Conversation With Azu
Afeez Baruwa could be on his last mile to jail. Or he could be going home a free man.
Three years ago, the former lecturer in the department of Accounting at the University of Lagos cornered an 18-year-old girl.
The girl’s father, a friend of Baruwa’s, had sent her to the lecturer for help to gain admission. Baruwa apparently had other plans: he allegedly seized the poor girl, overpowered her and raped her in his office.
The case has been in court for nearly three years and came up again on Wednesday. The state has closed its case; and Justice Josephine Oyefeso of the Ikeja High Court will decide, perhaps on June 14 or later, whether Baruwa goes to jail or walks home a free man.
Baruwa has many cousins in sexploitation, the campus variety of which is the non-academic business of trading sex for grades, or generally extorting sex even from female students unwilling to engage in such tradeoff.
One of Baruwa’s cousins, Professor Richard Akindele, has been in the news lately. The professor of Accounting at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife (OAU), has been dragged out in a sad and sensational audio recording in which he was bargaining for multiple rounds of sex to upgrade a failed student. He offered to give the student who scored 33 percent at least an “E”, if she would sleep with him five times.
The matter is not in court yet, but the outcome of Baruwa’s court case might send a signal to campuses nationwide that this sexpidemic cannot continue receiving soft treatment.
For a while after the allegations of sexual harassment against Akindele went viral, the authorities at OAU were behaving as if they needed a voodoo priest to explain the gravity of the allegations.
The school called a press conference to address the issue, cancelled it hours before it was due to hold, and later issued a statement about investigations.
It has taken nearly two weeks and a wringer for the school to find the section of its own code of conduct that says that when a prima facie case has been established, “the Vice-Chancellor shall suspend such staff from office pending the final determination of the case.”
Not unexpectedly, the school has come under pressure from highly placed religious people, who worked the hotlines at the highest levels, pleading that, “it was the work of the devil.”
For all you know, Akindele may have returned to the classroom from his sabbatical or extended leave of sorts, with version 2.0 of Accounting 101 modified to include offline tutorials on how many rounds of sex equals the lowest pass mark.
It’s not funny.
Grapevine sources have hinted that the major problem of the investigating panel was also compounded by the reluctance of the accuser to come forward.
Some even said the incident occurred earlier, that the victim has graduated and is afraid that the Senate might withdraw her degree if she comes forward, since her testimony would be proof that she obtained her degree fraudulently. And wait for this – that the victim’s boyfriend had been using the audio recording to extort money from Akindele who got fed up and asked the victim and her boyfriend to go to hell.
That hardly makes sense. If the victim slept with the lecturer early on, passed the course and left the school, she’ll be a fool in a hand basket to go public. The probable reason why she has gone public is that she’s trapped in the school and hopes that this desperate step might save her.
Farfetched excuses about her motive are apparently being invented by people who are taking advantage of the lukewarm attitude of the University towards the matter, even when the call log of the accused drips with his own testosterone.
The University appears to be more interested in protecting its reputation than in rooting out any nest of sexual predators in the system.
Besides, there may be many more undiscovered culprits of such sexual predation in the University with a guilty conscience. And it would be hard for them to cooperate in punishing one of them who only happens to have been foolish to have been found out, as they might see it.
Instead of behaving like an old Boy’s Club, OAU should keep in mind that it also has a fiduciary duty to protect its staff and students. It can and will be liable for any action that tends to suggest negligence or a cover up in a case where the campus has become a predator’s playground.
An audio recording similar to the one in OAU went viral two years ago when Muhammed Idiagbon, then the head of department of English at the University of Ilorin, demanded sex in his office from a 200-level student, whom he repeatedly accused of being “unserious,” adding intermittently that, “you’re not the only one.”
When Idiagbon was found out, he accused his “envious colleagues” of setting him up only to resign his appointment before the school finished investigations in the matter.
Even though the school promised at the time that it would complete the investigation and make its findings public, the matter was swept under the carpet after Idiagbon’s resignation.
We can almost hear that same echo in OAU, echo of the authorities just wanting to close this chapter and move on.
It’s a matter for regret that neither the students’ union of OAU nor the academic staff union of the university has said a word since the Akindele scandal broke.
Two years ago, when the National Assembly was debating the Sexual Harassment Bill, ASUU opposed it vigorously, saying that it would infringe on the autonomy of universities. The union insisted that the code of conduct in each university was perfectly capable of dealing with matters of sexual misconduct.
Well, there’s no Nigerian university website that I know of – and I checked OAU, University of Ibadan, University of Lagos, University of Benin, University of Nigeria, Ahmadu Bello University and Ado Bayero University – that has any resource on sexual assault on its website. Not a word.
In fact, the OAU website, which comes closest doing this, only defines misconduct in general terms, focusing largely on its impact; not on the individual, but on the reputation of the university. It is silent on predatory sex, one of the perennial scourges of higher schools.
It’s fair to say that if laws or codes alone were sufficient to curb sexual exploitation, members of the National Assembly will not be snatching female children from the cradle in forced marriages. And videos of senators in twosome orgies during recess will not be two-for-a-kobo.
The real problem is that when outrages like OAU and others happen, we shout, complain and just slink off, with hardly enough courage or stamina to stand up long enough for what we know is right, until the next horror story.
If students in OAU insist that justice must be done and must be seen to be done; if rights groups step up to offer the victim protection and insist that the school will be taken to court if the matter is not satisfactorily treated; if independent education watchdogs have credible public advisory, which includes resources for tackling sexual predation and safety in general, perhaps we would not be where we are now.
It’s been said that female students sometimes set themselves up for – even invite – predators by their lifestyles. That may be true, but lecturers, who believe, like Oscar Wilde, that the only way to overcome temptation is to yield, have no place in the Ivory Tower.
The body of evidence, so far, including a 2015 study on sexual assault by Harvard University among 26 universities in the US, shows that perpetrators of sexual misconduct are largely male faculty members, confirming existing data that one woman in five is usually assaulted while in college.
Let’s stop making excuses and deal with this evil for what it is. And the first step would be for OAU and other higher schools to have whistle-blower policy.
Ishiekwene is the Managing Director/Editor-In-Chief of The Interview and member of the board of the Global Editors Network.