The Zik’s Flats, an estate of hostels at the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN), until recently, has been part of the hostel facilities provided by the university for its students.
DAMIAN DURUIHEOMA, who visited the estate recently, reports that the huge edifices have become dilapidated due to several years of abandonment; resulting in the unfit state of the buildings for human habitation.
The University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN) has come a long way. It is the home of the great “Lions and Lionesses,” a popular sobriquet for the institution’s students and graduates.
The university was founded by Nigeria’s first President, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe in 1955 and formally opened on October 7, 1960. The institution has three campuses located at Nsukka, Enugu and Ituku-Ozalla–all in Enugu State.
According to the university’s verified Facebook handle, the UNN has about 40,000 students. The main campus of the university is located on 871 hectares (2,150 acres) of hilly savannah in the town of Nsukka, about 80 kilometres north of Enugu, with an additional 209 hectares of arable land available for experimental farming and 207 hectares for housing development for members of staff.
Like every human creation susceptible to wear and tear, various edifices at the institution are currently in a decrepit state. However, the most debilitating is Zik’s Flats.
The nature of Zik’s Flats
Zik’s Flats is an estate of 20 storey buildings and 12 bungalows used as hostels by the Nsukka Campus of the university for its students. The estate, The Nation learned, was owned by Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, who later, before his death, handed it over to the management of the country’s premier university as part of his social welfare contributions to the institution. The asset was equally meant to help the university to reduce the effects of accommodation problems experienced by the university as a result of its growing population.
With well-built duplexes of two-storeys and bungalows with about 700 hostel-size rooms and over 3,000-bed spaces, expansive playgrounds, a line of dozens of stores, a car park and a cafeteria with many restaurants, Zik’s Flats was definitely the most beautiful and exciting hostel to live in.
This is in addition to the feeling of sharing a perimeter fence, by students, with the Great Zik’s Onuiyi Haven, where the family of the country’s first President currently live in.
This, it was learnt, was the reason Zik’s Flats became the residential hall reserved for first-year students, a kind of technique meant to introduce them to the school system and enable them to adapt to studying before being sent into the main campus.
How dilapidation crept in
Over the years, however, the estate has been left abandoned and taken over by grasses, trees and dangerous reptiles, which have become constant threats to surrounding buildings, especially that of the family of the late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe.
Our correspondent’s recent visit to the Nsukka Campus of the university revealed the sorry state of the estate, which hitherto provided shelter for a teeming number of students, and housed dozens of business centres, as the buildings now stand desolate and abandoned.
With a 40, 000-student population and with an annual intake of about 10,000 students, investigation reveals that the existing 17 halls of residence in the Nsukka Campus of the university have a total bed space that is less than 8,000.
Plausible reasons for abandonment
This perhaps, explains why private hostel businesses are thriving more in Nsukka Town with each room going for a minimum of N150, 000 as against N12, 000 paid for a bed space in the university by students.
Despite this huge amount and coupled with the prevailing economic situation, it is said that some members of the university staff and top officials of the management present and past are alleged to be clandestinely building private hostels and consequently allowing the school hostels to deteriorate.
The Nation gathered that before he left office two years ago, the immediate past Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nigeria, Prof. Benjamin Chukwuma Ozumba, inaugurated the construction of a modern hostel complex on a Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) Model. The hostel complex which promised to be a new model of hostel accommodation in the country was to replace the old dilapidated Ziks Flats. But, the investigation showed that the project never saw the light of the day.
Expectedly, some stakeholders are concerned that, at a time when many students are facing accommodation problems with its concomitant health consequences, the university only thought it wise to leave Zik’s Flats to deteriorate and waste away.
One of the former students of the university, Dr Ben Ugwuh, who spoke with our correspondent, lamented that successive administrations in the university had allowed the estate to be in unimaginable ruins.
Ugwuh, who disclosed that he once lived in the hostel, said it was unbelievable that a university that was in a constant shortfall for students’ accommodation would allow the place to remain desolate.
“It beats my imagination why a university such as the great UNN should allow these structures to be in this current state with no student living there in the past seven years,” he said.
He stated, however, that the only possible reason Zik’s Flats and other hostels in the university were “being allowed to rot away,” was to allow private hostel owners, most of who are members of the university staff, to make heavy returns on their investments.
“Apart from the rumours we have heard, I know that members of the university management and most members of staff of the university have numerous hostels within Nsukka Town. These hostels charge between N150, 000 and N250, 000 per annum for a room. Do a comparison with what each student pays for a bed space in school hostels.
“And to think that most of the Vice-Chancellors in recent times, including the current V-C, Prof. Igwe, were occupants of Zik’s Flats makes the rumours strongly believable. So, I think it’s a deliberate policy of making the private hostel owners have good returns on their investments that led to the abandonment of Zik’s Flats and other hostels by successive administrations in the university. If not, just tell me what else could have inhibited the V-C from rebuilding the place he once lived as a student.
“The situation is equally affecting other hostels in the university. You must have heard about the disturbing state of hostels within the campus. This is part of the strategy to force students to live in private hostels,” Ugwuh said.
Revamping Zik’s Flats viable?
A senior member of staff of the university, who preferred anonymity, told The Nation that rebuilding Zik’s Flats would cost the university more than what it could earn in 20 years.
The source said: “We are talking about a project that is capital-intensive. Rebuilding Zik’s Flats alone will gulp more than N5 billion and after that, you begin to charge N12, 000 or N15, 000 accommodation fees per session. We’re not even talking about maintaining the hostel itself which costs the university almost N100 million per session.
