In this report, VICTOR OKEKE delves into the nightmare experience of students residing in the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH) Enugu Medical Hostel built after the Biafra war.
I know you will be wondering about the sanitary state of the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital Enugu Medical Hostel. Historically, the hostel was built after the Nigerian-Biafra war and named Nnamdi Azikiwe Medical Complex when the then Federal Military Government by decree number 23 of 1974, took over the hospital that was hitherto a specialist hospital in the former East Central State.
Since construction, LEADERSHIP Weekend gathered that the hostel was last renovated officially in 2008 by the then dean of the Faculty of Medical Sciences, Prof. Aloy Aghaji, and commissioned by the vice-chancellor, Prof. Chinedu Nebo on Monday, 28 July, 2008. Ever since then, the hostel has been abandoned for wardens while students who are occupants crowd-fund the cleaning.
The deliberate act according to the institution’s management was due to fear of an uprising from students if the hostel fee is increased.
According to the hostel legislation, the number of legal occupants depends on the room size. Some rooms have four, five, or six bed-space. However, it was gathered that the occupants in these rooms can exceed the total number of legal occupants.
In line with global best practices, students deserve a decent hostel to study well. And for that, they need a hassle-free stay as you can’t expect them to be uncomfortable and still give their 100 per cent to studies. Sadly, for students in this hostel, it is indeed a harrowing experience living in a hostel that lacks basic aesthetic and ambience.
Life as a medical student
Nathaniel Okita, 36, recalls when he was an undergraduate student of psychology at the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria. He said nearly all quiet, highbred, bookish, and well-groomed students were all regarded as medical students.
“Someone will accost you to inquire about your department. Such a person can show dismay that you are not a medical student. And I think it is a social fixation much more than a stereotype,” he said.
Speaking further, he said things have changed now, adding that “in some universities, it is almost impossible to make a distinction between a medical student and a social science student as their lifestyle and the struggle for survival is real.’’
A medical student who speaks on the condition of anonymity due to fear of being victimised noted that surviving the school is indeed a herculean task as every student must set their goals.
He noted that in the pursuit of a career in medicine, the importance of goals and goal setting can never be overemphasised, both in the long term and in the short term.
According to him, “Yes, the living condition is deplorable, but you have to set your short-term goal.’’ He said the short term basically has to do with your journey through medical school – passing the exams and doing very well in a class of geniuses.
“On getting to medical school, you would have heard tales of how the mighty have fallen and so many people sometimes get scared. Beyond all, you must understand that “fear limits a person.”
He also urged the students to think beyond their present predicament and set their goals right.
He added that despite very busy schedules as medical students, they can find time for engaging in extracurricular activities outside the regular or besides school activities other than smoking or drinking unhealthy substances.
Victoria Williams a student of Nasarawa State University stressed the need for a pragmatic and dynamic approach towards providing adequate and relevant facilities in the hostel accommodation to meet the minimum standard as obtained in other higher institutions.
Williams said this would invariably enhance the image of the institution and make it a top institution of choice to prospective students.
The ugly side of UNTH hostel
Hostels in an academic environment are supposed to be part of a conducive learning environment and are also supposed to be a model. But not so for the old site of the UNTH Enugu, an abandoned medical complex that is producing doctors and nurses for the health sector in Nigeria.
It is not unusual for the hostel to experience electric blackouts and water scarcity. Usually, these challenges can last more than 48 hours before it is fixed.
A student, Michael Obi said theft of personal property was a common problem in the hostel. He said it was a reason why students must be wise to look after their personal belongings.
‘’There is no dulling in the hostel. Never flaunt your laptop, or phone with your room door open. You should know where to keep your phone while you are asleep.
“There are window men in UNN that visit the hostel at night. A window man is a person who steals from the window while students are asleep. I can assure you that you will survive in the UNN hostel. Staying here will teach you valuable lessons that would be helpful to you later in the future,” said Obi.
LEADERSHIP Weekend gathered that the approval of the then Federal Military Government for the construction of a new complex for the Teaching Hospital was sought and came as a welcome relief.
It was also gathered that the new site, which is the Permanent Site of the UNTH at Ituku-Ozalla, is now fully functional and located along Enugu – Port Harcourt Express Way.
Also, as glamorous and fulfilling as being an UN-trained medical doctor is, the journey is both odious and weird. First, the students spend one year at the Nsukka campus for their preclinical studies before moving over to the Enugu Campus where they spend another two years.
Then, their fourth and fifth year is spent at the UNTH Old Site, another side of town, though in the Enugu capital. However, the final year is at medical school at the new UNTH site.
Just as its name suggests, the old UNTH is similar to the many abandoned public infrastructures all over Nigeria. There is a visibly encroaching gully erosion tearing the site apart, with abandoned hospital wards and laboratories gasping for breath on both divides as wild elephant grasses choke the life off them up to the roof.
