Sextortion: One of the many thorns in the Nigerian Feminist Movement’s Side

May 18, 2018

BY Fadekemi Akinfaderin

Many have heard the term ‘sextortion’ in the context of using sexual information or images as blackmail; something that  has gained more visibility with the growth of social media and increased use of mobile technology globally. The term is also used to describe a form of corruption, in which individuals abuse their position, privileges and power to gain sexual favors.  The Tanzania Women’s Movement are engaging in several campaigns aimed at including “sextortion” or sexual corruption in laws, policies and anti-corruption initiatives in the country.

The case of a professor at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), one of Nigeria’s most prestigious and well respected universities,  made headlines in Nigeria in the past two weeks. An audio recording of the professor negotiating the number of sexual episodes he would have with his student to change her grades made the rounds on social media and eventually hit most of the major news media channels. The output of rage towards him, might have influenced the decision of the school administration to suspend the professor and initiate a probe into the matter. Sadly, this is not the first case of sexual extortion and doesn’t look like it might be the last either.  

Last year (2017), the head of Law faculty at University of Calabar (UNICAL) was suspended for raping a student, even though the case was reported in 2015. In 2016, the head of the English department at University of Ilorin resigned after the audio of his “sextortion” case was shared on social media. In 2010/2011, an engineering professor at Ambrose Ali University (AAU) was recorded by his student who came to her apartment for sex after failing her in her exams. With the cases that have come into the public eye, and with so many more that go unreported, one would expect that a campaign like #MeToo would sweep like wave across Nigeria, especially within the tertiary education system, and would force educational policy and management authorities to take a concrete action.

However, what we have seen is those in positions of power in education institutions, the powerful lecturers, get nothing more than a few days or months of suspension and the survivors face painful, long-lasting consequences. The AAU survivor was first suspended for six semesters for recording the professor’s humiliating video.  As if that was not bad enough, the same lecturer took the survivor to court and she was recently convicted for “unlawful detention and indecent assault” of the professor and could face up to two years in jail. The UNICAL professor was reinstated and received a “welcome back” reception by fellow professor and students of the university at the end of last year.

In 2015, Nigeria passed the Violence Against Person’s Prohibition Act (VAPP Act), a national law that categorizes various forms of gender based violence such as Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), widowhood practices and rape as criminal offences.  Although the law is only applicable in the Federal Capital Territory (Abuja), it does set a precedent that can be followed by other states.  In 2016, the Nigerian Senate introduced the “Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Education Institution Bill”, as a strategy to criminalize various acts of “sextortion” in Nigerian tertiary schools including universities, colleges of education, and polytechnics.  Even though the status of the bill is currently unknown, the content of the bill is not significantly different from the VAPP Act based on analysis conducted by Education as a Vaccine.  The major difference is that the sexual harassment bill is specific to tertiary institutions and the relationships between learners and educators and it also has a broader definition of sexual harassment that includes “unwanted sexual attention.” Unfortunately, the bill falls short in several areas, missing an opportunity to build on provisions in the VAPP Act. For example, there is no provision that mandates educational institutions to put in place code of conducts for learners and educators; or complaint and reporting procedures as well as programs such as comprehensive sexuality education, to prevent and educate the school community about sexual harassment. The reality is that even if the bill had progressed into a law, it would still face the same implementation challenges that the VAPP Act is currently grappling with. This is why counting the mere existence of laws and policies as a measure of progress in ending violence against women and achieving gender equality, especially in countries where the judicial and legal systems are weak or non-existent, is ineffective.

The issue of sextortion is not limited to only educational institutions and is experienced in various sectors, especially those in which men hold and exercise a lot of power. As Nigeria gears up for its infamous “political season” as the next elections are scheduled for 2019, we are bound to see more cases of sextortion related to elections, and the consequences of virtually no system in place to curb or address this issue. Sextortion seems like a never ending threat for all, especially young women and girls in educational institutions, and a reality for many Nigerian feminist activists.