“Equally remember that the university pays for the costs of providing electricity, water, internet services, security, sewage maintenance, repairs and cleaning.
“I think this is one of the frightening reasons successive administrations, including the current administration of the University led by Prof. Charles Igwe, the Vice-Chancellor, have looked away from rebuilding Zik’s Flats.”
Zik’s family reacts
It is, however, no surprise that even the wife of the late Owelle of Onitsha and First Nigerian President, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Emeritus Professor Uche Azikiwe, and the entire Azikiwe family are in deep pains over the continued abandonment and deterioration of her husband’s legacy.
She lamented the current state of Zik’s Flats at the university, saying the dilapidation of the block of buildings given to the university by her late husband always moved her to tears each time she beheld the buildings.
According to the spouse of the late sage, the asset was handed over to the university in 1989 by the Great Zik himself when he celebrated his 85th birthday as part of his investments in human capital development.
Options for reviving Zik’s Flats
In a chat with The Nation in Zik’s Onuiyi Haven in Nsukka, Prof. Azikiwe expressed displeasure that successive administrations of the premier university in the country allowed such monumental infrastructure to waste when the institution was facing acute accommodation problems for students.
She said since the University was not capable of maintaining the structures, the estate should be given back to her family to rehabilitate, manage and transfer back to the university.
She stated that it was a great disservice to the name of her husband to be associated with the ruins the flats had become.
Azikiwe said since her Onuiyi Haven shared a common fence with the flats, she has missed the hustle and bustle and warmth of students’ presence in the flats.
“Then, in 1989 when my husband celebrated his 85 birthday, he gave out the place to the university for a token. I can’t even remember what it was. If you call it a sale, people might laugh at us. When my husband and I were discussing after the transaction, he told me that he decided to give the hostels out to the University ‘for a Song’ because, in Igbo land, you don’t give out something like that without records. His thoughts were that the hostels would help the university community.
“After my husband passed on in 1996, we started noticing that Zik’s Flats are facing gradual deterioration.
“It was when the place was finally abandoned that people started asking us questions about renovation; thinking it was still our property. I kept telling them that it was the university’s property to which they could not understand why the university should allow such an asset to deteriorate and waste.
“If you look around, you will see private hostels flourishing and each self-contained room costs from N140, 000 and above.
‘No legal battle over Zik’s Flats’
On insinuations with regard to an alleged legal battle between the Azikiwe family and the university that was stalling the rebuilding of the estate, Azikiwe said the family was not in any legal battle with UNN, over the control of Zik’s Flat.
She described the reports of the alleged legal impasse with UNN over control of Zik’s Flats as currently spread on social media as only existing in the figments of the imaginations of mischief-makers.
While describing the allegation as fake news, she added that her heart bleeds each time she sees the level of dilapidation at the facility.
Her words: “One of my friends who had a shop at the flats came to me and said she heard that our family (Azikiwe) took the university to court over control of those hostels. I told her that there was nothing like that and that if anybody took the university to court over anything, it is not the Azikiwe family.
“The issue is that the family didn’t take the university to court. The property belongs to the university. It is the responsibility of the university to maintain, rebuild, reconstruct and manage the facility.”
She noted, however, that her family had approached the immediate past Vice-Chancellor of the University, Prof. Benjamin Ozurumba for a possible takeover and renovation but nothing positive came out of it.
“At a point during the tenure of the former V-C, Prof. Ozulumba, I contacted him and asked to know why the buildings have remained like that. I am not happy each time I hear the noise coming from that place each time it is windy or raining.
“I always walk around the perimeter fence every morning and evening as part of my exercise. It’s either you see fallen roofs and planks with nails or you see snakes that come from there to our premises. I told him (the V-C) that I am not happy about this. I don’t know why the university should allow this huge source of income and source of accommodation for students to deteriorate.
“The former V-C told me about an arrangement with a housing firm to build, operate, and transfer (BOT). His tenure ended without any work.
“I have also complained to the new V-C, Prof. Igwe and requested for the family to take over the facilities to build, operate, and transfer so that this legacy will not go down.
That Zik’s legacy will not go down
This is a very big legacy that Zik’s family will prevent from going down. If they can’t do it, they should let us know so that we can get property developers to do it and hand it over when they would have recovered their money. If they don’t want it, we can take it over.
“Wittily, the current V-C told me that he was one of the students that sang that night in front of our gate when it was falsely reported that my husband had passed on in 1989. He was living in Zik’s Flat then.
“I implored him to do something so that it would be one of the legacies his administration would be remembered for.”
The former lecturer in the university said the Azikiwe family should continue to explore every possible avenue to ensure the rehabilitation of the buildings to befit the name of her husband, after which the buildings were named.
When confronted with questions about the ruins in the facility, the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Igwe declined to comment. Igwe, who was at a one-day workshop organised by the Resource and Environmental Policy Research Centre (REPRC) of the University and Environment for Development (EfD) Initiative Nigeria, for journalists and environment reporters, rather told our correspondent that he would not make comments on that because the forum was not a place to talk to journalists about Zik’s Flats.
Also, efforts to get the reaction from the university’s spokesman, Dr Okwun Omeaku on the matter failed.
Omeaku rather told our correspondent that he was not competent enough to talk about the issue, adding that it was only the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Administration) that had the authority to speak to the press on the matter.
However, after almost two months of appointments with the DVC through the Public Relations Officer of the university, the DVC was not available for reactions.
Dr Omeaku would later inform our correspondent that meeting with the DVC would be a chance game, and through his words, the DVC was not available on each visit.
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