In Federal varsities , decrepit facilities turn students’ hostel to prisons
By Sam Otti
The euphoria generated by the recent Webometrics ranking that rated the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) as the best university in Nigeria, and 14th in Africa is yet to die down. The University of Lagos (Unilag) also recorded similar feat, when the National Universities Commission (NUC) rated it the second best university in the country.
Daily Sun undercover journalist visited these institutions recently to ascertain the true state of learning facilities. The findings on campus were quite shocking and a contrast to the acclaimed feat.
At the Eni Njoku Hostel, a popular residential hall for students of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), students live in hellholes in a six-man room officially allocated to them by the school. Although six students were officially allocated to each room, investigation revealed that more than eight students share one room. Inside the rooms were torn, dirty mattresses laid on the broken dusty floor, long wooden planks that serve as the reading and kitchen table.
Initial resistance by the students could not stop this reporter from peeping into their toilets. The sight was quite horrible. A pungent, nasty smell envelops the entire area, with pools of dark water occupying parts of the floor. No doubt, the stinking state of toilets and bathrooms, especially in the afternoon, forces helpless students to bathe and defecate in the open field in the area at night. White papers used by students that defecate at night littered the empty land space around the hostel, while cellophane bags stuffed with faeces fly anonymously from the hostels into the surrounding bushes in the wee hours.
The rooms had no resemblance of a residential place. Various writings on the wall, a riotous display of electrical wirings by students and rusted metallic chairs gave the picture of a soldiers’ camp. Bags, stoves and pots littered the floor, while books and other valuables were locked up in the old partitioned wooden lockers fitted to the peeling wall. The defaced walls in the hostels left no visitor in doubt that the building had not been painted for years.
The Franco Dining Hall was like a canteen used by artisans in a mechanic village. Part of the roof got burnt years ago, but no one cared to replace it. At the far end of the dining hall, students count the stars through the open roof during dinner. Plastic chairs and tables were scattered around the large hall, with students taking up the deserted tables after buying their food from the busy vendor, who had no time to clean the tables or mop the dirty floor.
At Alvan Ikoku Hall, sagging decks of the building leaves the occupants in fear. The hall, which produced many distinguished personalities in the past, now reeks of decay, with rusted metal rails, dirty floors, broken walls and choking smell from the toilets.
Lots of students were seen in long queues in front of different hostels waiting to fetch water for their daily use, when this reporter visited the area recently.
This reporter also sneaked into one of the rooms on the fourth floor of Alvan Ikoku Hostel, shared by eight students. It looked more like a prison cell than a students’ residence. Broken window nets, old wooden doors, shattered louvers, wobbling planks and broken stools for reading, gave a miserable scene. Since most of the window nets were broken, the students said they live at the mercy of mosquitoes in their rooms. There were no ceiling fans in most of the rooms, despite having eight to 10 students in a room.
One of the students, Emmanuel Iwuoha, said he and his roommates face lots of challenges living in the school hostel. He called for a thorough renovation of all the hostels to improve students’ living condition on campus.
Another student, Nwodo Nich Chukwuebuka, said water scarcity makes life miserable for students living in hostels. “We are suffering in the hostels. Look at the dirty foams that undergraduates are using. The school gives us foams used by female students. When they phase out foams used by the female students, they will push them to us,” he complained.
These dilapidated hostels seemed like a child’s play when compared with the rot in the popular Zik’s Flat, Onuiyi. Blocks of flat that formerly accommodated students were neglected over the years, till they became death traps. The threat posed by the structures forced the university to hurriedly evacuate students from the area, leaving behind few defiant National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) members in some rooms.
The decaying state of facilities in UNN brings tears to the eyes of former students, who enjoyed the glorious years of the institution. The President, University of Nigeria Alumni Association (UNAA), Lagos Branch, Chief Mike Okoye, admitted the decaying infrastructure in the institution during the annual reunion dinner and award ceremony of the association held recently in Lagos.
A video-clip of the decaying state of hostel facilities in their alma mater, which was played at the event, stole the smiles on the faces of other alumni.
