By Adesina Wahab
WHEN Victor was offered admission to study education at the University of Lagos, UNILAG, Akoka, Lagos in the 2018/2019 academic year, it was good news to his family. He had earlier written the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination twice without success. His university of first choice was always UNILAG – his parents are middle level staff of the hospital arm of the university, the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, and the family thought that they could get some advantage due to that.
However, what the family did not put into consideration is the issue of accommodation for the young man. The family resides in Alagbado area of Lagos and all efforts by the parents to secure accommodation for Victor on campus proved futile. The young man had to commute from home to school daily for about six weeks. His father, having noticed the stress the daily commuting was having on his boy, frantically sought off-campus accommodation for him, but the rent was too much for the family to bear. To rent a room in Iwaya, Bariga or Akoka required about N400,000 per annum and the family could not afford that.
“My wife tried to use all the contacts she had to secure hostel accommodation, which was N30,000 per session, but to no avail. What we did was that we would wake up as early as 4.00am and start preparing for work and Victor would be preparing for school. We all know what Lagos traffic could look like sometimes, the stress was too much. We also could not afford the rent in neighbouring communities to UNILAG and because he got the admission a bit late, he was yet to know any student he could pair up with.
“What eventually helped us a little is that a friend of mine who lives in official quarters in LUTH, Idi Araba, agreed to take him in and from there, he started attending lectures at UNILAG. Thank God that there is a bus service from Idi Araba to Akoka. Now, his younger brother has been given admission in the same school, and we are now making arrangements for the two of them,” Femi Akerele, Victor’s father said.
The case of Nneka, who lives with her parents in Ajasa area of Lagos and also a student of UNILAG was not different. Her father had to take her to the Anthony Village, Lagos headquarters of their church to stay for about three months to commute from there to UNILAG before her accommodation issue could be sorted out.
Accommodation situation in universities
At UNILAG, the available bed space is put at about 8,000 and according to the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, the student population at all levels is about 57,000. “The shortage of accommodation is also affecting our staff members too. For instance, out of about 1,500 academic staff, only about 253 are living on campus. We are looking at private sector participation in providing accommodation, but it is only a patient investor that can go into that. It takes between 15-18 years for anybody investing in student hostel to break even,” the VC said at a recent media event.
First and second generation universities have accommodations, even though inadequate, for their students and staff. Most of the universities started after them, especially by state governments, are non-residential. It is in that cadre that we have the Lagos State University, LASU, the Ekiti State University, EKSU, the Ambrose Alli University among others.
Recently, the Association of Vice-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities, AVCNU, cried out over the deplorable situation, saying an urgent solution must be found to the housing inadequacy in public universities, after it had observed that less than 40 per cent of students were being accommodated in any higher institution’s hostels. The association underscored the need to address the housing challenges as it noted that social vices such as kidnapping, gang-rape, prostitution and robberies were more associated with students living outside the campus environment.
The AVCNU’s resolution was conveyed by its Chairman, Prof. Debo Adeyewa, in a statement he issued in Abuja at a one-day policy dialogue on slum upgrade and low-income students’ hostels, with the theme: Build for Nigeria.
He noted that a major challenge hampering students’ accommodation was paucity of funds, since, according to him, students from low-income backgrounds were unable to afford the high cost of decent apartments and, therefore, squatted in shanties off-campus.
“The problem of housing inadequacies is very worrisome. In universities, we are unable to provide accommodation because of paucity of funds. And inadequate accommodation has led to squatting, outstretch of facilities, high maintenance cost,” he lamented.
In most of these universities, as many as eight undergraduates share a room designed for only three students or, at most, four. This common place scenario is worsened by the practice whereby the original occupants allow their friends or relatives as squatters in a room. Depending on the agreement of the occupants, the number of occupants may be doubled, tripled, or even quadrupled at the end of the day.
At UNILAG, it is common to see a room meant for six students accommodating nearly 20. “Such a situation is what accounts for incessant breakdown of facilities and having bed bugs and such things in the hostels. That is why whenever the students are on break, we ensure that we fumigate the halls,” Prof. Ogundipe said.
Lack of control over students
An educator, Mr Femi Michael, described the development as very unfortunate. “When we were in school, the situation was not as bad as this. Univeristy is not just to go and attend lectures, but to bond with others and socialise too. That is not the case now. The most unfortunate fallout of the situation is that university management no longer have control over most of the students because they live off campus. If the students are on campus, definitely, there will be a limit to what they can do.
“What some of these students have turned their off campus residences to is better imagined. Some of the girls have turned theirs to pimp base, some boys have turned theirs to cybercrime hubs. Don’t you see how EFCC is making arrest hauls from those private hostels outside our campuses?” he asked.
Finding the way out
Since shelter is one of the basic needs of man, university staff and students ought to live in a conducive environment to get the best out of them. A builder, Mr Emmanuel Agbaje, said the PPP approach is still the best but that special concession be given the investors. “Since we all know that to break even after investing in such a project like building hostel and staff accommodation for institutions will take some time, let there be tax concession for the investor. Also, government can help the universities with grants or support in that regards. A lecturer who ought to be in the laboratory till late at night and who lives off campus, may be too much in a hurry to do what he is supposed to do with patience.
“Look at most of the private universities, they have accommodation for most of their students, in fact some have no off campus students and they monitor them well. Also, the NUC should ensure that our public universities don’t go beyond their limits while admitting students,” he noted.
Adequate funding of the education sector is desirable to provide a conducive atmosphere for teaching and learning, as the nation still lags behind in meeting international standards concerning budgetary allocations to the sector.