What should Nigerians do to ameliorate the bad and ignoble situation of events vis-a-vis the highly-distressed and negatively-charged environment with regards to the fate/faith of hardworking Nigerian University students? Quo vadis, one may ask? What next must our leaders, government officials, national and international sponsors, organizations, parents, guardians etc. do to change situations of events for good from the present hostile situations bedeviling the Nigerian University students in the polity? As one who has been working among the Nigerian University students since 1975, one has seen the good, bad and ugly situations in the socioacademic lives of Nigerian students who are supposed to be leaders of the present and future. The environment in academe for Nigerian students is distressed and unholy thereby making the outcomes unwholesome for any serious and befitting intellectual development and growth. There are Federal, State and private Universities in Nigeria where thousands of students struggle to acquire advanced knowledge year-in-year-out. While the old first generation Federal Universities suffer principally from poor maintenance and upgrading, most Universities, particularly the new Federal/State/private ones, lack basic and fundamental requirements for existence such as enough staff/personnel and infrastructure for positive University student-hood and scholarship. The Nigerian total environment has been highly-distressed by a combination of events over the years up-till today. In Nigeria, there are widespread poverty, pernicious hunger, local and national insecurity with concomitant loss of lives and property, acrid ethnicity, religious disharmony, long-standing disunity, scandalous injustice and callous inequity, reactionary politicking etc. all of which also adversely-affect lives in Universities of staff and students in one way or the other, directly or indirectly. Federal and State Universities are poorly-funded resulting in nauseating trade disputes and unending strikes that cause academic-system-collapse every year.
The older Universities can hardly provide modern infrastructure or dutifully-maintain existing ones while younger Universities can hardly provide enough of required basic holdings. Most privately-owned Universities are a joke of themselves as some of them have been sitting on temporary infrastructure of hired/rented accommodation with little or no staff quarters and student hostels. Many of the Universities are poorly-staffed and lack professionals and expert personnel. Availability of enough utilities of electricity, water supplies, environmental hygiene and sanitation are inadequate or non-existent. Internet facilities and good library facilities may be irregular or lacking. Security is not assured; students live in private/primitive houses away from their Universities thereby creating pathways or inroads of cultism into students-lives. As a result of inadequate availability of lecture halls, enough laboratories etc. students are forced to hang around windows for lectures, seminars and laboratory work. Some Universities can only afford poor medical services for students as well as non-conducive sports facilities. The government-owned Universities cry out all the time over poor funding and low wages and allowances as well as poor overhead costs and low capital budgets provided annually such that student and staff welfare are at base level. The case for State Universities are much worse and hence; their Universities owe months of salaries to staff and hardly take care enough for students welfare. Some State governments encourage their University Managements to charge highly-outrageous fees on students to augment funds provided. The funding cases for most private Universities are debilitating and worse. They charge exorbitant and provocative fees on students. This may result in possible mental anarchy for students resulting in demonstrations, riots, destruction of property, injuries and deaths. Staff are owed many months of salaries and allowances despite the anarchic fees that can hardly-be paid regularly by all students. There are delays in executions or sheer abandonment of capital projects in Federal Universities as a result of poor funding and non-full-release of approved budgeted funds. The NUC that carry out oversight functions on all Nigerian Universities through Accreditation exercises of programmes and infrastructure do not find it an easy task. That is why after an NUC Visitations for Accreditation, some Universities in some of their courses/programmes, may secure interim approval to last for two years before another Visitation or outright failures whereby the University is barred from running such programmes/courses and prevented from admitting students accordingly.
Unlike in overseas Universities where professional/expert personnel, academic and infrastructural facilities are available in quantum and where reasonable fees are paid by students, Federal Universities are prohibited from charging Tuition fees to augment funding from government. But students are indirectly-forced to pay all kinds of fees before they can take examinations. Such fees may include Departmental, Faculty, society etc. that sometimes egg on students to protest and riot. The student hostels are few thereby forcing great number of students to live outside the University premises where security is not assured living unprotected and compromising lives; poor or absence of good medical facilities; no steady electricity supply; poor hygiene and sanitation; no regular potable water supplies; poor or no feeding at all; poor or no security-protection; exposed to menace of cult groups and indoctrination; loose life and prostitution; easy source for hire as thugs into political gangsterism; engaging in pick-pocketing, armed robbery and kidnapping by students; no library and good internet facilities; absence of medical services, guidance and counseling facilities etc. Many of such students may not perform as expected in their studies but may develop as antisocial beings that become great disappointment to parents and sponsors and may bedevil the society which it never bargained for. Poverty is so rife among some of the Nigerian University students that you find them eating once a day or devouring a bottle of fluid-coke to wash down poorly-nutritious loaf of bread. Some of them virtually beg from all and sundry in order to pay their fees and take part in exams while some students do all sorts of odd jobs to raise money for maintenance and payment of fees, They may work as ICT/computer sales agents or mechanics, sales-agents, carpenters, bricklayers, laborer carrying sand/stone chippings/cement blocks, taxi/keke napep/okada drivers, guard duties etc. The most painful aspect is the unemployment scenario that confronts and stares at them after the NYSC as they watch former students who had graduated earlier and are dumped into unemployment market roaming wildly in urban cities. University founders, be they Federal, State governments, private groups or individuals should embrace the idea of Students-First Philosophy in Management affairs and welfare of students in Universities. As at now, most Universities mishandle affairs and lives of Nigerian students. During strikes by academic/administrative staff which have been frequent, fate and faith of students are left high and dry; they are put between Scylla and Charybdis; they are usually neglected by staff and governments. Both parties should always work out issues through dialogue. Avoid strikes in Universities; students do suffer dearly as they are most badly-affected. Universities in Nigeria should work out a system that would actualize building of hostels for students in residence. University owners should enter into Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement with developers to build hostels in Universities. Money invested in buildings are recovered quickly from fees paid by students. Parents/guardians would readily-pay such fees instead of allowing their wards to live off-campus where they may be confronted by dangers as earlier stated. Living in-campus by a student is a sine qua non for good, suitable and stable academic performance. As long as such in-campus residence is not crowded and also are provided with adequate basic utilities, the student will be comfortable and relaxed to face his/her studies.
By Boniface Egboka, UNIZIK, Awka, Anambra State; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org