Aloysius Attah, Onitsha
University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), home of the great ‘lions and lionesses’ has come a long way. Founded by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe in 1955 and formally opened on October 7, 1960, the university has three campuses located in Nsukka, Enugu and Ituku-Ozalla – all in Enugu State.
According to Wikipedia, the university has about 36,000 students. The main campus of the university is located on 871 hectares (2,150 acres) of hilly savannah in the town of Nsukka, about 80 kilometres north of Enugu, with an additional 209 hectares of arable land available for an experimental agricultural farm and 207 hectares for staff housing development.
Like every human creation susceptible to wear and tear, various edifices at the institution are presently in a decrepit state.
Abandoned structures also feature prominently in the university. They range from the stadium to hostels down to faculty complex and departmental buildings.
Falling into ruin
The reporter’s recent visit to the Nsukka campus of the university revealed the sorry state of student’s hostels, where students live as if they are refugees or inmates of an internally displaced persons’ camp. The challenges are many. The rooms are overcrowded. There are also pathetic stories of leaking roofs and other issues, such as abandoned hostels, where snakes, lizards, rats and other rodents and wild animals compete for space.
Students have also turned such abandoned hostels to lavatories, where they answer the call of nature and practice ‘shot put’ (throwing excreta in polythene bags into the abandoned structure).
Hostels visited by the reporter included the Mary Slessor and Bello Halls, which are exclusively for female students. Male hostels visited included the Eni Njoku Hall, Peter Odili Hall, Alvan Ikoku Hall, Mbanefo Hall and Kwame Nkrumah Hall.
At Zik’s Flat, the structures were dilapidated. The three-storey buildings, numbering about 30, which hitherto provided shelter for a teeming number of students, now stand desolate and abandoned.
The female hostels can be said to be a bit habitable and in a renovated, manageable state. However, there are tales of blockage of the sewage system by some students who allegedly shove their sanitary pads into the toilets. But it was a different scenario in the male hostels.
Calling some of the hostels mad houses or houses of commotion could be an understatement, going by the realities on ground. Though Eni Njoku Hall had a big banner at the frontage with the inscription, ‘The Home of a Complete Man’, courtesy of the hall government of 2015/16, there was nothing on hand to indicate that sane persons were being groomed there as undergraduates that would turn out to lead society in the future.
House of refuse
The frontage of the hall was littered with garbage and overflowing refuse heaps decorated the sides and corners of the hostel. To add to the mess were the wrecks of vehicles owned by various campus religious fellowships, while the leaking roofs also welcomed one with different sounds produced by some of the dangling aluminum sheets that swayed as the breeze whistled.
A student wearing a T-shirt with the inscription, “Human Kinetics,” whom the reporter engaged in a chat painted a pathetic picture of how they live in the hostel. Though he declined to mention his name for obvious reasons, he said that what they were experiencing presently could be described as paradise compared to what those who passed through the hostel before them witnessed.
He said: “I know some who were here before us and what they passed through. That time, the doors and windows looked like colonial relics but, today, they have changed them to the better ones we are using now.
“Overcrowding is still an issue here because between eight and 20 students stay in one room. Don’t blame us for the jam-packed nature because when you go outside to relate with the shylock Nsukka landlords as an off-campus student, you can then understand that those who bear such stress here are better off.
“We are overcrowded in the rooms while we also suffer the problem of electrical sparks owing to the activities of students who prefer to tap current from the walls here. The toilets used to be so dirty, too, because we lacked regular water supply but I think they are addressing those ones now.
“The summary is that shortage of hostels for the teeming population of students is at the root of all the ugly stories emanating from our hostels.”
The story was the same in Alvan Ikoku Hall. Though christened the ‘Den of Great Lions’, the facility also suffers the same fate of leaking roofs and overcrowded rooms. There are also makeshift structures everywhere in the hostel with bushes and weeds overgrowing the entire area.
Though the Peter Odili Hall facing Eni Njoku and Alvan Ikoku Halls is in good condition, moving a step further into the Mbanefo and Nkruma halls leaves one with a sullen face.
The reporter was at a loss on what might have led to the total abandonment of such gigantic halls until they degenerated to the present parlous state. Even the vice chancellor, Prof. Benjamin Ozumba, could not give a categorical reason on the situation when the reporter met with him.
Mbanefo and Nkruma hostels tell the story of the poor maintenance culture in Nigeria. With thick bushes covering the entire frontage, meandering through the bush to enter the main structure requires courage over the fear of dangerous reptiles.
