By: Sam Ibok
University of Calabar hall 6 hostel

One of the warning signs that triggered the last strike by members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) was the disheartening state of facilities in public universities. Aggrieved lecturers who couldn’t endure the distress in their working environment, shut down schools for six months, as they threw punches at the government.

According to ASUU, “this attitude on the part of government has given critics the impression that perhaps government is more comfortable with the uneducated class than it is with the educated one.” Looking at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), which prides herself as the “University of First Choice and the Nation’s Pride,” one can’t believe that the 52-year-old institution is still battling with the teething problem of providing sufficient accommodation for her students. These include freshers and final year students who should automatically be given hostels. With 40, 291 students’ population, the university can only boast of 8500 available bed spaces. It has only 15 hostels scattered across the campus, where overcrowding is prevalent, coupled with dirty rooms, stinking toilets and waterlogged bathrooms.

As the first university in Nigeria established by an Act of Parliament in 1962, the university occupies 362.22 hectares of land. Sadly, over 60 per cent of this landscape is wetland and not readily available for infrastructural development. Above all, the restriction order by the government barring universities from developing physical structures with their federal allocation has left these institutions in a quandary. From year to year, accommodation crisis continues to worsen in the face of large number of students seeking admission into these institutions.

The Vice Chancellor, UNILAG, Prof Rahmon Bello, confirmed the accommodation crisis rocking the institution, noting that the university has a current student population of 40,291 students, comprising 27, 224 undergraduates and 12, 967 postgraduate students. This teeming population excludes those on Distance Learning and part-time modes of about 16,055. The full-time equivalent students, according to the Vice Chancellor, consist of 22, 247 and 17, 934 female students.
“This means that the 40, 291 eligible students vie for only 8500 bed spaces. An attempt to increase the number of bed spaces through BOT arrangements has only yielded extra 280 bed spaces over the years. This puts a great pressure on available spaces,” he said.
Dearth of bed spaces in UNILAG forces thousands of students studying in the school to become ‘illegal squatters’, occupying every available space in the overcrowded hostels. Investigation by Education Review revealed that about eight students occupy a room in the hostel initially meant for two, while a room meant for four students now has over 10 occupants. Others who couldn’t get a living space on campus, rent private apartments in the city often at exorbitant rates. Investigation by Education Review revealed that two-bed room within the Akoka area cost N450,000 per annum, thereby bringing additional burden on parents and guardians. The peculiarity of UNILAG, in an urban setting, makes it difficult for the students, as accommodation is not readily available in the vicinity of the university.

Investigation by our reporter revealed that the accommodation crisis in the university affected many final year students who couldn’t secure a living space on campus to prepare for their final examination. One of the students told our reporter that the situation was so bad that the school adopted balloting method, where thousands of desperate students picked ‘yes’ or ‘no’ papers squeezed and scattered on the table, to decide few lucky winners.

One of the affected students told our reporter that hundreds of final year students, who lost out in the balloting, are on the warpath with the management of the university. According to her, it is unfortunate that the university has denied them the deserved priority in the allocation policy, a situation that threatens their performance in final exam.

Further investigation revealed that the allocation of some of the bed spaces fell short of due process, as some students buy their way to halls of residence, only to trade off the alloted spaces at extortionate prices. Also some individuals utilise the opportunity to corner spaces for their cronies, and later sell them off to rich students at a wide profit margin.

This crisis is not peculiar to the University of Lagos (UNILAG), despite its location in a state that has an estimated population of 18 million people.  The survey of other public universities in the country revealed more shocking details of accommodation crisis. At the University of Ilorin (UNILORIN), 34,000 students have only 3,000 available bed spaces to share. The university, on its website, gave further insight on this nagging problem in the area. “The university has limited number of bed spaces for both male and female students in the 2012/2013 academic session. Students who have to arrange their accommodation off campus are hereby advised to ensure they secure accommodation in areas that are decent, safe and not isolated, and to be good ambassadors of the university wherever they reside.”

UNILORIN Vice-Chancellor, AbdulGaniyu Ambali, was quoted as saying, “accommodation of students is one of our priority areas. The government has given us the go-ahead to encourage the public to come and partner us under the Build Operate and Transfer (BOT) arrangement. Right now, we are talking with almost three developers who are ready to invest within the university. I am sure that before the end of the session or early next session, we will have more accommodation for our undergraduate and postgraduate students. I know that we are still going to encourage people because right now, the university has a population of about 34, 000 students but the facilities we have on campus can only accommodate just 3, 000. You can imagine the gap between the needs and the available facilities. So, we are still going to encourage and partner with the public to build more hostels within the campus because it is better and safer for the students to be on campus than to be renting houses outside.”

