This (below) is my response to an ongoing discussion in a listserv of academics on the BBC documentary on sexual harassment in Nigerian and Ghanaian universities.
Scandalous? What is scandalous about this? A scandal implies that something has happened out of the ordinary, something with shock value. Sexual harassment and predation in Nigerian universities are the norm, not an aberration. Sexual predation has no shock element, and it is not out of the ordinary. In fact, it is so banal and so accepted that it is met with a shrug, a wink, and other acquiescing gestures.
Please let us stop acting as though this is some kind of revelation or an exposition of what was unknown. Even on this list, have we not had many Nigeria-based academics defending their predatory colleagues by hiding behind specious rhetoric of due process and “both sides”? Is there not a brigade of home-based defenders of the predators that is always trying to convince us that it is only a “small minority” of lecturers who engage in such behavior, that these are “isolated cases,” that their ethically conscious universities have punished and are punishing all offenders, and that such revolutionary actions have resulted in the problem disappearing from their campuses?
Our problem in Nigeria (I cannot speak about Ghana, the other country in the investigative documentary) is see-no-evil pretense and hypocrisy, as well as an amoral dedication to self-interest and self-preservation.
When the case of Professor Solomon Atere, a serial sexual predator and rapist (who has committed the same predatory offense in two universities, LASU and FUOYE and each time was able to get off and simply move to another university to continue his crimes), came up on this list recently, despite the clear-cut case of rape, predation, and multiple ethical violations, did we not have colleagues coyly defending the rapist old man? On my facebook page, a lecturer in the same FUOYE department where Atere had worked and committed the rape of the 16 year old student said Atere had not raped the girl but that they were dating!!!! Of course, I promptly unfriended and blocked the rape enabler and defender, who may even be a predator himself.
Personally, I have seen no commitment to change. All I see from colleagues and university administrators are resignation, justification, defensiveness, and a reluctance to break the old boys network of sexual predation.
When we intervened in the case of Professor Atere, after several rounds of evasive prevarications and frustrating non-responses from the authorities of Atere’s former and current employer, one professor and top administrator finally gave up the script and pointedly asked Professor Falola whether he actually wanted Professor Atere to lose his job over sex. Such a revealing quip. Go figure.
That was the last straw for me (and I’m sure for Professor Falola). The refusal to hold the predator accountable and the determination to protect him were what I needed to gain clarity and unprecedented insight into the problem. As a result of this new window into the banality of and impunity around sexual harassment and rapes on Nigerian campuses, I have decided to suspend all my engagements with Nigerian universities indefinitely. I refuse to indirectly legitimize and dignify institutions that incubate, enable, encourage, and defend bad ethics, sexual predation of students, and other violations of professorial decency. Perhaps I was a little naive in thinking that engagement, coupled with a naming and shaming strategy of public commentary, would, at the very least, bring about change and pressure administrators into moving against exposed predators. I have learnt from my error.
This new personal resolution is the reason I ignored an invitation to give a lecture at a university in the North-central region a couple of weeks ago. I did not even respond to the invitation. It is also the reason I turned down an invitation from LASU to review someone for the rank of full professor three weeks ago. I am slated to participate in a symposium/forum at the University of Ibadan next summer. I am not going. I am reconsidering my mentorship sessions/seminars at LSA in Unilag and KWASU. They will not understand this principled stance of mine and will predictably say “Professor Ochonu is arrogant bla bla bla” but I don’t care. I am following the dictates of my conscience.
If institutions and colleagues are not willing to do the right thing and build ethical spaces of learning, our participation in such institutions can only serve to reinforce and legitimize the rot instead of helping to ameliorate it. The only invitation I may consider in the future is to a forum on the ethical, teaching, and research crisis in Nigerian universities.
I conclude with a paradox that has troubled me a bit. I am not a moral or ethical crusader and I oppose the policing of the moral choices of adults. In fact, I don’t care what people do in their private lives sexually as adults. But sometimes I cannot understand why, in a country where, for good or bad, sex–cheap, consensual, and ethically neutral sex– is everywhere in your face, where sex chases you everywhere, and where one struggles to avoid getting entangled in it, colleagues would rather prey on their own students. It speaks to a deep, systemic ethical crisis in both the Nigerian academy and the larger society. More importantly, it indicates clearly that, as many studies and commentaries on sexual harassment and sexual predation have shown, sexual harassment by authority figures is not really about sex but about conquest, control, and ego.