Okoye promised immediate intervention by the association. He said: “I feel the need to change this condition. This is why I have made the upgrading of the facilities in our university hostels a key objective for this administration.”
Another alumnus of the university, Prof Pat Utomi, was visibly angry as he insisted that the current state of the university would not restore the dignity of man. He explained that even at the most trying period in the history of Nigeria, that is, immediately after the war, UNN was looking much better than its present state. He called for the rethinking of the nation’s university system to revive ailing ivory towers to healthy standards.
“When I visited UNN about 20 years ago, I wanted to look around; they warned me not to go near the toilets. The conduct of people will reflect the environment they live in. There is no way you will live in a university without toilet and come out into the world to behave like somebody who is cultured. We have real problems. When we are ready for progress, we need to make some real sacrifices and the first sacrifice is by forcing this country to begin to rethink how to be organised. We need a new philosophy. What we have at UNN is not restoring the dignity of man,” he stated.
Also worried about the wounded lion, another alumnus, who is also the Deputy Managing Director/Deputy Editor-in-Chief, The Sun Publishing Ltd, Steve Nwosu, expressed sorrow that the situation has deteriorated to such awful level. He, however, admitted that when he was still in the school some decades ago, some of the problems were already cropping up.
“If all the alumni can simply pay N1,000 back to the school; even if it is not on monthly basis, I am sure we will overcome many of these problems.
“When I saw the video clip of some of the hostels, I could not look at it for the second time because it is really painful. But, we have to do something about it. In fact, some of us, who are exposed to these things, have discovered that there are so many floating funds here and there that can be tapped into and can be channelled into the university to improve the state of infrastructure,” he said.
When contacted, the Public Relations Officer, UNN, Chief Okwun Omeaku, maintained that the university had undergone lots of renovations in recent time. According to him, the university has improved the state of the hostels, such that the students never complained.
“The university hosted the West African Universities Games and that was an opportunity to improve on existing facilities and we did. There are no universities that do not have challenges,” he said.
Omeaku said that the management of the university has improved the state of facilities far above what was on ground during the previous administrations. He also disclosed that the University of Nigeria Alumni Association volunteered to give the Zik’s Flat a new look. But work was yet to commence at the site as at the time of filing this report.
At the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, which boasts of many new edifices, there were still challenges of inadequate classrooms for lectures. Students of the Department of African and Ancient Studies (Igbo option) had no lecture hall at all. They often study under a big tree shade or cluster on the corridor of the Faculty of Arts building during lectures.
Further investigation revealed that the entire Mass Communication Department of the university has only two classrooms and one auditorium for all the students. In addition to the dearth of classroom blocks, Unizik suffers water scarcity that keeps students in long queues for hours with gallons and buckets to fetch water.
Female students living in Dora Akunyili Hostel and Stella Okoli Hostel were found in long queues waiting for water when Daily Sun reporter visited the area. It was gathered that some of the students miss their lectures in the process.
One of the students, who pleaded not to be mentioned, was furious, as she spoke to Daily Sun. “Yesterday, I had my bath in the evening. I waited all day for water. Some of us went to the male hostel to beg them for water. It is so sad. Barely few days to our exam, there is no water in the hostel. This has, indeed, affected our preparation for the exam,” she lamented.
Another female student expressed dissatisfaction with the rot in the hostel toilets and bathrooms, especially on weekends. “I won’t have the confidence to take my visitor to our toilet or bathroom. It is worse on Saturdays and Sundays because the porters stop their work on Fridays. The stench inside there is so horrible,” one of the female students disclosed.
Efforts by this reporter to confirm the stench in toilets in female hostels failed because the school barred male students or visitors from entering.
Investigation revealed that the university has only two hostels for male students, and two for female. It would take Unizik several years to achieve full residency status, a feat some private universities accomplished within few years of their establishment.
The few bed spaces at Unizik usually provoke lobbying among students jostling for allocation. It was gathered that the priority earlier given to final year and new students had been compromised, leaving hundreds of finalists and new students with nowhere to lay their heads.
Thousands of Unizik students now live in over 500 private hostels located around the university, where they pay as much as N300,000 per flat, as against the subsidized N32,000 accommodation fee charged by the school.
