Accommodation, adequate housing, shelter or whatever nomenclature that is applied, is a very important index of development at every level of human consciousness. A man who does not have a roof over his head is rudderless, tossed by the proverbial ill-wind that blows no good. A homeless man is a menace to the society, he is incapable of reasonable thinking and harbours an infinite capacity for mischief. When people are homeless, they lose every sense of decency and belonging, it becomes difficult to differentiate them from beasts in the jungle as they ultimately feel exposed to the elements, rejected by society. Any man who is not able to provide this basic necessity for his wife and children should be decorated with the apparel of irresponsibility. A shelter is, therefore, a very important component of the human order. Even animals have shelter in various degrees, birds of the air and fishes in the ocean, reptiles and sundry creatures all have a place of comfort, a place they can retire to after the days toil. If therefore shelter, accommodation is very important in the lives of men, it goes without saying that Nigerian students in tertiary institutions deserve adequate accommodation for their rigorous, academic endeavour.
Many times, education in Nigeria is criticized and berated as one of the worst in the world. The critics of the Nigerian education sector indulge in these mindless acts without scrutinizing the various significations that have given education in the country a poor label. One of the many sore points of poor educational standard in Nigeria is accommodation especially in the many tertiary institutions across the country. These days, university and polytechnic students go through the crucible to attend lectures and pursue their academic dreams. Although some universities have made efforts to provide hostels for the students, times have proved that these halls of residents are grossly inadequate for the teeming number of students in the institutions. In many instances, the halls of residence are in a deplorable state and are uninhabitable due to very poor maintenance culture. In most instances where the halls of residence are habitable, they are inadequate to accommodate the students. The result is that many students seek accommodation in town with all the hazards and security implications. In fact, some students, unprotected from the innumerable vagaries of our society, have lost their lives in their hostels located far away from the school.
Recently, in first and second generation universities across Nigeria, year one students and final year students used to have automatic accommodation while the regular year two and year three students faced the lottery of balloting. This seemed a good arrangement because the fresh students, considered very young and naïve, needed the accommodation to settle down in school and face their studies in their new environment. It was also considered appropriate to give final year students accommodation so that they can settle down, write their projects and prepare adequately for their final exams. In most of the federal institutions, these days, year one students and final year students are no longer given automatic accommodation. This exposes the young, fresh students to danger and harm since they have to commute from very far distances to their lectures on a daily basis. Also, the final year students, who do not have accommodation through the mysterious balloting system, are left to hustle from town to their lectures on a daily basis too. The fate of year two and year three students is better left to the imagination. In the long run, these students deal with issues that practically negate good education and positive academic attitude. Many state universities do not have hostels within the campuses. In places where hostels exist, the situation is regrettable, something that should never be seen in any part of the world. These have given rise to the establishment of private hostels within the university environment. However, these hostels are so exorbitant that only a few parents can afford them. Some parents who can afford these hostels are reluctant to do so because their children are unprotected, exposed to the ever constant snares in our society. Depressingly, some female students use these hostels as brothels where they are patronized by immoral men. In 2012 during a visit to the University of Johannesburg (UJ) in South Africa to attend an international conference, I had the opportunity to look around the school’s accommodation situation. The hostels are located some poles away from the university and a first time visitor will think they are five-star hotels. To my admiration, school buses conveyed the students every day from their hostels to the campus at a much-reduced fare. I asked a student if they experienced such things as power failure in the hostels, he laughed and said such things were unknown in those parts.
It is the duty of the government to provide adequate hostels for students across tertiary institutions in Nigeria. Also, existing hostels should be maintained properly so that our students can have decent accommodation where real academic engagements can take place. It is not enough to build universities across the country, it is also very important to provide a conducive environment that will ensure proper academic activity. If some of our students are not doing well, if some of our students are frustrated, it could be traced to their accommodation woes. The truth must be told, a student who spends six hours every day on the road can never be productive in his/her studies. Unfortunately, children of the rich, the decision and policy makers, do not go through this kind of torture. They are either whisked away to school abroad where the condition is near perfect or they are immediately enrolled in private universities where exorbitant fees are charged. In that case, it is children of the poor, the workers, the toilers who grapple with these anomalous conditions in the country.
The private sector should also play a vital role in providing accommodation for Nigerian tertiary institutions. They can reach an agreement with the government to build hostels inside the campuses. In this case, the land is provided completely free of charge and then, the fees for the accommodation is subsidized. After a stipulated period when the investor must have made an appreciable gain, these hostels should be handed over to the universities. It is not enough to criticize Nigerian university graduates without first looking at the conditions they have to deal with in the pursuit of their academic glory. It is only an insane society that will disregard its educational sector while echoing the stale mantra of “the youths are the leaders of tomorrow”. Those who are fixated with ethnicity, religion and such nebulous considerations that tear us apart should know that Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, and many other ethnicities, Christians and Muslims, in fact, youths of different persuasions are facing these same problems, no one is spared. Indeed, if the accommodation situation in Nigerian tertiary institutions is adequately tackled and solved, it will greatly improve the standard of education in Nigeria.