West Africa’s ‘Sex For Grades’ Scandal

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December 14, 2021

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Journalism, Uncategorized

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When BBC Journalists Kiki Mordi, Kemi and Abigail produced the hit 2019 News documentary “Sex For Grades,” which exposed three professors at the University of Ghana and the University of Lagos the reporters dropped a bombshell. The professors in question, Boniface Igbeneghu, Paul Kwame Butakor and Ransford Gyampo, employed across the two universities, were exposed for sexually harassing their female students. The documentary pressured the institutions to further investigate the allegations made by the BBC journalists’ findings, putting their methods of reporting under the limelight.

To create the documentary, the three journalists infamously went undercover as college students at the two universities to collect a pool of primary evidence and testimonies that would lead to the damning revelations that the three professors had in fact allegedly committed acts of sexual harassment. Throughout their reporting, three unnamed victims came forward and spoke about their experiences directly, providing a clearer picture about the nature of the inappropriate behavior that had taken place on separate occasions. 

Professor Boniface Igbeneghu, the first assailant under fire, had been teaching French at the University of Lagos for 24 years. The female students first tipped off the BBC journalists that Igbeneghu had alledgedly sexually assaulted ‘several students’ on campus. One of the BBC reporters, Kiki Mordi in the documentary “Sex For Grades,” said that Professor Igbeneghu constantly came up while their team was conducting research on the sexual assault cases at the Lagos campus. This came as a surprise given Igbeneghu’s seniority as former sub-dean and the head pastor of the Foursquare Gospel Church.

The first victim, whose name was not revealed, was a former student of his and mentioned that Igbeneghu was a ‘very much respected’ lecturer at the University of Lagos. Furthermore, the victim described him as the kind of person who often came off as a father figure to his trainees because he cared about students furthering their education and excelling in school. In the documentary, she then explained that he used religion as a way to impress the masses by often mentioning he was a pastorleveraging his position as a power. Once he felt that students were comfortable with him, he invited them to his office hours to assist them with classwork, only to eventually grope the female students and sometimes dry hump them inappropriately, according to the BBC reporting.

“He likes to pick on struggling students because he knows that they are very vulnerable and there’s nothing they can do,” says the former student who was sexually harassed by Professor Igbeneghu.  

Another victim, whose name was also not revealed, was also a former student of Professor Igbeneghu and was sexually harassed prior to her experience as a student at the Lagos campus. “He always seemed really friendly. But eventually I could notice how vindictive he could be. I would try not to aggravate him, because anything can happen. I would beg, I was usually kneeling down, I would just beg him, and say please sir.”

To reveal Professor Igbeneghu’s behavior and confirm his actions were in fact true, BBC journalist Kemi went undercover to expose him. During her investigation, she posed as a 17-year-old student seeking admission into his department. During her first visit to his office, Professor Igbeneghu asked inappropriate questions about her sexual history. 

“At what age did you start knowing men? At what age did you start having sex?” Dr. Igbeneghu asked the reporter. Later in the documentary, Kemi was able to reveal more information about his sexual harassment acts by discovering his attempts to engage in physical contact such as touching, holding and rubbing.  

Another educator exposed by the BBC reporting is Professor Gyampo, a professor at the University of Ghana that had 14 years of teaching and research experience, according to Ghana Web’s profile on the suspect. He specifically taught Political Science and was the director of the Centre of European Studies. It was reported that Professor Gyampo also allegedly sexually assaulted ‘several students’ at the University of Lagos. 

One student, who went by the name Naa, details a gruesome correspondence with Professor Gyampo. “I felt it was my responsibility to let him know that what he did wasn’t okay with me… I just couldn’t believe that a moment ago he was apologising and the next moment he was on top of me trying to touch my breast, hold me,” says Naa about her traumatic encounter with Professor Gyampo. 

Another BBC undercover journalist, Abigail, was sent undercover to expose Professor Gyampo. Abigail posed as a student at the University of Ghana with a poor background. During their time together outside of school, at a local mall, Abigail wanted to talk more about her career path but he changed the subject and focused more on trying to make her his girlfriend. 

“If you are going to be my wife, stop pushing me aside,” Professor Gyampo said to Abigail in the BBC News documentary “Sex For Grades.” 

“Are we in agreement that you’ll be my girlfriend till we are ready to marry?” Professor Gyampo asked Abigail.

The next and final professor the BBC team exposed was Professor Paul Kwame Butakor. Professor Butakor taught at the University of Ghana as a lecturer in the Teacher Education department. It was reported by the students at the University of Ghana that he had several alleged sexual harassment encounters with his students. 

Although there were no victims who spoke publicly about their experiences with Professor Bukator, BBC undercover journalist, Zara still managed to expose him. During her investigation, she pretended to be an undergraduate student in her final year hoping to earn her master’s degree at the University of Ghana. She explains in the documentary, Dr. Butakor appeared to be very inappropriate with her and asked if he could be with her romantically.

