Students in Nigerian universities have stories to tell, but hardly anyone to tell them to. For our new weekly series, Aluta and Chill, we are putting the spotlight on these students and their various campus experiences.
Trigger warning: This story contains some disturbing details.
This week’s subject is a female student at the University of Uyo. She talks about her experiences with lecturers who have sexually harassed her and how she’s absolutely sick and tired of them.
Tell me how you got into school.
I wanted to study Building Engineering. My mum wanted me to study MBBS in a foreign university. I didn’t want it and we didn’t reach a compromise, so I wrote JAMB that year, but I didn’t pursue admission into any university. She suggested a private school in Nigeria, which I didn’t want either. After a series of back and forth, we agreed on another course. Now, I wasn’t sure which university to apply to. I wanted Federal University of Technology, Akure, but I was avoiding a school that offered only 5-year courses.
My mum went to Uyo for a conference and she came back, gushing about how beautiful the city is. I’m from Akwa-Ibom State and I’d never been there, so I thought it wouldn’t be bad to try it out. I did the JUPEB program first, then I applied to the university through the DE option. Eventually, I got into the school in 2015 and started from 200 level. I found out later that my course runs for 5 years here too. Lmao.
Mad! Was Uyo everything your mum told you it would be, though?
Uyo is really beautiful. The only problem is that some of the men there are vicious and abusive. It’s normal for men to harass women and nobody would bat an eyelid. I’ve had my share of that too: I’ve been slapped at a park because a man tried to harass me and I talked back to him. Also, the caretaker of the house I lived in my first year slapped me and chased me with a machete because I came home late one night. So, stuff like that happens and it’s really frightening.
Wow. That’s a lot.
It is. I’ve not been a fan of Akwa-Ibom men since then, especially after my other experiences.
Wait! There have been more experiences?
The rest happened in school, with my lecturers.
Can you take it back to the beginning?
As I said, I joined the class in 200 level. I was already behind on a lot, and as if that wasn’t enough, I had to register for some 100 level courses. I ran all the courses concurrently. I had a medical condition too, and in the middle of it all, I became sick and left school for a while to take care of myself. It was a whole lot. My first year was horrible and it was the beginning of my problems in that school. I should have left and gone to another school.
I had issues with my courses. I did well in my department courses but failed a couple of electives from another department. And this is how it works: once the lecturers start to notice that you are struggling with their courses, they take advantage of the situation. Also, If you don’t write their tests, you automatically fail the courses, even if you write the exam. I was struggling with my health, so I didn’t write the tests. I didn’t even stress it, I just knew I had to brace up and do better in my third year.
In my third year, I went to this lecturer’s office to re-register one of the courses I had to take again. I’d missed his test that semester because his class was the same time as one of my 300 level courses. When he saw that I’d missed the test, he asked me how I intended to pass his course. I answered truthfully and told him that I didn’t know. He asked me if I wanted to pay him to get a passing grade. There’s grade sorting in Uniuyo — you pay the lecturer some money, and you pass the course. I asked him to name his price, but he wasn’t talking about money, even though he posed the question that way. He demanded to be paid in kind. He wanted to have sex with me.
I wasn’t going to go down that route. Fortunately, I wore a ring on my fourth finger on that day, and that was my ticket out of the situation. I told him I was married, but he persisted, telling me that my husband wouldn’t know that I cheated with my lecturer if I didn’t tell him. I lied my way out of that one and cooked up stories about how I was trying to make a baby with the husband. I must have been pretty convincing. He relaxed his stance and let me go. The man was the gentlest of them all. He didn’t bother me after that and I even passed the course. The other lecturers weren’t that nice.
There’s always more. My second abuser was also a lecturer in that department. I failed his course in 200 level too, re-registered it in 300 level, but I failed it again. That was weird because I was pretty sure of what I wrote. I went to his office to request for my script. That was a mistake — I shouldn’t have gone to his office.
Man, what happened in his office?
He told me I didn’t write his exam well. He was within his rights to say that, but he was quick to change the subject. He veered into how he’d noticed me since I joined the class in 200 level and how much he was attracted to me. I took everything as calmly as I could, but my mind was racing. I told him okay and left his office.
