver because standards have been compromised.
If we reflect back a few years ago, we will remember that at 49, American President Bill Clinton faced a similar scandal with his aide, Monica Lewinsky, then only 22. The sexual relationship took place between 1995 and 1997 but only came to light in 1998. In a televised speech to the American people that year, Clinton said he "did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky". But despite his denial, further investigation led to him being charged with perjury which also led to his impeachment by the U.S. House of Representatives in 1998.
The Nigerian legislature may have passed the law that, yes, a lecturer has the moral right to sleep with his student, provided the student is not below the age of 18. It would then be assumed that it was not rape or forced sex but two adults consenting to indulge in a sexual act. Unfortunately, the legislators appeared to have concentrated their concern on the sexual act itself and not how that kind of relationship could possibly affect the quality of education in the country – which is what they should actually be more concerned with. It is encouraging that the respected honourable gentlemen and ladies of the hallowed chambers are now agreed on getting back to the drawing board to revisit the Sexual Harassment Prohibition Bill. They must save Nigeria the problem of compromising the quality of its education. They should not see this scandal only from the periphery. They must seriously consider the harm sex-for-grades in any section of Nigeria’s educational institutions could cause the country in terms of lowering standards. For teachers to compromise the educational standard of Nigerian schools is preposterous and it is the real danger in the sex-for-grades saga.
Chief Sir Emeka Asinugo is the author of ‘The Presidential Years: From Dr. Jonathan to Gen. Buhari’ and Publisher of Imo State Business Link Magazine (Website: imostateblm.com)