How students lose millions on rent over ASUU strike
As a result of incessant strikes affecting the country’s higher institutions, Nigerian students have lost millions of naira in housing rent.
The Guardian investigation revealed that those affected are mostly students living in private hostels, who rent choice apartments and self-contained accommodation in major cities across the country.
In the last five years, millions in rent had gone into the pockets of private hostel investors, as students are forced to leave their rental apartments due to a lack of academic work in public universities.
Suleiman Ebeiya, a 400 level student of the Department of Mathematics, Federal University of Gusau, Zamfara, is one of such victims. In April 2020, he had to travel home to his parents in Kwara, following the strike action in March 2020, as two weeks warning strike, which metamorphosed into nine months and ended in January the following year.
Two years later, Suleiman is also facing the same fate, following the February 14, 2022 warning strike, which is now rolling over into three months.
According to Suleiman, he has experienced this before and he is unhappy he is living this moment again.
“I am sad, unhappy and worried about my properties in the hostel because of the recent attacks by robbers, who are breaking into hostels and looting the properties of hostel occupants.”
He not only has to worry about the possibility of spending an extra year as an undergraduate but also about his hostel rent, which he renewed in February, days before the warning strike was declared following the Federal Government’s failure to meet the conditions for which the 2020 strike was called off in January 2021.
A sum of N120,000 per year is paid by Suleiman even if he is away from the hostel for months. Mr. Kabir, is the caretaker of Walid Bread Lodge, a student hostel located in the Sabon-Gida axis of Gusau, which is a 10-minute drive from his campus.
Between February 2020 and January 2021, he lost a sum of N80,000 on rent after travelling home in April 2020 and resumed school in January 2021 only to renew his rent the following month after being away for eight months. Suleiman is meant to pay a sum of N480,000 between 100 level to 400 level but the strike has made him pay N600,000 already and has not graduated.
Other students in big cities like Lagos, Abuja, Owerri and PortHarcourt are paying more in rent worth billions of naira yearly. In Abakaliki in Ebonyi State, students pay as much as N250,000 for a space in private hotels.
Just like Suleiman, thousands of university students affected by the ASUU strike have come to terms with this reality – losing months from their academic calendar and millions on rent by paying rent for hostels they may not reside in for a complete year.
In 2020, university students, who resided in hostels off-campus affected by the ASUU strike lost nine months from their academic calendar and lost money on rent as well.
In the last 21 years, the Academic Staff Union of Universities has spent no less than 1500 days on strike. While students were trying to get over the disastrous effect of the 2020 ASUU strike, which lasted nine months and universities were beginning to get back to running their normal academic calendar pre-2020, the union embarked on a warning strike that transcended into an indefinite strike.
Other students, like Isaac Chibuife, a 300 level student of Mass Communication at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka who pays N150,000 per year prefer to reside in hostels off-campus even if he has to pay a higher amount of money as rent for accommodation off-campus because hostels on campus are not enough for the entire student population.
For Isaac, he believes this is a small price he has to pay to avoid living in school hostels, which are in a pathetic state. The student, who paid N120,000 in March 2020 lost a sum of N90,000 on rent. After the strike was called off in January 2021 and Isaac resumed after nine months hiatus, his landlord increased his rent from N120,000 to N150,000 naira.
The hostel Isaac resides in is a three-storey building, which houses about one hundred rooms. The occupant(s) of each room pay an average of 150,000 naira per annum.
In 2020, students residing in Isaac’s hostel lost no less than nine million naira altogether on rent as a result of the nine-month strike.
“The whole situation is very annoying. It is very worrisome that we don’t enjoy the rent that we pay,” Isaac told The Guardian.
A professor at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the university management might not be able to mediate between students and the landlords in matters of off-campus accommodation primarily because universities are never a party to the initial agreement.
According to him, any matter beyond the security of students and emergency health issues in such off-campus accommodation is beyond the current scope of the management.
“The only way that can empower the university to appeal to off-campus residential landlords for consideration of rent dormancy during strikes is to create an environment that will allow the university to become part of the initial tenancy agreement. Currently, this arrangement does not exist and there is no legal backing for such mitigation from the university.”
In the University of Ilorin, the school management and student union leaders appealed to the management of hostels off-campus to reduce the burden of renewing their rent after the resumption. This plea fell on the deaf ears of some landlords who demanded their rent in full the following year.
The Guardian learnt some students are being harassed during the strike to pay their rent on expiration. One of those threatened is Marvelous Adedayo, a final year student of Sociology, with eviction. While Marvelous was away, his landlord requested his matriculation number and threatened to report him to the school authorities, if he defaulted. He renewed his rent in September that year although he was home in Ogun State with his family. This, he did to avoid eviction from his landlord.
A realtor and a caretaker of the private hostel in Tanke, Ilorin and co-founder of Ilorin property, Mr. Bakare Muktar, said there is no clause in the housing agreement with his clients who are students to default on their payment if any problem occurs, they have to pay their rents in full, with or without being present in the hostel.
“Students have no choice but to pay their rent as at when due even if ASUU is on strike or school is not in session. This does not affect the payment of rent as long as you live in that hostel or your belongings are still there,” he told The Guardian.
The burden of paying accommodation fees for students falls on the parents. With the prices of goods and services rising daily as a result of the country’s inflation rate without a corresponding increase in the wages and salaries of workers, parents are left to bear the full weight of this.
While speaking to The Guardian, Miss Olaoluwa Awode, a single mother of a fresh student of History and Diplomatic Studies, Tai Solarin University of Education, Ijebu-Ode, lamented that the situation has been a major source of concern to her.
Her son gained admission in January 2022 and went to school from home until she paid his accommodation fees for a hostel off-campus, a sum of N100,000 in early February.
As her son was about to move into the newly rented hostel, ASUU declared a one-month warning strike. Now, Miss Olaoluwa has lost a sum of N20,000 on the rent of her son, who has not spent a day in the hostel. She is likely to lose more should the strike continue to roll over into months.
“I spoke to the caretaker for whom I paid my son’s accommodation fees to inquire if something can be done about this so as to reduce the burden of renewing the rent when my son did not spend up to 12 months in the hostel but he responded in the negative,” she said.
She further expressed her displeasure at the economic situation of the country. Her words: “There is no money or job in Nigeria and the little money we are able to earn so we can take care of our children is going to waste and it saddens me.
“Please help us, the parents of Nigerian undergraduates. It is not fair that our children spend more years in school than they ought to and we have to spend more on their accommodation than we are supposed to,” she appealed to the union and other parties involved to put an end to the strike.