NIGERIA: Private hostels rip off university students

The increasing number of students in tertiary institutions in several Nigerian cities has caused serious accommodation problems and campus hostels can no longer cope with demand.

Establishment of private hostels off-campus was initially perceived as a solution but landlords have taken advantage of the high demand by upping rentals and students are reeling under the financial burden. They have turned to the government for help.

There has been steady growth in the student population in tertiary institutions, most of which have been expanding their teaching, administrative and research infrastructures. But no effort has been made to provide more accommodation for students and staff.

This has allegedly been a deliberate resource allocation policy, with tertiary institutions - at the regional and national level - uninterested in committing funding to accommodation.

Many tertiary institutions possess large amounts of land on which student hostels could be built. But it is claimed that private sector figures on university governing councils have discouraged government investment in building campus residences.

Critics say that owners of houses and land near campuses made proposals to university authorities to build cheap and affordable accommodation for students. According to reliable sources, some university officials obtained bank loans to build hostels that are operated under holdings whose owners are often their relatives.

"The reason for this strange policy is not far-fetched. Members of the property class who have invested in the construction of these hostels would naturally want their investment to yield dividends," explained Ezekiel Tolu, an expert in estate management.

The evolution of off-campus student hostels occurred in two phases. During the first phase there were few students and a range of hostels from which they could pick and choose. Many hostels were reserved for female students.

Proprietors were more comfortable with female students who tended to pay rent when it was due and to be more conservative and obey the rules and regulations of private hostels.

On the whole, rents were moderate and students could afford them. But available off-campus residences also gave some students the opportunity to 're-sell', at high cost, their beds in hostels on campus to other students.

"We complain about shylock landlords outside campuses. Unfortunately we also have student shylocks who cede, to fellow students, their bed spaces at cut-throat fees," said Ibrahima Dogo, a student at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria.

"These mercenary students are generally from rich homes who can afford to live in private hostels. In hostels on campuses, we have students as squatters crowding the rooms."

The second phase of the evolution of private accommodation followed an explosion in student numbers. Students had to chase limited hostel places with astronomical rents, even though the number of off-campus hostels grew.

Today students are having a rough time at the hands of hostel owners whose primary obsession, it has been alleged, is to maximise profit with little concern for students' welfare. Students have also complained about the absence of a learning environment in private hostels.

"You get an impression that you are, at times, in a shopping mall," complained Ngozi Obuh, a student at the University of Port Harcourt.

"A portion of these hostels are transformed into mini markets with hawkers. At night and during the weekend the hostels are very noisy and movements in and out of the hostels are not restricted."

The Nigerian daily tabloid BusinessDay recently undertook a detailed survey in some cities of the living conditions of students in private residences. The journalists reported rents being too high and many hostels characterised by noise pollution. Street trading near hostels were an obstacle to proper learning.

The newspaper called on university and municipal authorities to draw up rules mandating hostel proprietors to charge moderate rends, forbid hawking and improve hygiene conditions.

"The government should come to the aid of the students living in these hostels. Enough is enough," said Mulikat Lai, a student leader at the University of Ibadan.

Thank you for bringing this issue to international attention. Our dwindling education standards could be partially linked to lack of a comfortable place for students to study and relax after classes. As a parent I am reeling under the weight of this avoidable burden. Without being pessimistic, the Nigerian government cannot change the situation for now if it may be able to in the future. I should therefore add to the call by educationalists that private initiatives in partnership with our universities should come in to help our students. Universities authorities could take the first step by inviting private investors but again legal issues will need to be considered.

Olufemi Olubodun,
University of Lagos