 “Let me be your side, your side guy ok? I will not give you troubles, seriously, I will not give you trouble. I will not give you trouble. I will not be a distraction in your life. Let me be your side guy,” Dr. Butakor said to Zara in a recording.

All of the accounts of sexual assault and innapropriate behavior by the professors shed light on a larger issue at the three universities. 

According to a study from National Center for Biotechnology Information dating back to September 2013, 90.5% female students at the University of Ghana’s Medical School reported they were “offered help if sexual demands were met” and 57.1% mentioned perpetrators said “unwanted sexual comments and jokes.” The study detailed that once the assault happened, it was reported that 57.7% of victims were “too embarrassed” to report it and 15.4% were “afraid of the perpetrator.” The allegations revealed about Professor Igbeneghu, Professor Butakor and Professor Gyampo were in line with these sobering statistics. The BBC Journalists also became victims of sexual harassment, according to their reports, as a direct result of their undercover reporting. All three journalists caught the professors in the act on hidden cameras during private meetings. 

Still, the question of whether or not it was warranted for the female journalists to go undercover as students and put themselves in harm’s way remains in question. Female journalists Kiki Mordi, Kemi and Abigail did not make any further comments on this statement, they never mentioned if their lives were in danger for going undercover and for releasing secretly filmed content that damaged the professors’ reputations.

The female journalists had to go undercover to prove to the university and their audience that these sexual harassment acts were in fact happening. All professors who were investigated were already very private about their allegations. They would never come near confessing to the public that what they were doing to their students was in fact harassment and dangerous. When the universities were notified about the sexual harassment allegations, no further investigation was performed at first. The universities initially failed to attempt to address this public relations crisis mitigated by the BBC.
“UNILAG only published a robust sexual harassment policy in August 2019 after years of delays. It bans lecturers from a wide range of inappropriate behaviours- from making suggestive compliments, to grooming to sexual contact,” says Mordi in the BBC documentary.

However, the public may argue it was warranted for the female journalists to go undercover, despite the risks, because the university finally revisited their sexual harassment policy, meaning the documentary caused a change for good.

Further more, after the release of the documentary, in October of 2019, Professor Igbeneghu was suspended and forced to step down from his church. While he was suspended, an intense investigation was conducted based on his sexual harassment activity. As of June 2, 2021, Dr. Igbeneghu was fired from the University of Lagos. This is according to reports by Pulse Ghana, which reported that BBC’s Kiki Mordi put out a press release confirming Dr. Igbeneghu’s removal.

Compared to Professor Igbeneghu’s punishment of being fired from the University of Lagos, Professor Gyampo and Professor Butakor’s faced little repercussions. Their respective university’s disciplinary committees decided to have them complete a mandatory training on the university’s sexual harassment and misconduct policy. Professor Gyampo and Professor Butakor were told they must pass with a positive assessment in order to return to the University of Lagos. In an update posted February 18, 2020 the BBC reported Professor Ransford Gyampo and Dr. Paul Kwame Butakor were suspended for six and four months respectively.

There was a great amount of value added from this undercover investigation. The reporting potentially saved future victims from the real threat of harassment, while also protecting the unnamed victims from further abuse. Mordi saved a lot of young women by taking that leap of faith and putting forth the effort to make a change. In a follow-up Vanguard article, Kiki Mordi mentioned that after the documentary was released, young women from all over Africa requested to have the team investigate sexual harassment encounters at different universities.

Despite what the BBC journalists did to go undercover and expose the professors, the International Center of Journalists believe going undercover should be your last option. 

The possibilities for what could have gone wrong with this undercover investigation are endless. Aside from physical threats, there was the chance that the professors could have discovered the undercover reporters and potentially sued for being recorded without permission. Recording without permission is not admissible in a court of competent jurisdiction in Ghana because of privacy rights guaranteed under Article 18 (2) of the 1992 Constitution.

As a university, it is important to make sure everyone is comfortable and safe. Mordi took a huge risk at making sure that the victims can safely come out and be heard, especially for those who may have been afraid for their lives and academic futures. The professors could have harmed, threatened and assaulted Mordi. 

“We are taking a lot of risks shooting this film…These masks, I want it to represent strength. I want it to represent power,” Mordi says in documentary “Sex For Grades.”

The sexual assault victims were undoubtedly mentally affected from their experiences, suffering from thoughts of suicide, depression, anxiety, and fear, according to the documentary.

Overall, this investigation helped the victims realize they have the power to express their truths without being judged or ignored. “[BBC reporter Mordi’s] hope is that the documentary can help students experiencing sexual harassment understand that they’re not alone,” she said in an interview with NPR after the smashing success of the documentary. 

 

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