By Amaka Abayomi & Tare Youdeowei
One of the problems facing Nigerian institutions of higher learning is inadequate hostel accommodation for the teeming student population. This has been a cause of serious concern to government and the institutions’ authorities, as, according to the National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, over 75 percent of the entire Nigerian student population live off-campus.
Recall that the dilapidated state of facilities in public universities, chief of which is the insufficient and terrible state of hostel accommodation, was one of the things that triggered the 2013 strike by members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU.
According to the aggrieved lecturers, 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 ones.
From the University of Lagos to the University of Port-Harcourt, the issue of inadequate on-campus hostel accommodation has been a major thorn in the flesh of authorities, just as cases of squatting and selling of bed spaces continue to thrive.
The 53 year old ‘university of first choice and the nation’s pride,’ the University of Lagos, UNILAG, is still battling with providing sufficient accommodation for the over 7,000 fresh students and final year students who should automatically get bed spaces.
With a student population of over 30,000, the university can only boast of 8,500 available bed spaces in 15 hostels scattered across the campus.
The restriction order by the Federal Government barring varsities from developing physical structures with their federal allocation have left most institutions in a dilemma.
According to the Deputy Dean II, Students Affairs, Dr. Karo Ogbinaka, accommodation crisis would continue to worsen in the face of large number of students seeking admission into these institutions, especially as the 8,500 bed spaces are a far cry from what is adequate for the 30,000 students of the institution.
Ogbinaka said: “The issue of inadequate bed spaces was one of the reasons ASUU went on strike and government reacted by releasing funds to be used for the building of a male and female hostel each that would accommodate over 2,000 students.
“In the past, priority was given to first and final year students but we can allot only 2,500 bed spaces to the 7,000 new students, another 2,500 bed spaces for final year students and they have to get the accommodation through a ballot system. The remaining bed spaces are for the physically-challenged students, varsity scholars who pay half prize, sports men, foreign students and people who come from very far places.
“We have been able to tackle the issue of sale of bed spaces by ensuring that those that have been allotted pay for it within two days or they forfeit it.
“When we receive reports of sale of bed spaces, we reallocate the space while the original owner would forfeit the money. This crisis would continue until public varsities take up the building of hostels for their students.”
So bad is the situation in UNILAG, that Shylock landlords take advantage of the lack of adequate bed space to rip off students who desire to reside near the school. The rip-off is particularly annoying when compared to the cost of getting a bed space in the school hostel— N25,000.
One of the private hostels near UNILAG, Emerald Suites, charges as much as N184,500 a bed space for a 4-man room and N200,000 a bed space for a 2-man room.
Managers of the hostel
When asked why a bed space costs so much, one of the managers of the hostel who didn’t want her name on print, said the charges are high because of the available facilities.
Each room has its toilet and bathroom and is fitted with air-conditioners and refrigerators, while there is steady water supply and a standby industrial generator.
Some of the students who spoke with Vanguard Learning said despite the high cost, they prefer the hostel because of its closeness to the school as they can avoid being stuck in traffic in their bid to attend early morning lectures.
Vanguard Learning’s investigation reveals that the situation is almost the same in other tertiary institutions . According to a student of the University of Port Harcourt, Irene Oderinde, the prices of private hostels and self-contained flats vary depending on the facilities available.
“In self-contained flats, the least you can get for those with water heater is N140,000 while those with bulletproof doors go for between N150,000 to N170,000,” she said.
Favour Nwosu of the Federal Polytechnic, Nekede, Imo State, said the prices of the private hostels vary based on proximity to the school.
She said: “Hostels close to the school charge between N90,000 to N120,000 and they usually come with tiled floors, running water, perimeter fence, etc. Those far from school collect between N60,000 to N80,0000.”
Landlords in Owerri, Imo State, are having a ball as there are no on-campus accommodation. According to Lina Nwabueze, a student of Imo State University, the closer the hostel is to the school, the more expensive it is and students pay between N85,000 to N150,000.
Self-contained flats within the vicinity of Obafemi Awolowo Univeristy, Ife, Osun State, according to Rahman Ambali, costs between N80,000 to N120,000, while those that prefer a flat they share with course mates pay between N50,000 to N80,000 each.
The direct benefits on-campus housing offer students are many and significant. There are better chances of greater academic success, enhanced socio-personal development, convenience and time management.
Harping on the benefits of on-campus accommodation, UNILAG’s Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council, Professor Jerry Gana, at the foundation laying of a 15-storey female hostel building, said, “hostel life is part and parcel of a normal university education. Perhaps, that is why Oxford, Cambridge and some American varsities are purely residential.
“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.”
Corroborating this view, the Vice-Chancellor, Augustine University, Epe, Lagos, Prof. Steve Afolami, and UNILAG’s Deputy Dean, Students’ Affairs, Ogbinaka, both said staying in hostels afford the students the opportunity to study in serene and conducive environment that is free from the bustle of the city. This, they say, enhances students’ academic performance.
Dangers of living off-campus
Students of the Federal Polytechnic, Oko, Amanbra State, would not forget March 26, 2012 as students clashed with masquerades celebrating the Ifu Olu festival, heralding the planting season. No fewer than eight students were injured, while an expectant mother and student, lost her pregnancy.
Another horrific incident happened that same year at Uniport, when four students were clubbed and burnt to death by youths of Aluu community in Rivers State for allegedly stealing a mobile phone.
Reacting to the incident, 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 varsities.
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 institutions of higher learning.