Articles/Opinions

Filthy varsities

Perhaps the most obvious symbol of the precipitous decline of Nigeria’s federal universities is the disgraceful state of their student hostels. Their decrepitude, filth, neglect and utter decay tell the story of a fall from grace in a way that almost nothing else can.

Misleadingly called “halls of residence,” many of these squalid accommodations are virtually unfit for human habitation. They are heavily overcrowded, lacking in sanitary and other facilities, unsafe, and characterised by gross neglect on the part of both the students and the university authorities.


Nigerian Universities


In September 2015, students of the University of Lagos (Unilag), Lagos, embarked on a demonstration to protest the invasion of their hostels by bedbugs. In May 2017, students of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, resorted to similar action, claiming that the bedbug menace had compelled many of them to sleep in football fields. If such deplorable conditions obtain at two of Nigeria’s most prestigious institutions, the situation in less well-resourced schools can only be imagined.

Bathrooms in the hostels of many federal universities are often unusable, forcing students to take baths in the open. Toilets are so disgustingly dirty that residents are compelled to defecate in plastic bags and throw them out of the hostels. Rooms meant to take four occupants routinely accommodate 12 and more. Water is scarce; electricity is erratic; minimal standards of safety and cleanliness are unknown. In some cases, the buildings are structurally deficient, making the prospect of collapse an ever-present danger.

This completely unacceptable situation is the consequence of a combination of funding shortfalls, administrative incompetence and widespread obstinacy.

Most student housing in federal universities is priced well below economic cost. In the University of Calabar (Unical), one bed space costs N16,000 per session; at the University of Port Harcourt, it is N22,500; in Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto (UDUS), it is N7,090 per bed space; at OAU, it is N3,900 per bed space.

These sums are completely unrelated to the economic realities of present-day Nigeria, and with university funding at a relative low, it is virtually impossible for the authorities to properly maintain the hostels. The resolution of disgraceful bedbug infestation, for example, requires regular and extensive fumigation, which is not cheap. The systematic repair and installation of plumbing, sanitary and electrical fittings is another expensive undertaking.

To worsen matters, students consistently refuse to consider even minimal attempts to raise the price of hostel accommodation, often responding to such moves with aggressive demonstrations.

University administrations are themselves guilty of complacency and incompetence. Far too many of them seem to regard the issue as something to be endured by their students and are apparently indifferent to the disastrous effect poor student housing has on the corporate image and smooth functioning of their institutions.

There are several options that can be explored if universities are truly determined to turn their hostels into domiciles fit for human beings.

One way would be to consider a variety of financing options for constructing new hostels on campus. Apart from actively seeking the assistance of alumni and philanthropists, there is also the possibility of going into business with developers on a build-own-operate-transfer (BOOT) basis. This approach has the advantage of ensuring that more hostels are put up while saving the school concerned from the financial outlay involved in constructing them.

University managements must also seek to work with students more closely in addressing the difficulties facing hostels, especially the rampant filth, gross overcrowding and frequent criminal activity. It should be possible to arrive at joint agreement on how hostels can be kept reasonably clean, decrease the incidence of illegal residence and reduce crime to the barest minimum. Both parties must realise that it is in their mutual interest to ensure that basic standards of cleanliness and safety are maintained.

Decent accommodation is a vital component of a good university education. For as long as the nation’s future leaders are compelled to occupy housing that most animals would decline, for so long will universities fail to attain their true potential.

Culled From Thenation Newspaper

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