UNICAL: 500 women activists write minister, demand apology

By Friday Olokor

A coalition of over 500 women’s rights organisations under the aegis of Womanifesto has called on the Minister of Women Affairs, Uju Kennedy-Ohanenye to tender a public apology for allegedly working against the interest of women in Nigeria.

The group was reacting to the statement credited to the minister concerning the sexual harassment scandal at the University of Calabar.

The group said it was gravely concerned about her utterances on the UNICAL sexual harassment case and their implications for the interest and protection of vulnerable women and children in Nigeria.

The minister, in the video, also purportedly insinuated that the students were being used and manipulated by some people to get Ndifon out of office, so they themselves could take his place.

According to the video, the minister said since the female students had admitted that they were not raped, it meant they were not sexually harassed.

But Womanifesto in a letter to Ohaneye dated September 15, 2023, obtained by journalists in Abuja on Saturday, recalled a recent meeting with the minister where she was warned to desist from interfering in the case of sexual harassment against Ndifon and interfacing with the female student victims in the case, with the possible motive/outcome of silencing them.

The letter signed by the co-Convener of Womenifesto and Executive Director of Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre, Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, was copied to President Bola Tinubu, chairman of Independent Corrupt Practices and Other-Related Offences Commission, Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye; Executive Secretary of National Human Rights Commission, Tony Ojukwu (SAN); Attorney-General Federation and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi (SAN) and First Lady, Senator Oluremi Tinubu.

The petitioners said, “We will spare no efforts in taking further lawful action that may affect your position if you do not do the needful by taking steps to apologize publicly and retract your threats to the students and utterances on rape and sexual harassment.

“Your utterances, Honourable Minister, have no doubt done a lot of damage to the collective of Nigerian Women and girls and we hereby demand that you publicly apologize 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.

“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.

“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  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.

“Let it be stated clearly that Womanifesto outrightly condemns attempts to trivialise sexual harassment by narrowly reducing it to penetrative sex or rape only. We demand a retraction from the Honourable Minister and an apology to the innocent students who have been bullied and traumatised by you.

“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.”

The activists called on the NHRC, ICPC and other law enforcement agencies to ensure that sexually violated women and girls who have the courage to speak out, receive adequate protection and justice.

They pleaded with well-meaning Nigerians to lend their support to efforts to rid the campuses of sexual predators who abuse their office and power to sexually exploit young women and children who simply want to pursue academic aspirations.

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