Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege has shed light on reasons occasioning the passage of Sexual Harassment Bill into law, saying that the ugly trend was on the increase in recent times.
He said the approval of the Sexual Harassment Bill by the Senate is in furtherance of its legislative agenda, which seeks the protection of women’s rights.
Senator Omo-Agege stated this on Monday in Abuja when he played host to the Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Senator Pauline Tallen.
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’.
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 fourteen 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 N5 million 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.
Omo-Agege commended his colleagues for looking beyond cultural, ethnic and religious differences to approve the bill.
He also called on the Minister and her entourage to equally reach out to the House of Representatives to immediately concur to the bill.
He said: “This bill was conceived in the Eighth Senate. The reason we did it then is not any different from the reason we pushed it again in this Ninth Senate. But let me just say that we received the overwhelming support of our colleagues who concluded that it was right that we did something about this because this is not an epidemic but a pandemic.
“For most of us who went through higher institutions, we know what happened. It is just that some would rather see it as business as usual. But having convinced my colleagues that this shouldn’t be business as usual and we needed to arrest the situation, we had to rise above our cultural, ethnic and religious differences to be able to make the case that an attack of this nature on our daughters, sisters, wives in Warri is not any different from an attack in Sokoto, Maiduguri or anywhere. And we needed to move past that culture of lecturers who see our young women as prerequisites of their offices. And we thought we should put a stop to that.
“The bill is one of the few bills that was sponsored almost by all the senators in the Ninth Senate. This is not necessarily an Omo-Agege bill but a bill of the Ninth Senate. We took this decision in furtherance of our Legislative Agenda which includes amongst others the protection of women’s rights.
“We are also in support of strengthening our anti-rape laws both under the Criminal Code and Penal Code. We will also make it in such a way that there will be a better appetite for enforcement of the laws, once we create the enabling environment that encourages the prosecutors to prosecute it, the better for us”.
On Affirmative Action, he said the Senate would examine what obtains in other jurisdictions and make informed decisions.
Female parliamentarians who joined Senator Omo-Agege at the meeting include the Chairperson, Senate Committee on Women Affairs, Senator Betty Apiafi; Senator Stella Oduah, and Senator Akon Eyakenyi.
Earlier, The minister, Pauline Tallen commended Senator Omo-Agege for sponsoring the all-important bill.
She noted that by this development, lawmakers have written their names in gold.
She condemned the upsurge in rape cases nationwide, adding that reports she received from Commissioners of Women Affairs across the 36 states of the Federation revealed that during the COVID-19 induced lockdown, each state recorded not less than 100 cases of rape.
She also applauded the Nigeria Governors Forum for declaring a state of emergency on Sexual and Gender-Based Violence.
The minister also called for more legislation to protect the girl-child and women.
The development is coming on the heels of commendation by the United Nations Women (UN Women) on the approval of the bill by the Senate.
In a letter dated July 7, 2020, signed by Comfort Lamptey, UN Women Representative to Nigeria and ECOWAS and addressed to the Deputy President of the Senate, she noted that “UN Women stands ready to support federal and state-level efforts to implement this important legislation in the period ahead, working closely with women’s constituencies, students, educational institutions and other relevant stakeholders”.