Looking at the structures, one was confronted with faded paintwork, cracked walls, sliding doors and windows half eaten by termites and other signposts of deterioration.
A tailor who mended clothes by the side of the hostel close to the university refectory could only but sigh and shake his head when the reporter asked him why the place looked that way.
He said: “I also wonder the same way as I come out here daily. I ask myself if this place can be made functional. Can’t it take a large number of students who are roaming about off campus? It can also generate more revenue for the university because I know there are so many rooms in the two hostels. This is where some students come to defeacate while others throw in their solid wastes without qualms because the place is now no man’s land.”
Near the two abandoned hostels was the refectory. Managed by private individuals who partitioned the place, according to spaces allotted to them, hygiene is at its lowest ebb there despite being where one was meant unwind and eat food.
Nearly all the louver glasses have fallen off, just like the asbestos ceilings, leaving the entire place hollow and dilapidated. Ironically, one of the food vendors mounted a billboard at the entrance inviting coustomers to “Delight Duke Restaurant,” with a motto: “You are what you eat.”
Hostels not alone
The infrastructure decay and abandonment was not restricted to the hostels. A concerned lecturer, who did not want his name in print, voiced his feelings this way: “The university is losing in terms of facilities and physical cash because of the abandonment of some projects. Sometimes, a project is budgeted for and paid fully but, at the end of the day, it won’t be executed.
“This is traumatising for some of us who have been teaching here for decades. I have a feeling that there should be improvement in facilities more than what we are seeing presently. If you look at the buildings in Zik’s Flats, for example, all of them have been completely abandoned because there are fears that the buildings may collapse soon and may cause monumental loss of life and property.
“The university stadium, which was supposed to be one the best in the entire East Central State, those days, is also abandoned. Recently, some long-span roofing sheets left at the site with the intention that work would continue were stolen. This is also very offensive because the stadium today is very bushy, the purported swimming pools, lawn tennis and badminton courts and volleyball pits are wasting away. The last NUGA Games hosted here would have also taken care of this but still no way.
“All these are bemoanable and for somebody who is a patriot, when you see some of these things, you become sad.
“The proposed faculty of social science building was abandoned at the second floor and has remained like that. Today, artisans use the place to print all sorts of materials while they buy and sell okpa and soya beans milk at the site.
“Go to engineering and agric departments, it is the same situation. I guess why these projects litter the place is that, in the Nigerian context, no one likes to continue from where another person stopped. Everybody likes a fresh project from where he can get his own percentage.”
But the anonymous professor who volunteered this information did not put the blame on the incumbent VC, Ozumba. In fact, he said that the litany of abandoned projects predate Ozumba’s administration and that he (Ozumba) should be commended for initiating various projects in the university, and for also giving employment to an unprecedented number of people while his tenure lasted.
“The current administration in the university is doing very well. He has employed many in their hundreds; gone outside the country to attract funds for the university and also given attention to staff that went on study leave to ensure the university gets the best. To his credit, the university now plans to supply ginger to a company in the United States of America and five hectares of ginger has been planted. A market for that is readily available while there is a cattle ranch here too. All the abandoned poultry farms and greenhouses have all been renovated and are now generating seed plants, which can be sold to the public. In the past, it was not like that,” he said.
In a chat with Ozumba, he said the university, under his watch, has not only completed various abandoned projects but has also embarked on various enduring projects, which generations yet unborn will still reap from.
He said that his administration was not looking at the mountain of challenges but has rather remained positively committed in performing its duties and responsibilities for which the people were happy.
“Have you seen our ultra-modern science park and so many other structures we’ve built? Anybody talking about abandoned project here is an attitude of the mind and the person may not understand what development is all about. It is an ongoing thing and we have not rested on our oars.
“The last time they did the walls of this university was over three decades. I was also pained on what is on ground when I took over but I didn’t end in lamentations. I took off to work immediately and I can only tell you to go to the Directorate of Physical Planning to confirm various works we have done. There is construction of more than 10 abandoned projects ongoing now and those projects were not awarded by our administration.
“Within the next three months, we are continuing with about 13 others abandoned projects too. When I came in, the Faculty of Law building in Enugu campus was abandoned but it’s been rebuilt today. The Medical Students Hostel in Ituku-Ozalla too was the same story but we changed it, same with Architecture Auditorium in Enugu campus, likewise the pharmacy building. Today, all these have been completed because that is what we call rehabilitation.
“Far from blowing our trumpet, we have recorded many positive landmarks within this period and the records are there for all to see. Some of these include the setting up the first university-based incubator and science park, the first in sub-Saharan Africa, among other innovations,” he said.