It is the same tale of woes at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife. Students perpetually live in worries over bed spaces, which could barely serve 30 percent of the population. It is worrisome that many of the students cannot boast of a bed space on campus to lay their heads. Several male and female students resort to squatting, a coinage used by students to describe the communal life arising from having illegal occupants in the over-crowded hostels.

In male hostels like Awolowo Hall and Fajuyi Hall, it is the survival of the fittest, as 12 students occupy a room originally meant for six. When a new occupant is allocated a room, especially the main blocks, the former occupants (squatters) do not move, but create space for the legal occupant. The legal occupants have no effrontery to scare these unwanted neighbours. At the Angola and Mozambique halls, cases of squatting and loss of items are no longer news.

Another dimension to the squatting on OAU campus is ‘Floating’. Even squatters earn more respect than these sets of students, who often do not have accommodation at all but put up their things with friends and sleep on desks in empty classrooms on campus. Some final year students, who have no accommodation on campus, float about and sleep in the common room throughout the semester. Statistical analysis of final year students’ accommodation for 2012/2013 academic session released by the Vice Dean, Students affairs, Dr. Yinka Adesina, shows that while the total number of  final year students is 5, 241, the total number of bed spaces is 3, 417 and distributed as follows: Fajuyi Hall: 811; Moremi -726; Awolowo -1, 060; ETF -259; Akintola – 373; Alumni -188.”

While the old students groan, new students face similar challenge. During the 2012/2013 academic session, the total number of bed spaces was less than 9600 for all the students. With teeming population on campus, the agonies of these students continue to worsen.

Although the management considers squatting as an offence, not a few students are guilty. Left with no option, they break the rule to have a shelter over their heads. There were cases of students punished for selling bed spaces at exorbitant rates. Not even the desperate buyers were spared.  The question now is; how do students survive amid these hurdles?

March 26, 2012 was a day of violent confrontation between students of the Federal Polytechnic Oko and youths of the host community. Some students living in the community clashed with masquerades celebrating the Ifu Olu festival, heralding the planting season.

According to the report, no fewer than eight students were injured, while an expectant mother, also a student of the polytechnic, lost her three months old pregnancy. The school alleged that three female students were raped by the youths. Another horrific incident happened the same year at the University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT) when four students were clubbed to death and burnt by youths of Aluu community in Rivers State.  The victims, Ugona Kelechi Obuzor, year two Geology student, Biringa Chiadika Lordson, year two Theatre Arts, Mike Lloyd Toku, year two Civil Engineering,  and Tekena Erikena were stripped naked and murdered for allegedly stealing a mobile phone. The footage of this act of untrammeled barbarism revealed a sad commentary in the current Nigerian state, where death is cheap and ubiquitous.
In its reaction to the incident, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) attributed the killing of the four students to inadequate hostel facilities on the campus, insisting that this had been responsible for violence on campuses in Nigerian Universities. According to the group, some of the incidents that consume the lives of students could have been prevented with the provision of sufficient bed spaces in public universities in the country.

NANS, in a statement by the Zone B Coordinator, Mr. Obasi Chinonso, said over 75 per cent of university students in the country were living off-campus. The students called on the Federal Government and management of the University of Port Harcourt to provide more hostel facilities on campus to avoid a recurrence and to put a stop to a situation where majority of its students reside off-campus.

At the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, a former Public Relations Officer of the Students Union Government, Comrade Agu David, said about 80 per cent of the students living in off-campus hostels built by private individuals are exposed to various security challenges. Aside the risk of attacks by hoodlums, house rents are usually set sky-high by avaricious landlords.

“Today, the cheapest you can get a room in any of the UNIZIK off-campus hostels is N100, 000 per annum. Some other rooms cost as much as N160, 000 per annum. There is an unimpeachable case of extortion of students by businessmen who now see the students as the fastest means to enrich themselves. A lot of students are homeless today as a result of this,” he said.

