Queues for transport affect students’ academic achievement

At 6pm, Gabriel Fortune, a first-year student at the University of Ilorin, Kwara State, Nigeria, dashes to board one of the institution’s accredited minibuses. At the vehicle park, he cannot believe his eyes when he sees the queue of students waiting to travel the 8.7km to Tanke, Oke-Odo, the off-campus residence where the majority of students live.

“Your number is 1007,” a tall young man in the green jacket of the students’ union committee for transportation affairs tells Fortune.

The stress of having to queue for hours for transport is not new to public university students in Nigeria. In fact, several studies have pointed out the critical importance of transportation as a student service, which has the potential to benefit the class attendance and achievement of students.

One 2016 study recommends that the government and all stakeholders should ensure the “constant provision” of “effective and adequate” transportation. Yet, students have reported low levels of satisfaction with transportation services.

Another study, completed in 2020, stated: “Ensuring the punctuality of the students for lectures rests on the brief and cogent university transport strategy and policy in the university communities.”

The scenario Fortune experienced at the University of Ilorin earlier in 2023 mirrors these findings – in particular, student dissatisfaction with the service on offer.

At the university, which has been admitting 12,000 new students annually since the 2019-20 academic year – 5,000-6,000 more compared with most other institutions – queuing for services is commonplace, including for boarding campus shuttles.

The institution is an attractive study option because it has been offering a stable academic environment and cheaper fees. It did not join the strikes of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) for many years.

The university chapter of ASUU was suspended from 2001 to 2019, which meant that, in 2020, for the first time, the chapter at Ilorin joined the national ASUU strike, followed by another protracted strike in 2022.

As a result, campus shuttle drivers left the institution and have not returned to the campus to provide much needed transportation to students.

Coupled with a shortage of buses to transport off-campus students to their various homes, the management still continues to admit more students. Earlier in 2023, about 13,274 were matriculated out of the 56,263 admission seekers.

These factors have contributed to Fortune’s experience of having to spend three hours in the queue before he could board a shuttle.

“I wobbled down to my hostel at 10pm because I was completely worn out ... I just collapsed on my bed till the next morning,” he told University World News.

Are there plans to solve the problem?

Olamide Habeebat, another first-year student of medical laboratory science, is conscious that she has fallen ill due to the queuing in the past.

As a result, she has learned a novel way of dodging the queue by leaving home as early as 6:30 in the morning to get a bus going to campus – at a time when only a few people will be at the junction.

“I do leave home very early if I am having a morning lecture. I rarely queue before entering school,” she said.

Like Habeebat, this strategy has been working for many students who do not have the time to waste in queuing for long.

“But, when going back, I walk to where there are not many people, so as to get a private car – and, at times, I run after the car,” she said.

Another student who has experienced the transportation challenge is Aliyu Abubakar, a third-year student of criminology.

“Most of the time, one would have been in class from 8am till evening without solid food, and still meet a queue. How can one’s academic performance not be affected when one is not able to read as a result of being overstressed?” asked Abubakar.

According to him, drivers often did not pick up students who have to go to a more distant residence, a 31-minute journey to the campus, for instance.

“Buses meant for students going to [this residence, which is farther away] deliberately leave us for those who reside in Tanke, Oke-Odo because those drivers are very sure they will get more passengers while returning back to campus,” Abubakar told University World News.

However, Faji Tobiloba Samuel, the student union’s president, said the student leadership has been trying to deal with the situation.

“We are working with the management round the clock to ease the suffering of the students,” he said via his Twitter handle.

In his response to these challenges, Kunle Akogun, director of corporate affairs at the university, said the management has resorted to hybrid classes to minimise students’ entry to campus daily.

“About 500 user accounts off 300 capacity Zoom licences have been assigned to the faculties and the departments for effective virtual delivery of lectures. We have also developed a virtual class schedule for courses with class sizes of about 1,000, 3,000 and 5,000 students, using the large-capacity Zoom licences,” he told local reporters.

Akogun further stated that the school is making arrangements to bring in more buses for the convenience of both staff and students.

The management is also currently engaging with the Kwara State Government on the need to complete construction along the university road, which is impeding big buses.

Transport cost

Another factor that has been affecting student transportation is the fuel scarcity in Nigeria which, during January and February 2023, in particular, worsened. The increase in charges has been affecting the academic work of students on several campuses as some can no longer afford to travel to classes.

One of them is Joel Akinrinola, a third-year student at Ekiti State University’s mini-campus in Oyo State Nigeria, who has been skipping class most of the time. He lives far away from campus and has been feeling the pinch of the increase in fuel prices. He uses motorcyclists to transport him to campus.

“I pay nothing less than NGN500 (US$1.08) in transport fare to the motorcyclist when I wish to go to school, [the cost of] which is supposed to be NGN300,” he lamented.

Akinrinola complained that the daily transport expenses are draining his savings and this is why he skips classes.

Akinrinola Joel, a second-year student of the Federal University of Abeokuta, Ogun State, has to trek a long distance to the campus and back home. The travel cost has been affecting his class attendance.

“My transport fare weekly is NGN1,500 that is NGN300 per day, but my monthly allowance sent from home is NGN5,000 because, normally, it [transport] used to be NGN150.”

He says his inability to afford the transport, coupled with waiting for a long time to get a bus – “if at all I wish to board a shuttle” – makes him skip class.

The queuing for fuel at filling stations has died down now, but the price of fuel is still high at NGN210 per litre, affecting Nigerian society as a whole, including students.

The Southwest regional coordinator of the National Association of Nigerian Students, Emmanuel Adejuwon Olatunji, called on stakeholders to address the issue of the fuel hike in order to help the poor students on campuses.

“We have called on the stakeholders to address this situation because, if it is not addressed, the financial condition which some students live under could make them deviant,” he said.