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Alarming state of university hostels

By Editorial Board
17 September 2019   |   3:28 am
The pathetic state of infrastructure, especially as it affects the hostels in our public universities across the country is alarming as recently depicted in a section of the media.

Student toilet, Kwara state University

The pathetic state of infrastructure, especially as it affects the hostels in our public universities across the country is alarming as recently depicted in a section of the media.

Doubtless, it should be a serious matter that should trigger some critical thinking within the government and the authorities of the affected institutions. This is a specific challenge that should not have cropped up within the context of poor funding of tertiary institutions we lament about regularly here. This is the second time this issue has touched off commentaries on this page this year and yet no attention to the challenge. It is shameful.

Reports from the country’s public universities have exposed the harrowing condition of the hostels and other learning infrastructure, where future leaders of the country are being trained.

The situation has degenerated to such an extent that neither proper learning nor health of the students is guaranteed anymore. The government and all concerned should not delay, any longer in addressing the worsening situation.

From the first generation universities that have been there for over four decades to the newly established ones, the story is the same – decadent and disgusting hostels, laboratories, libraries and lecture halls; inadequate and ill-maintained facilities; overcrowding; lack of water and power; filthy rooms/bathrooms, general poor sanitary condition, etc. Complaints about bedbug-infested rooms are rife in some of the universities’ hostels. This is incredible. What happened to the management and governance systems in all these universities that used to be well maintained?

At the University of Lagos with about 25, 000 students, for instance, only a fraction of the students are accommodated in the halls of residence; the rest are left to perch, squat or commute from anywhere in this very congested and complicated metropolis. Some commute from as far as Ogun State, with all the associated stress and trauma on the youngsters.

Consequently, a room that was meant for four students is forced to take over ten, most of whom are squatters. To accommodate everyone, the beds are removed while the mattresses are placed on a bare floor, where students pack themselves as sardines. The unhygienic condition breeds bedbugs that had sometimes caused students of the institution to stage a mass protest against the poor living condition.

At the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), Enugu Campus, the hostels are reportedly dilapidated and have become an eyesore. The male hostels are said to be the worst-hit – filthy and uninhabitable. Indications are that the two hostels on the campus that had 2,000-bed spaces now accommodate about 5,000 students. This is insufferable!

The Nsukka campus is even much worse. The male hostels’ toilets and bathrooms are reportedly disease-infested. To avoid contracting diseases, the students are now forced to defecate in the surrounding bushes where they are exposed to danger! Most of the hostels’ windows, doors and ceilings have fallen apart without maintenance.

Findings at the University of Port Harcourt, which had 22 hostels, practically, cut the image of a “ghetto.” Some commentators have described the hostels as “charred prisons,” meaning that they are more like dungeons.

Both the male and the female hostels are reportedly shambolic and in this horrible state. The situation is reportedly worsened by the high level of insecurity and exorbitant rent in the neigbourhood, where a self-contained apartment can be as high as N120,000 per annum.

While students of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, queue to use the few conveniences, students of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, are reportedly battling bedbug infestation that feeds on them. This is a curious degeneration that no serious government should tolerate.

The other day, two female students of the university reportedly sprayed themselves with the Sniper insecticide over an argument of who infested the beds with bedbugs. It is a pathetic turn of events on a campus that was once a masterpiece. The decay is unending and lamentable.

The situation in the state and private universities is even more horrendous. Most of these institutions operate without hostels, making their students live in unhygienic commercial hostels built by private developers. More than ten students are sometimes packed in a small room that lacks conveniences.

It is unfortunate that what used to be decent university accommodation spaces have turned into dungeons, thereby, further exposing the rot in the Nigerian society. Needless to emphasise the fact that students need a conducive environment to learn. But it is strange that the authorities at all levels have not paid attention to this tragedy in our tertiary institutions we expect to produce research to develop Africa’s most populous nation.

Nothing could justify the fact that at this stage, Nigeria, with huge oil money earned over the decades, would still be battling acute accommodation space in her public universities. It is an indictment of the entire governance system in the country. The reported embargo on hostel building by the universities is an anathema and should be lifted immediately.  Universities should be free to build comfortable hostels for their students. And the university authorities should be allowed to negotiate with the organised private sector property developers, in this regard.

The issue of potable water and power supply, for instance, is relegated by many states. There is acute shortage of potable water across Nigeria. This has dire consequences on personal hygiene and sanitation. Power supply is, of course, a national problem taking its toll on learning and research in the institutions.

Meanwhile, the effort of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to create a conducive learning environment has, no doubt, yielded some dividends but a lot still needs to be done. The ASUU powers should not stay on the same spot on this. They should not be intimidated by the shenanigans of the federal and state authorities that have not shown they are covenant keepers when it comes to funding education in the country.

The point should be made that the worsening situation shows that the government has been complacent and the governing councils and management they appoint to oversee these institutions have no commitment to building critical infrastructure including maintenance of even existing hostels. Part of the problem is corruption in the institutions. One way of dealing with the problem is to outsource the hostels to private managers. Certainly, that would change the situation.

At this juncture, it is quite relevant to advise both the federal and state governments to stop establishing new universities when the infrastructure in the existing ones is dilapidated. All told, the existing universities should be expanded and funded properly within the context of autonomy they have been statutorily granted.

While authorities in Nigeria are celebrating their meretricious exploits, they should note that the country cannot make any headway in this age of data science and technology when funding of education, the bedrock of human and economic development is relegated. Specifically, the issue of hostel facilities for students should not be mixed with the general decay in tertiary education.

In the main, the governing councils and the management of the public universities should take some responsibility for this monumental failure in the maintenance culture. What is more, most of the universities offer courses in relevant disciplines that can take care of this particular challenge so seamlessly. This is part of the reasons we have been advocating radical curriculum reforms that will reflect the capacity to solve problems of the society such as the maintenance of university hostels.