A Bill seeking to protect students in the nation’s tertiary institutions against sexual harassment was passed on Tuesday for third reading in the Senate.

The Bill, titled: “A Bill for an Act to prevent, prohibit and redress sexual harassment of students in tertiary educational institutions and for matters connected therewith, Bill, 2020,” was sponsored by Deputy Senate President Ovie-Omo Agege (Delta Central) and co-sponsored by 105 other senators.

Senate President Ahmad Lawan said the Bill would protect female students from undue sexual exploitation.

“This is a very important legislation that this Ninth Senate has passed. We have to protect our sisters, our daughters and our mothers from predators. But also, in the process, we could see clearly that we wanted a very fair means of determining what offence somebody is accused of.

“So, it is a balanced legislation, and we pray that those educators don’t have to be taken before the courts of law for any offence.

“We want our tertiary institutions to be very important, safe and peaceful learning environment for everyone. This is a legislation that will ensure that wish,” he said.

The passage of the Bill followed the presentation and consideration of the report of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, chaired by Opeyemi Bamidele (Ekiti Central), by the Upper Chamber.

In his report, Bamidele noted that the Bill is a “necessary legislative intervention that will bring sanity and good order to the educator-student relationship in our tertiary institutions”.

He regretted that sexual harassment is among the major factors responsible for the decline in academic excellence.

“…This has provided a hostile environment for students, thereby creating an enabling atmosphere for mediocrity, indiscipline and inefficiency in our tertiary institutions,” Bamidele said.

The senator stressed the importance of the legislation, saying: “By enacting this Bill into law, the Nigerian government would be fulfilling part of its obligations undertaken through the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, the Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa, and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, amongst others.”

Contributors to the Bill, like Senate Leader Yahaya Abdullahi (Kebbi North) and Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa West), argued that should its provisions make it unnecessary for the prosecutor to prove the intent of any accused person in a sexual harassment trial, same would lower the requisite standards obtainable in criminal proceedings.

James Manager (Delta South) noted that by passing the Bill without making it compulsory for prosecutors to prove the intention of the accused in a sexual harassment case may expose educators to blackmail.

Also, the House of Representatives yesterday urged the Federal Government to immediately set up special courts for the trial of Rape, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) offenders.

The lawmakers also pleaded with the government to use relevant regulatory agencies to begin accelerated court hearing and prosecution of SGBV cases.

The resolution followed the passage of a motion brought under Matters of Urgent National Importance by a member, Unyime Idem, who sought a speedy trial of perpetrators of such offences.

The lawmakers condemned perpetrators of rape and all other forms of gender-based violence in the past months across the country.

They mandated its committees on Women Affairs and Social Development, Federal Judiciary and Human Rights to liaise with relevant government’s regulatory agencies and ensure compliance with the appropriate resolution of the House.

The committees are to report back to the House within two weeks.

The motion was passed without dissent when Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila called for a voice vote.

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