The Minister for Women Affairs, Uju Kennedy-Ohanenye, on Sunday, tendered an apology over the controversy which has trailed comments credited to her in a viral video concerning the sexual harassment scandal at the University of Calabar (UNICAL).
The minister regretted her statement, saying she was committed to justice as well as safeguarding and advancing the rights and welfare of Nigerian women, including the pursuit of justice whenever their rights were violated.
Barely 24 hours ago, a coalition of over 500 gender rights activists under the aegis of Womanifesto convened by the Executive Director of Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC), Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, had demanded a retraction and public apology.
The women activists had said they were gravely concerned about the minister’s utterances on the UNICAL sexual harassment case and the 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.
She was reportedly heard in trending video threatening the students of UNICAL with dire consequences including imprisonment if they continued to pursue the case of sexual harassment against the suspended Dean of the Faculty of Law, Prof. Cyril Ndifon.
In the video, the minister had said since the female students had admitted that they were not raped, it meant they were not sexually harassed.
But the Minister in a statement personally signed by her on Sunday, in Abuja, emphasised her, “unwavering dedication to upholding due diligence and the rule of law, recognising that justice and fairness are the fundamental principles upon which equitable societies are built.”
She said, “This declaration comes in response to recent public discussions and reactions by concerned Nigerians regarding the unfolding situation at the University of Calabar, involving the Dean of the Faculty of Law, Prof Cyril Ndifon, and sexual harassment allegations levelled against him.
“I wish to express my sincere apologies to those who were offended by my comments and actions regarding the sexual harassment scandal at the University of Calabar.
“This is extremely regrettable as my intentions were sincere and aligned with my consistent advocacy for the welfare of Nigerian women and the pursuit of justice.
“I stand for all Nigerian women and I stand for justice; and it is my hope that we can work together to actualise the dream of a country where women’s rights are respected and protected, and where our daughters feel safe in institutions of learning.”
During a recent appearance on AIT, the Minister had also condemned sexual harassment and related offences.
She had also expressed deep concern over the escalating cases of sexual harassment across campuses and had emphasised the need for decisive action, assuring that her Ministry would actively seek justice for those affected.
Kuni Tyessi in Abuja