OPEN LETTER TO THE HONOURABLE MINISTER, UJU KENNEDY, OF THE FEDERAL MINISTRY FOR WOMEN AFFAIRS, NIGERIA – SEPTEMBER 15, 2023
SEXUAL HARASSMENT – WOMANIFESTO CONDEMNS THREATS AGAINST UNICAL STUDENTS. WE DEMAND PUBLIC APOLOGY AND RETRACTION!
Dear Hon Minister,
1. We write as Womanifesto, a Woman’s Rights Movement of over 500 activists, practitioners, professionals, and NGOs, and formally condemn in strong terms, the audio and video statements credited to you, Hon. Uju Kennedy, as Minister of Women Affairs, in which you threatened the female law students of the University of Calabar for accusing the Dean of the Faculty of Law, Professor Cyril Ndifon, of sexual harassment.
2. Womanifesto is gravely concerned about your utterances on the UNICAL sexual harassment case and their implicationsfor the interest and protection of vulnerable women. If you recall, Womanifesto sent a strong delegation to the Hon. Minister of Women Affairs in Abuja, on Tuesday, September 12, to express our disappointment and dissatisfaction over the way and manner the situation in UNICAL has been handled by you. The delegation highlighted the sadly alarming prevalence of sexual and gender-based violence in our society, and, even more so, in our tertiary institutions. Our delegation called on the Minister to desist from interfering in the case of sexual harassment against Prof. Ndifon and interfacing with the female student victims in the case, with the possible motive of silencing them.
3. We were shocked that the Hon. Minister was heard in the audio recording threatening the students with dire consequences if they continued to pursue the case of sexual harassment against Professor Ndifon. According to the Hon.Minister, since the girls had admitted to you that they were not raped, it means they were not sexually harassed. Thus, it appears rape (penetrative sexual intercourse) is the only form of sexual harassment recognized by the Minister. It is shocking, to say the least, that a Minister of Women Affairs should hold such a narrow and erroneous view of what constitutes sexual harassment. The United Nations clearly describes sexual harassment as “sexual advances, requests for sexual favours and verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, whether implicitly or explicitly”.
4. In the audio, the Minister also insinuated that the students were being used and manipulated by some people to get Professor Ndifon out of office so “they” themselves could take his place. We note that Professor Ndifon, who is currently on suspension from the university, has gone to court to make a case against what he called a campaign to smear his image. The utterances of the Minister of Women Affairs on the case of sexual harassment against Professor Ndifon, therefore, can only be seen as taking sides with him.Our delegation was clear in explaining this issue to your good self during the meeting.
5. Let it be stated clearly that Womanifesto outrightly condemns attempts to trivialize sexual harassment by narrowly reducing it to penetrative sex or rape. We demand a retraction from the Hon. Minister and an apology to the innocent students who have been bullied and traumatized by you.
6. We believe the Office of the Minister of Women Affairs should be investing its energies in rallying support for victims and survivors of sexual harassment and all forms of gender-based violence, and mitigating all factors that could compound the vulnerability of women and girls.
7. We are calling on the Human Rights Commission, ICPC, and other law enforcement agencies to ensure that those women and girls who have the courage to come forward when they have been sexually violated receive adequate protection and justice. We are also calling on well-meaning Nigerians to lend their support to efforts to rid our campuses of sexual predators who abuse their office and power to sexually exploit our young women and children who simply want to pursue academic aspirations.
8. Womanifesto commends the Vice Chancellor of UNICAL for forging ahead to ensure that justice is done despite the uncomfortable circumstances. We are urging her to do all that she can to ensure that the students involved are shielded from exposure to any more vulnerable situations and harm than they have already endured. We are equally urging university authorities in UNICAL and elsewhere in the country to provide safe spaces where the voices of more students who have been victims of sexual harassment can be heard loud and clear. Bearing in mind that perpetrators tend to have a pattern of sexual abuse that sometimes spans their entire academic career, it is important that school authorities and law enforcement agencies encourage female alumni who were abused while they were in school to also come forward.
9. We use this opportunity to strongly urge the President, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, to immediately do the needful by assenting to the Sexual Harassment Prohibition Law. His continued delay in the face of frequent allegations of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct and impunity on the part of lecturers in our tertiary institutions is very curious. Nigeria is a signatory to quite a number of International Treaties (and has, on her own, passed several laws) which aim to protect the rights of women and girls; these include the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the ILO Declaration on Sexual Harassment and the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act, among others. These are all compelling reasons for the President to expeditiously assent to the Sexual Harassment Prohibition Law.
10. Your utterances, Hon. Minister, have no doubt done a lot of damage to the collective of Nigerian Women and girls andwe hereby demand that you publicly apologise for meddling in the UNICAL sexual harassment case against Prof. Ndifon and attempting to silence the voices of the students who are victims of the harassment. We expect your commitment to justice and fair play. We expect no less from the office of the Minister of Women Affairs.
11. As you are well aware, Hon. Minister, Nigerian women, activists and advocates have worked hard doggedly over decades to reduce women’s vulnerability and see the dawn of prosecution of perpetrators of sexual abuse and violence against women, as well as justice and healing for victims and survivors. We will not accept a situation where the most important public office that should be working with us to advance the interests of women and girls becomes a threat to the gains we have made over the years.
12. We will spare no efforts in taking further action that may affect your position if you do not do the needful by taking steps to apologise publicly and retract your threats to the students and utterances on rape and sexual harassment. If you are seen to take steps to make amends, this will douse the tension that your utterances have generated and lessen the sense of intimidation that the victims have been subjected to.
13. A Minister of Women Affairs cannot be seen to be working against women’s affairs. We stated this clearly to you when our delegation met with you on Tuesday, September 12. We are shocked that 3 days later, you have not taken any steps to retract your statements and make amends.
14. As noted at the meeting, women in Nigeria are committed toensuring that the Ministry of Women Affairs becomes a viable institution for the protection and promotion of the rights of women and girls in Nigeria. We hope the Hon.Minister will work with us in achieving this goal; that is ourminimum expectation of your good self.
15. Womanifesto stands with the victims and calls for justice for students all over the country that continue to face sexual and gender-based violence, including sexual harassment and rape.