FUOTUOKE: Mrs Jonathan’s Hostel Sparks Controversy!

The decision of President Goodluck Jonathan’s mother, Eunice, to donate atwo-block hostel to the Federal University, Otuoke, Bayelsa State, raises more questions than answers, SEGUN OLUGBILE and Sodiq Oyeleke report
The donation of hostel accommodation to any public academic institution, particularly any of the nation’s universities, should ordinarily be a commendable initiative. This is because many, if not all public universities in the country, have inadequate hostel facilities for their students.
Perhaps, this explains why a room that is to accommodate four students would “house” at least eight undergraduates in these institutions. Indeed, in some universities, it could be more. The development, therefore, encourages, what students call “squatting” in many of the residential publicuniversities.
So, when President Goodluck Jonathan’s mother, Eunice, penultimate Friday donated a two-block hostel to the Federal University, Otuoke, Bayelsa State, she was very likely to have thought of easing the burden, as it were, faced by students of the institution. But the donation has thrown up a whiff of controversy in the sector. Instead of singing her praises, many stakeholders are locking horns over the desirability or otherwise of the offer.
Many Nigerians, who commented on the gesture, even wondered how thewoman got the money to execute the project. They also wondered why she could not use her influence to prevail on her son to accede to the requests of the striking university lecturers so that students could go backto school to continue their studies. They equally inferred that the action was to skew public opinion in the favour of her son, who, political analysts say, is planning to seek a second term in office in 2015.
But while these calculations are going on, some members of the benefitinguniversity community and their Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Mobolaji Aluko, look at the woman’s offer from a different perspective. They have, indeed, described the donation as timely and an action capable of cushioning the effect of inadequate accommodation in the two-year-old university.
Aluko, in a statement on the university website, told the pioneer students of the university, who just finished their second semester examination, that on return to the school from holiday, they would enjoy a new lease of life via the new hostel.
He added, “The twin-block building donated by the mother of President Goodluck Jonathan, Eunice Jonathan, will accommodate 64 female studentsand will go a long way in reducing the challenges of inadequate accommodation. We just want to restructure the hostel accommodation in order to give you the best. I assure you that plans are on to ensure that when you return, all of you will be accommodated in the hostel.”
The students, the statement added, could not hide their excitement as they expressed gratitude to the President’s mother and the management for the gesture. Of course, the students have every reason to applaud thePresident’s mother for the offer. Hitherto, it was learnt, they did not enjoytheir stay on campus due to inadequate hostel facilities.
But some other Nigerians have taken to the social media to register their displeasure at the decision, wondering why the President’s mother could not use her influence to prevail on her son to accede to the requests of the members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, who have been on an industrial action for about six weeks.
An anonymous commentator on Linda Ikeji blogspot.com asked, “What does she do for a living again? It’s 2015.”
Supporting this, another Nigerian, who simply identified himself as Fehintola, wrote, “Where does she work or where did she get the money? 2015, on the way.”
Just as some are questioning the source of Eunice’s wealth and linking the donation to 2015 politics, some others are raising other questions, which some critics may refer to as salient.
For instance, an anonymous blogger wrote, “They are donating hostels while the students are at home because of the ASUU strike.”
Also, another unnamed commentator stated, “President Goodluck, please be wise. Do not add more problems to the ones on ground. Yes, the mum of a president will be rich but she could have opened an orphanage home rather than engaging in this publicity stunt.”
Some others too are, however, commending the President’s mother for the offer. One of them, Aderinto Ameenah, said, “Well done, Madam Jonathan.” Another one, who referred to himself as Mich, stated, “Not bad for a President’s mother.”
Yet, as commentators express these divergent views about the development, the issue of how the nation’s political leaders and their closerelations acquire their “sudden wealth” has come to the front burner. Those who spoke on the issue, insisted that the source of a donor’s wealth should be of concern to the benefitting university as well as other stakeholders. But some lecturers have also expressed divergent views.
A lecturer at the University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Oyo State, Dr. Kehinde Kester, said there was nothing wrong in helping a university.
He added, “That is why most universities have stopped giving out honorary degrees to people because it is not good for a university to celebrate mediocre persons. But on this matter, it is difficult for anybody to say that the President mother is corrupt. At least, she is not in government; and neither is she a civil servant. So, donating a hostel to a university in her town is a welcome development.”
Another lecturer, Abiodun Olajide, however, noted that the response of Nigerians to the debate was good.
He said, “With what you say Nigerians’ reactions are, I’m happy because a lot of leaders go away with their unethical practice because we do not ask questions. We should ask questions. We should put our leaders on their toes and we should stop accepting gifts from people whose source of wealth we do not know.”
Beyond these comments, the picture painted of the hostels in some of theuniversities, by a cross-section of students, is nothing to celebrate. According to them, apart from the fact that the hostels are not enough, the existing ones are in bad shape and in decay.
A student of the University of Abuja, identified as Hammed, decried the standard and the quality of hostel facilities in the school. According to him, no fewer than 10 students use an accommodation space that is meant for four students.
He said, “Our hostels are not good enough. This has resulted in squatting among the students. The funniest thing is that if you do not even have strong connections in the school, you may not have the opportunity to share in these crowded rooms.”
Also, a student of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Ogun State, Omotayo Banji, who assessed the situation, frowned on the accommodation fees paid in the school.
She noted that it was better to get accommodation outside the school than to reside in the hostels.
She added, “The hostels are not only unaffordable, they are also not qualitative. Though it is a federal university, we still pay between N18, 000and N30, 000 annually for accommodation when one can get it cheaper outside the school premises.”
Another student from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, identified as Suliat, noted that there was need to improve the hostel facilities in the institution.
She particularly decried the way her colleagues use the hostels, saying, “The ones that are good are those that are just renovated. But I will not blame only the government for the poor state of the hostels. I think the students are also responsible for it. We do not for manage the facilities well.”
According to Bamise, of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, the structure of the hostels in the institution is “archaic”. He urged the university management to collaborate with private investors and education stakeholders to develop quality hostel for the students.
He said, “The structures are strong but they are old designs. I will not say we have a standard hostel but the fact is that we are getting the worth of what we are paying for. I do not think there is any university in Nigeria where students can get accommodation with just N3, 000 any longer.
“Nevertheless, the school management needs to collaborate with investors in the construction of new hostels that will meet international standard. The hostels are not adequate and the number of students allocated to a room is relatively in excess.”

VNTI FUOTUOKE

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