Let’s start from 2003 when Eedris Abdulkareem released ‘Mr Lecturer’, a song about Bimbo Owoyemi, a female student at an unnamed Nigerian university who was being sexually harassed by her lecturer, Olayemi Olatunji.
In the final scene of the music video, Bimbo gets a reprieve from the trauma when the lecturer is arrested. Unfortunately, this is the gap between fiction and reality: hundreds of female Nigerian students who are sexually harassed by their lecturers do not get any form of justice and are threatened into silence.
Fast forward to 2018 when the sex for grades conversation began to make waves for the first time in recent years. An audio conversation between a lecturer at Obafemi Awolowo University, Professor Richard Akindele, and his student, Monica Osagie, got out and set off a slippery slope. In the recording, Richard was heard demanding a five-round sex marathon from Monica. As she told CNN, the professor of Accounting gave her two options: sleep with him, or fail the class. The OAU management dismissed him and later, a court sentenced him to 2 years in prison. According to the judge, Justice Maureen Onyetenu, the professor needed to be taught a lesson to serve as a deterrent to those who abuse their authority. He was released on March 19, 2020.
That felt like a major breakthrough, but as time would tell, Akindele’s fate didn’t serve as a deterrent to other lecturers who got off on sexually harassing their students. In October 2019, A BBC Africa Eye investigation into cases of harassment, led by Nigerian journalist and filmmaker Kiki Mordi, exposed lecturers at the University of Lagos and University of Ghana. Boniface Igbeneghu, who was one of the lecturers exposed in this documentary was suspended from his duties as a senior lecturer by the UNILAG management.
The documentary and the set of actions that followed its release, including the re-introduction of the Sex for Marks bill, a legislation that would ensure the incarceration of lecturers guilty of sexual misconduct for up to 14 years, seemed like a step in the right direction. However, it hasn’t been passed and ASUU is currently fighting it. This brought with it an uneasy question — Will these cases ever stop? An answer came a few months later.
On January 15, 2020, Premium Times reported another sex for grades story from Obafemi Awolowo University. This time, it was a lecturer at the Department of International Relations. His name? Bisi Olaleye.
According to the report, the student, Motunrayo Afolayan lodged a complaint at the university’s Centre for Gender and Social Policy Studies, claiming that Mr Bisi Olaleye had allegedly failed her because she refused to sleep with him.
We don’t have all the details about the action the university took. But at the time of reporting this, Bisi Olaleye is still a lecturer at the university.
We spoke with three people who were students of Bisi Olaleye to reflect on their experiences with him and how he wasn’t the model lecturer. They asked to be anonymous for fears of retribution. The names have been changed to protect their identities.
“He used to do a “hand-to-the-neck” sign, as though he would strangle anyone who gave him trouble and his favourite thing to say at the time was “I will go for your guillotine”.
Edward: (International Relations, graduated in 2010): Bisi Olaleye was my course adviser in my first year at OAU. My first personal encounter with him was intense. I’d gone to his office to check my result because the department didn’t paste our results. When I got there, he didn’t hear what I said, so he snapped at me. I was very scared and from that moment, I developed this apprehension whenever I had to go to his office for anything. What added to my fear was the fact that he used to do a “hand-to-the-neck” sign, as though he would strangle anyone who gave him trouble. His favourite thing to say at the time was “I will go for your guillotine”
Bukola (History and International Relations, graduated in 2017): He taught me first when I was in 200 level. His aggressiveness was hard to miss. He said the most vulgar things, especially when he wanted to mock students.
Grace (History and International Relations, graduated in 2015): He did like to deride students, especially female students. He always said things like female students would fail because the only thing we knew how to do was to dress up and look pretty.
Edward: He abused the dynamics of the student-lecturer relationship. He did and said everything he could to keep us subjugated and retain his hold on us. In his presence, we had to overthink everything because nobody was sure what would upset him.
Bukola: An experience that stood out for me and showed that Mr Bisi would do all he could to get what he wanted was when Mr Bisi thought a guy in my class was dating a girl in my class — they were just friends. Mr Bisi called the guy to his office and threatened to fail him if he didn’t stop talking to the girl. The guy tried to explain, but Bisi wanted him to stop talking to her altogether and he was very serious about it. The guy had to be tactful and stopped talking to the girl, at least in class or wherever he could find them.
“Female students were easy targets. A lot of us knew he liked to sleep with female students.”
Grace: Everything was about power to him. He always wanted us to know that he was in charge and that there was nothing we could do about it. Female students were easy targets. A lot of us knew he liked to sleep with girls.
Bukola: In one of his classes, he said something about how his wife knew that he had ‘bitches’.
Grace: He also liked to talk a lot about how the “big girls” who were forming in class would come to beg him when it was time for exams.