At the Imoke Hostel, named after Dr. Samuel Imoke, a medical doctor who became a cabinet minister and leader of Parliament in the former Eastern Region and father of former Cross River State governor Senator Liyel Imoke, struggle for bed space is extreme.
It was gathered that for some reason, the allocation for hostel space is done by ballot – those unlucky to get space are forced to seek alternative living spaces within the hospital environment.
Also, some of the students who spoke to LEADERSHIP Weekend said that since school resumed after the pandemic, the power supply got to an all-time low. At some point, officials of the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC) cut off the power supply to the hospital. Some students now operate their own power generating sets in the hostels.
“I wrote my third MB exams without light at the hostel. You can imagine preparing for exams without power – to charge your reading lamp, your mobile phone or see through the darkness,” Ambrose, a medical student said.
‘’Beyond the power situation, the cleaners working at the hostels are on strike. With each day passing, the strike lingers, piles of trash keep building at every end of the hostels. The hostel is on the verge of facing a garbage crisis.’’
He said that each student contributes N300 monthly to pay the cleaners to clean up their toilets and to evacuate the trash.
Adding to the whole situation, he said these students lack access to water supply in the hospital. He said their only option is to buy water from vendors.
“We are used to it. But that doesn’t make it normal. We buy a 20-Litre gallon of water for N40. It has been like this since I came to this school. There’s no free water here,” another student Ginikanwa said.
Generally, Enugu has been plagued with perennial water scarcity that is exacerbated by the state’s topography. This makes it difficult to access groundwater. According to WaterAid Nigeria, over half (2.37 million) of Enugu residents lack basic water services.
Furthermore, their research shows that lack of access to WASH is a major contributor to poverty and poor health with almost one in ten children under age five being stunted. Despite several funding interventions by the state government and international development organisations such as The World Bank, millions of people in Enugu are still denied their human rights to safe drinking water.
No one knows the future of the UNTH old site. But as it stands today, it houses the College of Medicine and UNTH School of Nursing.
All over, the hospital smells of abandonment and a relic of its glorious past. The hostels lack any aesthetic ambience. No thanks to UNN, the student affairs department overseeing the place is located kilometres away at the Enugu Campus.
Worrisome abuse of substances and smoking of marijuana
The prevalence of cigarettes and marijuana smoking amongst other substances among medical students in the hostel is very high. The most commonly reported cause of cigarette smoking and substance abuse was stress.
Ginikanwa, one of the students residing in the hostel, said that it’s surprising that half the number of medical students or more smoke several forms of psychoactive drugs.
The Nigerian representative, African Student Parliament (ASUP), James Uneze, who decried the effect of the menace, stressed the need to develop an effective prevention strategy that combines school-based interventions with those affecting the family, social institutions, and the larger community.
He said drug abuse was a global health and social problem, adding that It is worrisome that Nigeria occupies a prominent place in the global hard drug use and trafficking index.
Uneze said hard drugs destroy destinies, dreams and can make the user useless for life.
University management reacts
The university management told LEADERSHIP Weekend that they are addressing the students’ problems based on preference.
They added that for the hostels, they ‘’are addressing the challenge of the hostel holistically.”
The dean of Student Affairs at the University, Prof Edwin Omege said the allocation of bed spaces is on the basis of first-come-first-serve.
Omege said special considerations are given to first and final-year students. “But this does not apply to the medical students at the old site, probably because there are no first and final-year students there as they are all penultimate medical students.
There is also the Nnamdi Azikiwe Hostel, with a rooftop serving as the convergence site for all sorts of de-civilising processes taking place in the hostel.
Prof Omeje said for a university that was founded in 1960, the hostels have seen ages. “They are, however, not as bad as they were portrayed in the social media. Most of them have been renovated and are in good condition,” he said.
“Renovating the hostel is capital intensive; we are taking it one at a time. But I can assure you that the current university management is doing its best to make them better.”
Male and female undergraduates who live in the hostels pay accommodation fees of N12,000 and N15,000 respectively, while postgraduate students pay N30,000 per session. But Professor Omeje said that the university spends more in running the hostels than it generates.
“If 100 per cent of the rooms are paid for, the university generates about N98,240,000 however, we spend about N457,503,575 in running the hostels per session,” he said. The expenses include the costs of providing electricity, water, internet services, security, sewage maintenance, repairs, and cleaning.
Omeje said that any attempt to increase the hostel fees could lead to students’ unrest and damage to the existing infrastructure.
The vice-chancellor of the University of Nigeria, Professor Charles Igwe said his administration is committed to improving the condition of existing hostels and building new ones.
“We are also open to receiving interventions and support from alumni, organisations, and individuals for the renovation of the hostels and other critical infrastructure in the university,” he said.