Mr Mighty Kelechi, a 400 level student of Computer Science, who stays in New Male Hostel, said they live like kings in a four-man room. However, he admitted that the bed spaces were grossly inadequate for a fast growing university like Unizik.
The ongoing construction of a new hostel, sponsored by the Needs Assessment Fund Project, would no doubt provide more bed spaces for students, but the building was still at the foundation level when this reporter visited the university in February.
The University of Lagos (UNILAG) prides herself as the “University of First Choice and the Nation’s Pride.” But the 54-year-old institution has only 8,500 bed spaces for its over 46,000 students. In the 15 hostels scattered across the campus, overcrowding is prevalent, coupled with dirty rooms, stinking toilets and waterlogged bathrooms.
Kelechi Amakor bagged a first class degree in Mass Communication, University of Lagos. He lived in the school hostel throughout his stay on campus.
Amakor took this reporter to King Jaja Hall, B121, the last room he stayed before his graduation. Inside the room were double bunk six-spring beds with mattresses, an old creaking ceiling fan, old wooden wardrobe and failed portions of the floor.
The new occupant of the room said the creaking fan sings all night, such that it looks like it would pull off its hook and crash on their heads the next minute. Despite the noise created by the old fan, Amakor conquered the challenge to bag a first class degree.
The Vice Chancellor, Christopher University, Mowe, Ogun State, Prof Friday Ndubuisi, said unfriendly environment often hinders the potentials of Nigerian students.
“Most Nigerian students study in harsh environment, but when they find themselves in an environment that is a little conducive, they become the best in the world,” he argued.
Investigation by Daily Sun revealed that the federal government had in the past imposed a restriction order on federal universities, barring them from developing physical structures with their federal allocation. The restriction came at a time when over one million students apply for admission into universities every year. This inconsiderate decision created serious internal crisis on the campuses, such that existing facilities were overstretched and large number of students had to live as squatters on every corner in the hostel. Though the rot in hostels festered, Vice Chancellors and constituted Governing Councils of various federal universities became puppets of the political class and resorted to praise singing and window dressing to keep their appointments.
Investigation revealed that many vice chancellors and principal officers drive brand new Prado Jeeps worth over N10m, yet mattresses and window nets were lacking in the hostels where their students live. It was also gathered that Chairmen of Governing Council became campus lords, with gifts of new jeeps from universities and relaxation in five-star hotels paid by the schools. Yet, poor students groaned in silence in degraded hostels and lecture halls.
As public universities grapple with dearth of bed spaces, most Nigerian private universities are already celebrating full residency status for their undergraduate and postgraduate students. In most of the residential halls in the private universities, there are ancillary spaces such as common rooms, butteries, tuck shops, telephone rooms, beauty salons, among others. Most of the private universities also emphasise the one-man, one-bed space philosophy, which does not tolerate squatting or swapping of bed spaces.
In an exclusive interview with Daily Sun, the former Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission (NUC), who is now Pro-Chancellor and Chairman, Governing Council, Federal University, Lafia, Nasarawa State, Emeritus Prof Munzali Jibril, decried the poor planning in the nation’s education sector.
He said past administrations failed to meet the funding needs of existing universities. According to him, if the country had educational planning going on along with economic planning, adequate provisions would have been made to absorb students into the various hostel facilities and classrooms in federal universities.
Prof Munzali, who is also the president of Nigerian Institute of Management (NIM), described the webometrics ranking as fake, noting that the NUC disowned it because it was not an objective assessment of the universities.
“We don’t provide the money for expansion. Education is a very delicate thing. We have various variables interacting to produce quality: the variable for students/teachers ratio, the variable of facilities to students, among others. The moment we have more students than these variables to accommodate, we will produce students of low quality. Serious countries of the world do serious planning. Economic planning and education planning always go together”, he said.
Muzali recalled that Nigerian universities were ranked among the top three universities in Africa in past years. He attributed this feat to university autonomy that allowed each institution to appoint the Vice Chancellor, while the government appoints some of the members of the Governing Council.
“They charged fees. Government gave them grants, which they supplemented with fees. They were truly self-governing and they had an international faculty,” he recalled.