The Gender Mobile Initiative (GMI) has called upon President Bola Tinubu to assent to the Sexual Harassment Prohibition in Tertiary Education Institutions Bill, which is currently awaiting his approval. Speaking at a press conference in Abuja as part of the ’16 Days of Activism’ campaign, the Lead Director of GMI, Omowumi Ogunrotimi, emphasised the urgent need for a legal framework to address the critical issue of sexual harassment in Nigerian tertiary institutions.
Ms. Ogunrotimi highlighted that sexual harassment has become a rampant problem in Nigerian universities, necessitating a comprehensive legal framework to tackle the issue effectively. With over 350 institutions of higher learning in the country, addressing the problem on an individual basis would be a lengthy process. The proposed bill, introduced in 2019, seeks to prevent, prohibit, and redress sexual harassment in tertiary educational institutions, with offenders facing up to 14 years of imprisonment.
While the bill was opposed by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), it passed through both houses of the National Assembly in June and was subsequently transmitted to the president for assent. However, President Tinubu has yet to sign the bill into law. The GMI emphasised the recent protest against the Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Calabar as evidence of the urgent need to address sexual harassment and protect the rights of students.
Ms. Ogunrotimi acknowledged various initiatives already in place to combat sexual harassment, including a sexual harassment prohibition policy co-designed by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), the GMI, and higher education institutions. However, she stressed the need for a comprehensive legal framework to provide statutory backing and criminalise sexual harassment in higher education institutions.
The GMI believes that passing the Sexual Harassment bill into law is the most promising solution. The legislation includes clear definitions of offences, stringent penalties for perpetrators, and mechanisms for prevention and redress. Ms. Ogunrotimi emphasised that the president’s action would send a powerful message about the nation’s values and commitment to creating an environment where all students, particularly female students, can thrive.
The GMI calls on President Tinubu to swiftly assent to the bill, highlighting that statutory backing is not just a formality but a fundamental requirement to enforce the provisions and bring about tangible change in the fight against sexual harassment in Nigerian tertiary institutions.