HOW MANY STUDENTS CAN NA’ALLAH ACCOMMODATE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF ABUJA?
By Bolaji P. O. Adedeji.
To be offered admission to study in most Nigerian Federal Universities is not a walk in the park. Perhaps securing accommodation may even be more difficult. In time past, it was conventional in many universities across Nigeria for fresh and final year students to be offered the privilege of automatic accommodation before those outside these levels would scramble for the “left over.” This convention was quite understandable, because it meant that the fresh students who were usually young and innocent needed the accommodation to protect them from the wildness and exposure of the senior students, thereby ensuring that they focused effectively on their studies.
As for the final year students, accommodation for them was not only a gesture of respect for their status on campus, but a provision to enable them concentrate more on their studies, prepare well and pass examinations with flying colours.
But as accommodation challenge becomes more disturbing, especially in federal institutions, the hopes of many students are dashed. So, those fresh and final year students who used to have such a privilege are bereft of it, and thus exposed to all sort of unpalatable experiences.
Though this spectacle is generalizable among Nigerian universities, I want to focus on the University of Abuja, a university in the Federal Capital Territory, where for several years since its establishment in 1988, there have been limited on-campus accommodations.
It is trite that many of the students in the University would desire to reside on campus where they can attend lectures conveniently, socialise, bask in the warmth and sanity that such a campus can provide for scholarship and relaxation.
This desire is, perhaps, even more pressing now that the University of Abuja has been positively changing, under the leadership of the present vice-chancellor, Professor Abdul-Rasheed Na’Allah.
The massive, fast-paced infrastructural and academic developments that characterised Na’Allah’s administration in the last four years have seen a steady rise in candidates’ interests in studying at the University to such effect that between the last two admissions circle, a cumulative 60,000 candidates applied to study there.
Whereas over 6,000 students sought for hostel allocations last year, the school was reported to have succeeded in accommodating only 3500 on its two campuses. This means that almost half of those who desired to be accommodated missed the chance.
Oftentimes, those who couldn’t find hostel accommodation would beg to squat with mates or buy space from a friend, but as the Na’Allah administration is seriously cracking down on squatting and hostel racketeering by digitalising requests for hostel allocations and challenging the university safety officers and porters to be more vigilant, the chances of students illegally owning a piece of space in the hostels have diminished drastically.
Consequently, many of the students without hostel have had no choice but to search for accommodation in nearby villages including Giri, Ido, Gwagwalada, Dagiri and Anagada. Sadly, some of these houses are expensive and sometimes unsafe for students many of whom are exposed to constant attacks from bandits and robbers.
Some unlucky students have also been involved in accidents as they moved from their settlements to campus for lectures. I remember the case of a final year student, a couple of years ago, who was crushed in an accident on her way to school to receive her early morning lectures.
Many have also missed their lectures and tests because they couldn’t arrive class on time.
But it is heartwarming to note that there is good news now, in view of what the management of the University of Abuja has been doing to solve the challenges of hostel accommodation in the University.
He has been collaborating with external housing providers through the Public Private Partnerships (PPP) to offer additional off-campus accommodation options for students.
For instance, Work on the 104 bed spaces (male hostel) by Near foundation, a non-governmental organisation, in collaboration with Vento furniture, and Student Accommodate, started last month.
The organisations are working on the construction of at least 2,000 bed spaces for the students. Soon Near foundation will also be working on the female hostel component of the accommodation.
In 2021 two state-of-the-art hostels for male and female students were completed, along with their external works and furnishing. Students’ activity centre has also since started, to be completed soon.
Recently after sustained pressure from the vice-chancellor on the management of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, the bank eventually completed and handed over the Postgraduate School Hostel to the University. Earlier, the Medical Students Hostel, Gwagwalada, became available for the students to use.
With these two hostels in use, students are excited and hopeful that several of them would now be accommodated on campus.
Providing a conducive hostel accommodation to all the students seems to be part of Na’Allah’s vision for the University. He once said at a session with students, “Our goal is to make sure everyone lives on campus, and if you, as a student decides not to live here, you will have to give us reasons why you want to live outside this beautiful environment we are trying to develop for you; and if your reason is not cogent enough, we tell you no, you have to live here, you can’t go anywhere.”
Na’Allah’s administration is also carrying out regular repairs of faulty facilities in all the hostels to create a conducive environment for the students.
All of these are commendable efforts by the vice-chancellor which those who didn’t know the history of the underdevelopment of this University may not be able to duly appreciate.
However, as the vice-chancellor rounds off his tenure next year, I advise that he should never rest on his oars, and never allow himself to lose focus. This is the moment he needs to be more determined to increase the capacity of on-campus accommodation by constructing new residence halls or expanding existing ones.
“I implore him to explore options to also enhance financial support for students, such as offering scholarships or grants specifically for housing expenses. This would help alleviate the burden of high rental costs and make accommodation more affordable to students.”
Also, the University administration can establish dedicated information and support services to assist students in their search for accommodation, including the provision of comprehensive and up-to-date housing listings, rental guidelines, and guidance on navigating the rental process.
Because solving accommodation challenges requires a long-term planning, the management should continue to work with relevant stakeholders to develop a long-term strategic plan for addressing them. This might involve conducting feasibility studies, engaging with housing experts, and prioritizing the construction of additional student housing facilities.
For sure, if the pace at which the present administration at the University of Abuja is developing is sustained, it will not be long before all the students are accommodated on campus, in line with the vision of Na’Allah.
By Bolaji P. O. Adedeji is a graduate of Mathematics from the University of Abuja