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I attended an all-girls secondary school. Then, only senior students were allowed to plait their hair. So, I had a low cut all through as a junior student. But there was a problem. There were no barbers within the school premises to cut our hair regularly. And because of this, some of us ended up having plenty of lice in our hair.

Still on UNILAG Bedbugs and OAU Broken Soakaway
I attended an all-girls secondary school. Then, only senior students were allowed to plait their hair. So, I had a low cut all through as a junior student. But there was a problem. There were no barbers within the school premises to cut our hair regularly. And because of this, some of us ended up having plenty of lice in our hair.

I can still remember how we used to help our friends pick these living insects from their uniforms, necks or shoulders. Then, killing lice was a sort of fun to some of us.   I later got to know that having lice had a deeper health implication. They are blood-sucking insects that feast on whoever harbours them.

I really thought blood-sucking   insects like lice and bugs bred in dirty environment; that they only took advantage of small children who didn’t know how to maintain simple hygiene. But that was before students of the University of Lagos cried out over the invasion of their campus by bedbugs.

The students had somewhat made a public show of their bedbug-ridden mattresses at the institution’s main gates two weeks back. They complained that the last time their mattresses were changed was in 2012. They also said that in spite of calls on the management to fumigate their halls, there was no response.

The   students further claimed that the situation was very bad and that it had got to a point where they picked bedbugs from one another’s clothes in class as we used to help our friends pick lice from their necks while in secondary school.

Interestingly, the university management did not deny the problem. It only said plans were at an advanced stage to fumigate and replace the mattresses.

Indeed, UNILAG is not the only university with bug-infested mattresses in the country. Students of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, also used the opportunity of the celebration of Nigeria’s 55th independence anniversary last Thursday to draw the government’s attention to their plight.

Apart from saying that their hostels, classrooms, libraries and even laboratories were nothing to write home about, they lamented that their hostels were decorated by bedbugs.

According   to these students, the living condition on their campus is laughable, inimical and unpalatable for human existence. To them, things as little as repairing broken-down soakaway are not receiving the school management’s prompt attention. They even said some of them took their exams standing   because there were no chairs and tables.

This is not strange to me. Last year, we discovered the same thing happening in Lagos Law School. And   a story titled, ‘Govt houses costlier than Nigerian Universities,’ published by Saturday PUNCH late last year, showed the poor state of infrastructure in many public universities in the country.

The only sad thing about these kinds of   reports is that they are major yardsticks for assessing our universities and their products. Anyone in any sane environment is likely to be shocked and disturbed by stories of bedbugs, dirty toilets,   and students standing to take their exams and so on in our universities.

Unfortunately, this is happening at a time when the world is laying emphasis on international complexion of universities. But who will want to learn in a university reported to be bug-invested or that lacks ordinary chairs to sit on?

The truth is stories like these   diminish the worth of our universities.   How much will it cost any   institution in Nigeria   to fumigate or fix a broken-down soakaway? Aren’t these universities generating funds internally again? What are they doing with their IGR?   How much does a chair cost? Why should any vice-chancellor feel comfortable presiding over a university that does not have enough chairs and tables for the students? What are they administering?

Granted the fact that Nigerian students   miss it when they think they are paying exorbitant tuition that should be able to take care of their expenses on campus (most schools charge between N12,000 and N90,000 per session for accommodation, which are peanuts compared to the cost of maintaining the hostel facilities), our university administrators can do better if they choose to put on their thinking caps.

Personally, I don’t   think Nigerian universities are as bad as some people think. Despite the unprofessional conduct of some lecturers, I think our faculty is still of high quality. Have you asked yourself why Nigerian professors compete well among their colleagues in other parts of the world when they go for exchange programmes?

Has anybody also paused to ask where the majority of the workforce driving successful enterprises in this country come from? How many of them have foreign degrees?   Most times, the majority of them are products of Nigerian universities. We could have problems with our curriculum and delivery, but not all the products of our universities are as bad as many would want to think.

Of course, I admit that some of our so-called graduates can make you sick. But I still think that in most cases, it’s a function of individual lethargy. Imagine a graduate of Computer Science, claiming never to have touched a computer because his university does not have computers in spite of all the business centres in the country today. That can really be irritating. It should be noted that what we need is consistent self-development.

My   point is that news of bedbugs in our universities is doing a lot of damage to our reputation internationally. These are not reports that we should be giving to the world about our institutions. That is why whoever is responsible for fumigating or ensuring the cleanliness of hostels should take their jobs seriously.

No reason is genuine enough to prevent any university from buying insecticides to fumigate their hostels from time to time. That shouldn’t be too much for any university’s budget to handle.

Sometimes, the problem is not about lack of funds. It is about our lack of maintenance culture. As old as institutions such as Harvard University, Oxford University and the rest are, they are still using structures built hundreds of years ago. For instance, the Al Azhar   University, Egypt, founded in 910 AD, still has some of its very old structures on the ground. What stops us from maintaining ours?

When I visited the Rhodes University in South Africa, it was difficult to believe that it was founded in 1904. The environment was clean. The buildings were damn too solid and well- maintained.

I know we have grown so used to news of infrastructural decay in our public universities such that certain anomalies no longer prick our collective conscience. But I am challenging our university managements to do something better in this regard.

They can work out better ways of maintaining their facilities and expanding them.   Even if they can’t charge realistic fees now because of government regulations, our universities can take a leaf from the book of Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana.

Though owned by the government, it manages to meet its budgetary demands mainly through its Internally Generated Fund and collaboration with industry partners.

Through its collaboration with the companies operating in the country, it has been meeting its infrastructural needs. For example,   the Airtel Ghana Limited (a mobile telecommunications company), refurbished its Centre for Business Development structure at a cost of $60,000 within a record time of six months. Technip Ghana Limited, an international company operating in the oil and gas industry, also furnished its conference room at a cost of $10,000, whilst the French Embassy in Ghana provided support worth GH¢ 10,000 ($7,000) for furniture in the offices.

Nothing stops our university managements from collaborating with firms and telecommunications companies in Nigeria. The only thing is that they must be ready to be transparent in their financial dealings. No company would want to commit to any project that is padded or shrouded in any form of secrecy.
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