Monica’s less travelled road
Monica Osagie may have inadvertently become the face of the academic #MeToo movement in Nigeria when she failed a course towards her master’s degree at Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU).
She was given two options by her professor: sleep with him or fail the class. Instead she took the road less travelled: Instead of keeping quiet, her head down in shame, she chose to speak up.
The audio recording she submitted to the university authorities was leaked online and went viral. Following a statement released by the university verifying the identities of the speakers on the audio, Osagie quickly became a target for abuse and ridicule on social media.
This week ‘sex for grades’ scandal ended with Osagie’s triumph as Accounting professor Richard Akindele was fired by the university after an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct.
Following CNN’s exclusive interview in May with Osagie, , Nigeria’s Senate called for a “full-scale investigation” into her allegations. The lawmakers also passed a motion to investigate the growing number of cases of sexual harassment in the nation’s universities.
In a statement, the vice chancellor Eyitope Ogunbodede said Akindele had “acted in a manner that… compromised his position as a teacher and examiner…” and that
Akindele’s request for sex in exchange for marks was a “scandalous behaviour that has brought ridicule to the name of the university” and it portrayed the institution as a place where “teachers and examiners trade marks for sexual favours.”
As a result of his scandalous behaviour, the university had decided the professor “should be dismissed from the services of the university for gross misconduct.”
Back in May, speaking to CNN, Osagie said, “I am actually happy I came out. I am helping many ladies that have gone through the same thing I have gone through, and most of them can’t talk about it. They are scared of coming out in public. But I know it happens everywhere, not just in Nigeria. For me, speaking up will bring more women to speak and eradicate what is happening around young women and older men.”
“There is no work or … education that is worth your dignity,” she added. “I will keep saying that.”
Commentiing on the university’s decision to fire Professor Akindele, Osagie’s lawyer Biola Akiyode told CNN: “Monica is very happy. This is a huge victory, not just for Monica but for other students. This victory should encourage any student, no matter if they are university or secondary school students to speak out. What Monica did was very brave and I hope lecturers will now see that there are consequences to their actions.”
“Universities now also need to thoroughly enforce their rules, which are already existing. There can be no more hiding place for rogue lecturers in our schools and universities,” Akiyode added.
Social media storm and the #StandingWithMonicaOsagie aside, this decision may lead to other universities taking allegations of sexual misconduct seriously and actually act in a way which does not ridicule or intimidate the victim, giving them faith that justice will be served.
The case of the randy professor is not an isolated one of course and sexual harassment at higher education institutes is rampant across Africa. In 2018, Uganda’s NBS TV uncovered one of the school’s male lecturers asking a female student for sex in exchange for marks. The man was later suspended by the university.
A 2010 survey of college students and lecturers in Ghana and Tanzania universities found “sex-for-grades” was the most common form of harassment students faced in higher education. So much so that, some male lecturers surveyed “consider it their right to demand sex with female students” in return for grades, researchers found.
What started off as the flap of a butterfly’s wings in the US and has built into the #MeToo maelstrom which has overthrown Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein as more and more women ended years of silence and spoke of his sexual advances in return for career favours now has the power to set off a hurricane across the Atlantic.
With this monumental decision, could Obafemi Awolowo University have set a precedence which will give students across and beyond Nigeria the courage to come forward without fear of ridicule and victim blaming? Can other Monicas now take the road less taken and speak up against the sexual advances they have been subjected too? Only time will tell. Until then, we can only congratulate Monica Osagie for keeping her head high and speaking her truth.
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