Bukola: There were female students he called into his office and propositioned, asking for money or sex. Typically, none of them said anything. But there were lots of people who came to class, wearing long faces. It was torture for them to spend hours watching him teach in class.
Edward: There were instances when I wanted to see Mr Bisi Olaleye. I would knock for minutes non-stop on his door and he wouldn’t answer. Later, a female student would emerge from his office.
Grace: He once asked my friend to meet him at Buka. Another lecturer was with him when my friend went, but Mr Bisi didn’t care. He made lewd comments and asked her to have sex with him. My friend was visibly disturbed when she returned.
Edward: Sometime after I’d written my final year exams, I was by Ede road with a few classmates when he drove by with a lady in the car, probably to drop her off. On his way back, he stopped and chilled with us. I guess the dynamics were different then because we didn’t have the lecturer-student relationship anymore. There was this bar opposite Maintenance at the time; we moved there to get something to eat. The attendants brought the menu, which didn’t include any swallow and he wasn’t happy about this. According to him, he preferred swallow and lots of vegetables because it gave him stamina to have a lot of sex. Then he began telling us stories about our female classmates he’d had sex with. He’d gotten drunk, so his guard was down.
“He has students who help him to get girls. The students who he gives these tasks have two options — get him the girls or risk failing his course.”
Bukola: He thought he was untouchable, so he was loud about his exploits. I think he was comfortable because he’d been enabled for a long time. The lecturers who could hold him responsible protected him because they wanted to keep their secrets buried too.
Edward: Everyone in the department knew about his behaviour, but no one did anything to caution him.
Bukola: I think the worst part of this is that he has students who help him to get girls. The students who he gives these tasks have two options — get him the girls or risk failing his course. An audio recording went viral when this recent story broke out about a male student coaxing a female student to have sex with him for marks. I know the guy. We were supposed to graduate together but he’s still in school because he’s entangled with Bisi, who is his supervisor.
Edward: I know he did everything he has been accused of. I hope he doesn’t get away with it this time. If that happens, this man will become more brazen. And that won’t be good for his students.
We spoke with Mojeed Alabi, the journalist who broke this story, and Kiki Mordi, an investigative journalist who has been actively involved in the Sex for Grades conversation.
Mojeed Alabi (Deputy Head of Investigations at Premium Times): We got a scoop on Bisi Olaleye and we decided to follow it. There was a real story there and that was what we published.
Kiki Mordi (Investigative Journalist): Some students from OAU had reached out to me before the story broke. It was a relief to see that the story got published because these students were emboldened, and it was only right that something came out of it. I tried to continue the conversation online, so it could get more attention and engagement. I also shared the story with a couple of my journalist friends who work with Human Right Commissions, just to bring it to their attention.
Mojeed Alabi: We continued to follow up to ensure that the people concerned took it seriously. Word of Bisi Olaleye’s behaviour had gotten to the management before the story broke and they were investigating it, but we had to do this story to let them know that the public was also watching.
Kiki Mordi: Sexual harassment by lecturers is a culture already and universities are complacent in fixing it. I hope Bisi Olaleye doesn’t get away with it. And if he gets anything less than what he deserves, we will always be here to demand for better.
Mojeed Alabi: A lot goes into reaching a final verdict. But it’s practically impossible for Bisi to get out of this. I believe that the OAU management are committed to meting out justice and I’m sure Bisi won’t go unpunished.
Kiki Mordi: The Sex for Marks bill has not been passed by the National Aseembly and I’ve expressed my frustrations at this so many times. When it passed the second reading, I was hoping that it might be passed. ASUU is trying to knock down the bill though.
Mojeed Alabi: They (ASUU) are kicking against the bill because they felt they were being targeted. They didn’t think the bill would protect them from students and what they could do to them.
Kiki Mordi: The bill does protect the lecturers because it puts the burden of finding proof on the students. It’s hard to prove these things, but when a number of people have complained about a lecturer or you’ve been able to establish a pattern, you can conduct your independent investigation. The universities should be able to do that, and if they can’t, they should delegate to whoever can. I’m still hopeful that the bill will be passed. We will see how that goes.
Mojeed Alabi: I understand the need for lecturer-student relationships to facilitate the exchange of ideas that academic institutions are created for. I am in for a holistic legislation that will address the concerns of the lecturers, the students, the parents, and every relevant stakeholder. That’s the best way to go.
The management of the university, through the Public Relations Officer, Abiodun Olanrewaju, confirmed that the university set up a panel to investigate the scandal last year, months before the story first broke. “Mr Olaleye was suspended after the panel submitted its preliminary report,” Mr Abiodun Olanrewaju told us. On the status of the investigation and when a final verdict might be passed, he said he couldn’t comment on that at the moment because all official duties in the university had been suspended in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic.