The Deputy Senate President, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege has come out to assure lecturers and the general public in Nigeria that the Sexual Harassment Bill recently passed by the Senate is not targeted at lecturers in higher institutions of learning but meant to flush out the few bad eggs tarnishing the image of their colleagues.
Senator Omo-Agege who chairs the Senate Committee on Review of the 1999 Constitution, disclosed that work on altering the constitution would commence in full swing after the Sallah break.
He stated this in Abuja when two groups – Women Education Advocacy and Development Initiative (WEADI) and League of Women Voters of Nigeria (NILOWV) – paid him courtesy visits.
The Delta Central lawmaker regretted that few educators are soiling the image of their colleagues, majority of whom he described as ‘’decent’’.
He commended the Senate President, Senator (Dr) Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan for providing leadership, while also applauding his colleagues for co-sponsoring the bill.
He said: “This bill is not targeted at our lecturers in tertiary institutions. To the extent that it is targeted at anybody, it is targeted at the errant few, the few predators in their midst. And we have them everywhere. It is not only in the tertiary institutions. Majority of the lecturers, professors are good people. We know them, we went through the institutions. So we speak from experience. The majority of lecturers, professors in higher institutions are good and decent teachers whose sole objective is to impact knowledge so that we can have the enabling environment to prepare our leaders of tomorrow.
“So, this bill is targeted at the very insignificant few who cause most of these atrocities. And we have decided that we should put a stop to it. I am sure that even most of these lecturers know that they are not the target”.
He expressed optimism that given the level of overwhelming support from the Presidency, it would get presidential assent once it receives concurrence from the House of Representatives.
The Bill to Prevent, Prohibit and Redress Sexual Harassment of Students in Tertiary Educational Institutions, 2020, which was passed by the Senate at its sitting on July 7, 2020, prohibits sexual harassment of students in tertiary institutions and prescribes jail term ranging from two to 14 years for various degrees of offences.
Sponsored by the Deputy President of the Senate and co-sponsored by 106 lawmakers, the proposed legislation also prescribes N5million fine for offenders.
When signed into law, any educator who whistles or winks at a student or makes sexually-complimentary or uncomplimentary remarks about a student’s physique would be liable to two years imprisonment or a fine of N1million, if found guilty.
Senator Omo-Agege added: “I can also tell you that this bill enjoys the overwhelming support of President Muhammadu Buhari and also the wife of the President, Dr. Aisha Buhari.
“I am also convinced that my colleagues in the House of Representatives are also in a hurry to have this bill passed because they share in our vision to protect our women, our sisters, daughters and young wives who are being daily oppressed and violated in higher institutions of learning.
“We are confident that upon transmission of this bill to the House of Representatives, the leadership and membership of the house will give the requisite concurrence”.
He noted that when signed into law, it would not only send a strong signal to those who may want to abuse women but ensure that students are not at the mercy of ‘sexual predators’.
On the constitution amendment exercise, he explained that the committee would swing into action immediately after the Sallah break.
The Senator pointed out that rights of women and the girl-child would be protected in the exercise, adding that the panel would take into account experiences from other African countries.
“Immediately after the Sallah, we are going to hit the ground running with constitution review exercise. And there are a lot of bills dealing with women rights advancement.
“We will take the Ugandan and Rwandan experiences into account to see how we can meet up with the agitation of our women in the constitution review exercise,” he stated.
Earlier, in her remarks, Executive Director, WEADI, Pastor Regina Omo-Agege (Ph.D) commended the lawmaker and his colleagues for throwing their weight behind the all-important bill.
“For us, the passage of this Bill at a time like this, when gross violations of the sanctity of womanhood had assumed frightening proportions, has not only renewed our reverence of and confidence in the hallowed chambers of the Upper House, but has also given us the strongest assurance that our girls would be secured and protected within the four walls of our tertiary institutions,” she said.
Also on her part, the Founder/President, League of Women Voters of Nigeria, Rt. Hon. Esther Uduehi noted that by this development, lawmakers have written their names in gold.
Both organisations also presented plaques to the federal legislator in recognition of his efforts at protecting the girl-child and women.