Nothing happened on that day. I wrote his exam again and this time, I passed the course. But he had his eyes on me already, and the best I could do for myself was to be friendly with him. I would greet him whenever I bumped into him and stuff like that. So, I was in his office on this day. The intention was to say hello to him and breeze out as fast as I could. He motioned for me to come closer to him. It was a tough situation. I went closer, but made sure to keep a distance between us. I was too close. In an instant, the man grabbed me and pulled me closer to him. He held me there and I could feel his groin on me. God, It was such a repulsive feeling.
Oh, my God. I’m so sorry.
I struggled for a bit before he released me. I was so upset that I walked out of his office without saying a word. There was nothing to say, anyway. I felt like shit on my way home, and no matter how hard I tried to convince myself that it wasn’t my fault, it felt like it. I was only trying to be nice, and that was what it got me.
No one deserves that. I’m sorry
He tried to touch me inappropriately two more times. These people don’t stop. They have all the power. When he tried it again the third time, I couldn’t take it anymore. I poured out all my grievances. It was a risky thing to do and I didn’t even know where the courage came from.
Did it make you feel better?
Oh, yes! I felt relaxed. That was my way of getting it out of my mind and dealing with it.
This is a lot
Yes, it is. I was still reeling from that one when another lecturer in that department turned his attention to me. This one started it in class. He would randomly call my name and pass a comment. He would ask me to see him in his office, and I had to go. The visits were always a waste of time — all he did was to ask me to see him outside the campus.
The first time I wrote his exam, I failed it. I knew it was a bad idea to request for my scripts, so I accepted the result. That meant I had to write the exams again and I had to go to his classes before I could do that. I was still in his grasp, so the compliments continued and the invitations to his office didn’t stop. I ignored his invitations. When it was time to write the test, this man didn’t allow me and a couple of other students into the hall. Again, if I didn’t write the test, it was over. He asked us to come to his office later to sort it out. We went in a group, but he asked us to come in one at a time. And again, I was alone with him.
That doesn’t sound good.
Uhm. Well, he admitted that the reason I failed the course the previous session was because I didn’t come to see him after the exam.
I was still there, trying to keep calm when someone knocked on the door and came inside. When they saw that he was busy, they went back. The lecturer stood up, went to the door and locked it. I thought he did that because he didn’t want to be interrupted, but he had other ideas . My back was turned against the door, so I didn’t see him when he was coming back. He didn’t go back to his seat. He grabbed my boobs from behind and groped me. I almost died because it came as a shock. Not that I didn’t think he was incapable of it — but I wasn’t anticipating it.
He didn’t stop there. He tried to reach into my dress. My disgust reached a new peak, but I gathered myself and got out of his hold. This man literally said he did that only because he was happy. Can you believe it? I told him off. He didn’t say anything. He went back to his seat and asked me to write down my name and registration number.
Did you eventually write the test?
Yes! He set a date for another test. And that was the last day I saw him because the school went on strike sometime after that.
Did you try to report any of these experiences to the school management?
There is a unit for stuff like that, but reporting them is a futile thing to do. I know a girl who reported a lecturer who was harassing her and they made life hell for her. She tried to change her department, but her old department wrote the new department to send her back. She’s still battling with that, not sure if she’s going to graduate. I would have reported if I knew for sure that there was a way there.
I was in my final year last session, and I should be out of the school if I didn’t have to deal with all these courses I failed in 200 level. I don’t understand why this keeps happening to me. Even my project’s external supervisor tried to start something with me but that’s another story.
I’m so sorry. How did you manage to cope with all this?
Barely. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve cried myself to sleep. I see these lecturers and I know that I have no control. I didn’t do anything wrong — I only wanted an education. At the height of it, I considered dropping out. And here’s the thing — I don’t have any problem with the lecturers from my department. I mean, I got an A in my final year project. Every trauma I’ve gone through came from lecturers outside of my department. The littlest things make me cry now. My mental health is not at its best. But how could it be?
I’m really sorry. How hopeful are you that you’re getting out this year?
I don’t know. But I have to. I’m leaving that to God. I’m done. Really, I’m done. If this continues after school resumes, I’m leaving the certificate for them. This is my last year, as far as I’m concerned. They should hold on to the certificate. I will hold on to what remains of my sanity.
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Can’t get enough Aluta and Chill? Check back every Thursday at 9 AM for a new episode. Find other stories in the series here.