Aside paying high rents for off campus hostels, the occupants have bitter experiences. Some of them become scapegoats in community crisis, while incidences of rape of married and single ladies are said to be rampant. Agu, who lives in one of the private houses, recalled how he and his colleagues starve themselves to pay the exorbitant rents demanded by landlords.

“One may not really blame the landlords because like when I was in the union we called the landlords for a meeting to see if we could resolve the situation; to see how rent could come down to an affordable rate for the students. The landlords retorted asking us to first of all attend to the one happening inside our campus before we could disturb the private individuals building hostels around the university premise. Their argument was that they are being encouraged by the school management because you find a situation where the rent for the university hostel is also high. The landlords now see that as an encouragement for them to keep extorting the students and considering the fact that the school does not have enough accommodation for the students, over 80% of the students now live off campus and that has now led to the situation whereby building hostels off campus has now become the most profitable business in Awka. People come from across the world to build hostels here. Building of hostels is the in-thing now, it is the new ‘oil boom’ in Awka. And as soon as the hostels are completed, a small tiny room, students rush to occupy them.”

One of the students living in the school hostel, Comrade Nwokeoma Ibendiogwu, former Rep of Law IV in SUG, disclosed that they pay N75,000 each in a room shared by three students.

It is the same situation at the University of Calabar, after 39 years of existence.  The institution which was formally a campus of University of Nigeria, Nsukka, as at 1973/74 academic session became an autonomous university on October 1, 1975 under degree No 80 as part of Third National Development Plan that established seven new institutions under the Federal Military Government. The institution started with three faculties and 154 students but today, it has over 10 faculties, four institutes and over 30,000 students.

As Nigerian public universities grapple with inadequate bed spaces for students, most private universities have recorded over 80 per cent students’ residency status. For instance, at the Babcock University, Ilishan-Remo, Ogun State, undergraduate students must live on campus for effective supervision and effective academic work. About 96 per cent students’ residency status has been achieved within the short span of its existence, not minding that the 67 degree programmes being offered in the institution coupled with large number of students at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.

At Covenant University, there are full residential facilities for all students to ensure that they live a life of dignity which is void of unnecessary challenges. At present, there are 10 Residential Halls in the university, comprising of  five male halls and five female halls. The students’ hostel facility can effectively accommodate 9,150 students.
While students in public varsities take up every available space, Covenant students have enough space, such that in each of the ten halls of residence, there are ancillary spaces such as Common Rooms, Butteries, Tuck Shops, Telephone Rooms, Beauty Salons, Hall Offices and Administrative Offices. Above all, the university emphasizes one man – one bed space philosophy, not tolerating squatting or swapping of bed spaces.

To alleviate the sufferings of students, some public universities have introduced a BOT arrangement for the construction of more hostel facilities by private developers, who are allowed to collect the rent for an agreed period of time, sometimes extending up to 25 years. Not minding this arrangement, most private developers refuse to invest in the project for fear of losing their investment to systemic fraud in these academic institutions.

Recently, the Parents Forum of the University of Lagos took a giant step by laying the foundation stone of a 15-storey building that would provide additional 1500 bed spaces for female students. The project named after Nigeria’s First Lady, Dame Patience Goodluck Jonathan would cost an estimated N3 billion. All parents of the university have so far been levied additional N10, 000 for the project.

While commending the UNILAG Parents Forum for initiating the project, the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council, Prof Jerry Gana, said most observers of the education sector in Nigeria are familiar with the usual problems associated with campus accommodation for students and staff in universities.

“Hostel life is part and parcel of a normal university education. Perhaps, that is why in England, both Oxford and Cambridge universities are purely residential. Indeed, there are several universities in North America that are completely residential and do not admit day scholars,” he said.
Aside the relative comfort of learning that campus hostels provide for students, Prof Gana said the facility provides a robust platform for mutual interaction that would be of benefit to the students.

“Indeed, bookworms, who live secluded lives without the company of fellow students miss the main purpose of education. Real learning and originality come from the impact of one mind upon another. Hostel life, therefore, is the surest way of eliciting the best in a young mind.”
University of Calabar hall 4 hostel

However, some of the parents, who spoke with Education Review in confidence, were furious with the N10,000 levy imposed on them by the forum. According to them, the university lacked moral justification to burden them with additional levy, since it will collect hostel fee from students on completion of the project. Rather than put the burden on parents, they advised the government to allow private developers to build halls of residence and rent them out to students at highly subsidized rates.

Sam Ibok, reporting.

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