The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) yesterday strongly opposed the Sexual harassment Bill pending in the Senate.
ASUU insisted that the Bill in all intents and purposes undermined university autonomy.
President of the union, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, spoke at a Public Hearing on the Sexual Harassment Bill, 2016 organised by the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters in Abuja.
Ogunyemi said, “As a global norm, universities and other tertiary institutions are established by law as autonomous bodies and have their own laws regulating their affairs.
“This includes misconduct generally among both staff and students, clearly articulated appropriate redress mechanism.
“Any law or bill which seeks to supplant these laws violates the university autonomy.
“In this particular instance, the bill violates the Federal Government of Nigeria and ASUU agreement of 2009 and as such should be rejected.”
The ASUU President further said that the bill is discriminatory because it is targeted at educators.
He noted that it is unfair to come up with such a bill especially when sexual harassment is a societal problem and not peculiar to tertiary institutions.
Ogunyemi said that the bill is also a violation of Section 42(1) of the 1999 Constitution.
He added that it is embarrassing that the legislative arm could seek to enact a law that violates the constitution.
He noted that besides violating the constitution, the bill failed to take cognizance of various extant legislations that adequately dealt with sexual offences.
The ASUU boss further faulted the bill, saying it failed to provide convincing evidence to show that sexual harassment in tertiary institutions had attained a higher magnitude than other spheres of the society.
He said, “The bill is discriminatory, selective, spiteful, and impulsive and lacks logic and any intellectual base by attacking the character and persons of those in tertiary institutions rather than addressing the issue holistically.
“Furthermore the bill is dangerous and inimical to the institutions as it contains several loose and ambiguous words and terms which could also be used to harass, intimidate, victimize and persecute especially lecturers through false accusation.”
The National University Commission (NUC) on it own supported the passage of the bill in view of its relevance.
Executive Secretary of the Commission, Prof. Julius Okojie, noted while federal and state universities had administrative structures for handling grievances there was nothing wrong in having a legislation to help further.
He said, “University Miscellaneous Provision Act gives them power to formulate policies and by-laws to guide them and most institutions have structures to handle these incidences.
“However, there is nothing wrong if there is a legislation to add to what is on ground. We are only saying that universities are doing something about sexual harassment, which may not be enough.”
Okojie, urged the Senate to increase the scope of the bill to cover primary and secondary schools.
“The bill appears to have duplication of offences already created in our extant laws.
“There should be holistic in approach to accommodate existing regulations in schools.”
Okogie contended that beyond enactment of laws, Code of Conduct should be given to workers in schools, reiterating the need to be morally sound.
He underscored the need for more awareness on the matter as well as the need to have dress codes in schools to prevent any form of harassment.
He said that Senate is empowered to determine what a dress code should be.
He noted that during a research, “we noticed that the issue of harassment is linked to suggestive dressing.”
The Bill, among other things, seeks to offence of sexual harassment and imposes stiffer penalties on perpetrators.
It also criminalises the act of neglect or failure of administrative heads of tertiary institutions to address complaints of sexual harassment within a specified period.
The Bill creates a strict liability offence by removing mutual consent, as a defence.
The prohibition and punishment, is targeted at tertiary institutions of learning where victims of sexual harassment probably feel most unsafe and unprotected.