QueensCollegeGate: New Twist In Sexual Harassment Inquiry

imageThe committee established by the federal government to probe the allegation of sexual harassment against a teacher at the Queens College, Yaba, Lagos, submitted its report to Professor Anthony Anwukah, the Minister of State for Education, last week.
This development, however, came on the heels of a fresh twist to the saga with an inside source claiming that the teacher at the middle of the drama, Osifala, was framed.
It would be recalled that a parent, Mrs. Chinenye Okoye, sent a letter to a blogger accusing a teacher of the College, Mr Olaseni Osifala, of sexual harassment. She said Osifala attempted to have sexual intercourse with her daughter, a JSS 2 student. The accusation was widely reported by the mass media.
The teacher was detained for about three days by the police when he reported the matter to a police station with the hope of clearing himself of the allegation.
The committee, which consisted of the staffers of the ministry and the Department of State Services (DSS), said in its report presented to journalists by Professor Anwukah that it hasn’t got evidence to link Osifala with the allegation.
Interestingly, the report neither exonerated nor indicted Osifala.
The minister said: “The investigation committee did not establish any credible evidence against the accused teacher, considering the fact that Mrs. Chinenye Okoye remained unidentified, faceless and inaccessible, despite the committee’s best efforts and assurances to protect her identity and that of her daughter. Consequently, the committee finds it difficult to recommend disciplinary action against the accused teacher as the complainant failed to come forward to prove this weighty accusation.”
The minister said that the College had previously instituted official inquiries in similar allegations and meted out the appropriate punishment to those found guilty.
“From the various interactions held with the past principals of the College and the current management, the committee observed that the college had zero tolerance for such vices as sexual molestations, as prompt actions were always taken in the past cases of alleged inappropriate behaviour or sexual molestation by staff.
“Therefore, the committee could not establish any cover-up of sexual molestation by the management of the College as alleged in Mr Osifala’s case. Furthermore, anyone with information that can lead to identifying the alleged victim or her mother or with any credible and substantiated evidence that was not earlier made available to the committee during their sittings on the allegation against the teacher can still approach the ministry accordingly.”
The Parent Teacher Association (PTA) which hitherto insisted on punishing the teachers commended the committee for a good job. The Chairperson of the Association, Mrs. Beatrice Akhetuamen, told journalists in Lagos that the government’s findings on the matter were victory for the College.
However, an independent security and investigation professional in Abuja who would not want to be named said the committee conducted an incomplete and partial investigation by concentrating its work on the accused, not the complainant.
“Now that it looks as if one party had deliberately cooked up falsehood against the other, then, both parties have to be probed and none should be off the radar,” he said.
An Abuja-based lawyer said that the images of the teacher, College and supervising ministry had been badly damaged and “it will take a long time for the teacher to rebuild his reputation.”
But an impeccable source has alleged that the teacher’s reputation was deliberately destroyed by some unknown persons in connivance with the officials of the federal ministry of education.
The source, a senior federal official, claimed that some of his colleagues have conspired to tarnish the image of Osifala and the College for reasons best known to them.
“There were findings that the plot of sexual harassment was hatched by some officials for selfish reasons,” he said.
“There were also plans to link the College’s authorities to the issue, suspend and, eventually disengage from service some ranking officials with a view to creating vacancies but the ministry quickly intervened and set up an investigation committee to look into the matter.”
The source alleged that a memo was written to the permanent secretary, Dr. Shade Yemi-Esan calling for the suspension of some of the College’s officials over the matter but the memo was not approved. The permanent secretary reportedly pointed out that civil servants cannot be suspended based on mere allegations made against them, until the accusations is proved beyond reasonable doubt. She said that suspending the officials will tantamount to violating the civil service rules.
The source added that an unsuccessful second attempt was made to get the targeted College’s officials suspended. This time, he said: “The schemers sent another memo to one of the ministry’s ministers, advancing reasons to suspend the officials from work for their involvement in the alleged student’s molestation matter. Again, that plan did not see the light of the day.”
The source alleged that the aim of the schemers is to either grab some positions in the College, should any official there be suspended from work, or cause confusion in the education system.
“These things we are seeing are unnecessary in the civil service because integrity of civil servants should be indubitable,” the source said.
The source advised the committee to exonerate the teacher (Osifala) from the allegation and strongly warned the ministry’s officials against dishonest attitudes.
The blogger, he said, must be ordered to help investigators in identifying the sponsors of the letter.
An official of the ministry, who did not want his identity revealed, meanwhile, has said that the committee’s scope of work might be expanded and given extra time to unmask those behind the allegation.
He said: “The ministry was not happy with the development, especially given the fact that the image of the College was battered in the eyes of parents.
“Government wants to put a stop to such kind of things in future by punishing the perpetrators. Teachers are expected to transmit positive behaviour but, with this allegation making the rounds, teachers in the College may have challenges in managing the students. The tension created as a result of accusation must, however, be doused.”

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