Richard Akindele was a Professor of Management Accounting at the Obafemi Awolowo University at Ile-Ife, until his indiscretion in matters of sex separated him from his high-profile job. Now that indiscretion has also separated him from his freedom, his family and his friends. He has been sentenced to six years in prison for sexually harassing his student, Monica Osagie.
The story was that Professor Akindele had demanded sex from his student so that he would upgrade her score. Somehow their lured conversation got full airing on the internet and internet addicts were fulsomely entertained. The girl, Monica, asked the professor whether he liked a “blow job” or “sixty-nine”, some technical terms in the sex business which this column has no intention of explaining since this column is not an encyclopedia of sexual jargon.
The university authorities instituted an inquiry into the affair and interviewed all the parties concerned. At the end of the inquiry, the professor was found wanting. He was indicted of inappropriate relationship with his student and shown the exit door from the institution.
The professor may have thought that the book had been closed on the matter and that he would find a way of opening a new chapter in his life. The first chapter was not fully closed because the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) was keeping an eagle eye on the matter. Between June and now the ICPC dragged the randy professor before a High Court in Osun State. Last week, Justice Maureen Onyetenu sentenced him to six years in jail. His lawyer’s plea for bargain was rebuffed by the judge. He got 24 months for asking for sexual benefits from his student, Monica; 24 months for soliciting from Monica sexual benefit in order to pass her; 12 months for deleting parts of the WhatsApp conversations between them to conceal evidence and 12 months for falsification of age. The six years will run concurrently. A brilliant career has been brought to a ruinous end through his passion for that little matter of the flesh. It does appear that she was fully aware, whether expressed overtly or covertly, of the hunger in him for her. The staggering challenge of their proximity must have elicited a reckless passion in this professor who was also a pastor. He must have been eyeing her with a look of scorching intent while shafts of electricity coursed through his veins.
While all this was going on, it was fun and he had no idea that the road to jail was paved with pretty preys in short skirts. Now that door is wide open and Akindele has made a short trip from professor to prisoner. This, I believe, is the first high profile sexual harassment case in our universities that has been speedily concluded and the sexual predator jailed.
In every one of our universities, there are stories and stories of sexual harassment. It is also beginning to rear its horrid head in secondary and primary schools. This jailing of Professor Akindele will serve as a strong signal to all those who practice this illicit craft. Make no mistake about it; there is office romance in many settings, particularly where the bosses and their subordinates work in close proximity with each other. Such settings include pilots and air hostesses, doctors and nurses, coaches and players as well as church leaders and members of their congregation. The closeness in the performance of their duties elicits a closer-than-normal relationship.
Where any of the parties is unable or unwilling to draw the line between what is appropriate and what is not in their official relationship, then a problem may arise. Office romance is not objectionable if it is done between consenting adults. Such relationships have in many cases blossomed into marriage and the parties have in many cases also lived happily thereafter. Of course, if the romance is between two consenting adults in the work place it does not mean that it may not have consequences in terms of work ethics. If a man, possibly a boss, is in a romantic relationship with a girl, his subordinate, there is high likelihood of the girl being given preferential treatment to the envy of the other staff. The office rumour mill will grind very fast and poison the work atmosphere and even if the subordinate deserves what she gets in the work place, it will be assumed that she got it because of her relationship with the boss. If on the other hand, the girl rebuffs the overtures of the boss she is, more likely than not, to face hostility and unmerited punishment for scorning the boss’ overtures. In every situation, office romance comes with a load of problems whether it is practised by two consenting adults or not.
However, the damage in the educational system that is brought about by office romance is deep. For every student who is favoured by a lecturer because the student offered the lecturer sex or money, the system suffers and the society too. This is obvious because you can find today many university graduates with well embroidered degrees who can hardly write a job application correctly. These belong to the category of students who bribed their lecturers with sex or money or perfumes or shoes or expensive birthday or New Year gifts in return for high marks. Where such an exchange of favours occurs and there is no third party involved or none of the parties fails in the discharge of his own side of the bargain, then everyone is quiet and no one knows that anything untoward had taken place.
Many of our educational institutions are aware of the prevalence of sexual harassment in their institutions but are indifferent to their existence. Some of them engage in a cover-up because they think a disclosure of such misdemeanour will affect the reputation of the institution.
The Obafemi Awolowo University authority deserves full marks for tackling the Akindele matter frontally and fairly. The girl, Monica, was said to have earlier reported Professor Akindele to one of the lecturers in her department, but nothing was done to restrain the randy professor. The story is that some of the lecturers who indulge in sexual harassment work in groups and watch each other’s back. When cases of harassment are reported by students, they accuse them of being the harassers. With that they feel free to execute a cover-up. Each institution must have a more stringent code of conduct for its staff and students so as to protect their standard, their reputation and the integrity of its lecturers and students.
The brazenness of the practice is noticeable in many institutions. Some of the lecturers, we learn, even ask the female students that they target to book and pay for hotel rooms for their illicit enterprise. These fellows seem to suffer from some kind of inferiority complex. They feel comfortable to oppress those who are under their care instead of seeking for sexual satisfaction from those who are not under their supervision. To secure the sexual favour of those who are outside their canopy, they know that they must spend their hard-earned money to garnish the relationship. What they prefer is awoof from those they are supposed to guide and mentor. That is brazenness. That is inferiority complex. That is abuse of office.