In many ways, Nigerian institutions of higher learning are no different from other such institutions around the world: They are confronted with several contending issues such as budget cuts, plagiarism, cheating during exams, alteration of data by researchers, unhealthy rivalry and tension between faculty members and between faculty and administration and between students and other echelons. These are constants within the academic community.
And of course there is the issue of sexual relationship between some students and some of their teachers, and between some students and some members of the administrative staff…
Parents send their children to school to learn, no to be harassed and sexually molested. Young men and women come to school to learn and learn how to be contributing members of their immediate and global society. They go to school to learn to be good citizens, good human beings. They go to school to develop many skills – including critical thinking skill. And though many show up in all their naiveté and gullibility, still, it is not a reason or an excuse for them to be taken advantage of. Sadly, these are some of the horrors that happen to many Nigerian students, especially the girls.
Sadder is the fact that millions of girls and young women are being abused and exploited on a daily basis. Many are denied their human and civil rights. Many have no access to education, to medical care, or to a caring home and environment. They are the “wretched of the earth.” While there are some shining examples within the Nigerian sisterhood, there could have been several millions more if the Nigerian society had taken its female population more seriously. But we don’t! For the most part, and in many settings, women are things, objects – things and objects to ignore or sexualise.
Thinking about it now, I cannot remember which came first: the sugar daddy syndrome or the sexual exploitation of students by staff and faculty members (sometimes referred to as “Bush allowance”). Long before politicians became conquerors and rulers of the maiden and their honey jars — and long before military officers freely roamed the sexual landscape — sugar daddies were the kings.
Sugar daddies paraded and patronised UNILAG, UNIBEN, BUK, UNIPORT, ABU, UI and every Nigerian university and polytechnic and college of education. And in some cases, they snuck into secondary schools and in the process committed rape and alarming perversions. Today, the larger Nigerian society does not worry itself with what was initially an aberration. It is now a given. Basically, sugardaddism has now become a practice, part of our cultural milieu.
Tell me: How many women, 17-37 years old, do you know who do not have one or two moneybags as a lover or sex mate? I am sure there are. But they can’t be that many. Poverty and unemployment and the general state of confusion and hopelessness have greatly contributed to the mental and psychical anarchy that now characterises the country. In the minds of many, the kingdom of God can wait. Money is the new paradise. You either have it or you don’t. In many enclaves, if you don’t have it, you don’t matter, you don’t count!
No matter how you look at it, sex between a student and a teacher or an administrator cannot be considered a relationship. This is so because there is an element of abuse and exploitation involved. What’s more, many students – especially secondary school and undergraduates — who are so abused and taken advantage of, may suffer psychological and physical damage.
As many universities in the western world have come to understand, there is “power imbalance between the parties” that makes such a liaison unsound and injurious. The University of Connecticut’s Board of Trustees recently voted against “sexual interactions between students and professors.” Similar measures are in place in many universities.
One does not know what the policies are in Nigerian universities and other institutions of higher learning. What seems clear – very clear – is that a whole lot of rape and abuse and exploitation and blackmail are taking place. But really, the complaints are just too many: teachers who demand sex for better class grade and other favours; and teachers who pimp students for financial and non-financial gains. Sex-for-grade or grade-for-sex is indeed a mess, an epidemic that’s been threatening, along with other vexing issues, Nigeria’s educational environment.
To whom do aggrieved female students lodge complaints when many of those in positions of authority are committing the same or similar offence? Do you complain to the Vice-Chancellor, the Dean, the Head of the Department, or to the Faculty Senate? I do not mean to say that the entire rank and file of the Nigerian academics is guilty of these abuses and exploitation. No, not at all! But the fact is that the number of those involved in such inhumanity outweighs the innocent and pious ones.
Are there cases where female students lodged false protests against innocent teachers? Yes, of course! Are there cases where rival teachers used sex to trap and blackmail other teachers? Yes, of course! And are there cases where female students sexually pursued their teachers? Yes, without a doubt! But such incidences are small, very small.
In the end, I wonder if there are academic studies that gauge the impact of sex-for-grade on our educational system, and how they impact the lives of our young women. Even so, these practices and transgressions cannot be good for the country’s culture and educational system. It could be that these injuries cannot be wiped out, but they can be substantially minimised.
No one sends his or her daughter to school to be abused and exploited by depraved minds. Consequently, the learning environment should be a safe and enriching one for all. No society can be great and prosperous if that society refuses to treat her women population with love, respect and dignity. A healthy learning-teaching environment is a human and civil right for all — especially for our young women.
By Sabella Abidde