By Femi Esan
Relevant stakeholders have opined that the novel COVID-19 pandemic coupled with the industrial action embarked on by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has caused great harm to the Nigerian University system. The president-elect of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), Sunday Asefon, has berated the federal government and ASUU for failing to reach a practical resolution on the over nine-month-old strike, which has led to accrued house rent on the part of the affected students. While the house rent paid for the year 2020 expires without being used, another one beckons. The situation has aroused mixed feelings among university students, who are still struggling to cope with the shock of the lingering ASUU strike.
University students across the federation have stressed the need for constructive consultation and dialogue with landlords in their respective institutions over the issue of accumulated house rent.
Recall that the newly elected president of NANS, Mr. Asefon, during a Facebook live session monitored by journalists, vowed to shut down all private universities in the country if the nine-month strike embarked on by ASUU continues.
Mr. Asefon expressed grief over the effect of the strike on students, especially over those whose house rent will be due in a couple of months; and student entrepreneurs who eke out a living from trading on campuses.
The president-elect said “our students that paid for house rent before the strike…By December, the house rent will expire. They will have to pay another one. We have students that engage in entrepreneurship to fund their studies. Those businesses have been shut down.
“There must be a lasting solution, ASUU must stop this strike and the Federal Government must listen to ASUU. The two should synergise, they should pity the common students who have been at home.”
Meanwhile, students all over Nigeria have raised the alarm, calling for the intervention of relevant stakeholders in addressing the issue, which according to them may constitute an aftermath crisis of the prolonged strike action.”
The acting Students’ Union president of the Federal University Oye-Ekiti, Ayomide Adekola, opined that the cry for a negotiation with landlords on the issue of house rents is a cry of pain from students who have paid their house rent but did not get to enjoy the service they have paid for.
According to him, it is also a cry from parents who struggled to pay the house rent of their wards, and still have to host their children in their homes, feed and nurse them.
“I will say that we are in a typical situation, caused by the outbreak of the novel Corona virus. Hence, there should be room for unusual negotiations.
“During the course of enquiry, it was noticed that some students have not paid up their rents and some have not paid at all. The solution to this is asking the students to pay up their outstanding rents for 2020, as this will put all students on a negotiation level.
“Then coming to the landlords, the base of negotiation can be that since all students have paid up their rents, there should be a form of reimbursement to the students, probably 10% or 20%. This in my view balances the ruckus between landlords and students,” Mr. Adekola said.
Ifeoluwa Onileowo, a 400 level student of the department of Political Science, Federal University Oye-Ekiti, said “there is need for proper understanding of the whole situation putting into consideration the negative effect of the ASUU strike and the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s a known fact that the landlords will want to have their rent for the year but there’s a need for both parties to come to an agreement on the way forward so as to avert any conflict.”
“This is where the Student Unions at all levels should come in, in order to meet with the traditional rulers and landlords of their respective campus communities so that they’ll be able to proffer a reasonable solution to the issue which will be based on agreement. A good example of such a solution is that the students should pay half of their rent and landlords should sustain the former rent price due to the challenges posed by Covid-19 pandemic and the prolonged industrial action by ASUU.”, Ms. Onileowo concluded.
For Oluwatosin Olaleye, a 400 level student of the department of Psychology in the Federal University Oye-Ekiti, telling landlords to bear risk for the period wasted would be a shortage on their own path and the trauma of paying for abandoned services will be on students as well.
“To be factual, students rent hostels (off-campus) on the basis of twelve calendar months and not an academic session like those that secure accommodation on campus (school hostel). But considering the circumstances that led to the denial of their house rents starting from the pandemic to ASUU strike, obviously, it’s beyond the students’ control. In this case, the government is the only body that can help Nigeria students at this crucial time and if they fail to help, each student carries his or her burden,” he said.
Another student, Miracle Ifeanyichukwu, of the Enugu State University of Science and Technology, said “it all boils down to understanding. If the landlords understand that the year has been wasted for no just course and decide to have pity on student-tenants, then, it’s a very laudable one. I’d suggest that the house rent should be slashed, so that students can pay half of the year rent and the landlords bear the rest.”
Also reacting, Kamila Abdul Oladosu from Crestfield College of Education, Erin Osun noted that the landlords and the students are likely to face some critical challenges, as the duo may find it difficult to strike a balance.
He said “I doubt if the landlords can afford it (forfeit house rent) because what they are doing is nothing but pure business. Though, the problems may be solved if the Students’ Associations come to a round table and negotiate with the landlords in a polite manner. The Student Union of each school affected by the ASUU strike should rise and come to the aid of their members; their intellectual contributions will greatly be of help.”
Damilola Makinde, a 200 level student of the English Education department in Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba Akoko, said “reaching an agreement will do because our properties in our various apartments represent us. If they’re safe, I think no cause for alarm; we just need to reach an agreement with them as per the rent fee then I am sure things will work out. And most importantly, the landlords should please see reasons with us.”
Sunday Afolabi, a 200 level student of the department of Animal Production and Health in the Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta said “house rent has emerged as a pressing concern among students and l agree that the terms and conditions of tenancy should be the iron clad rule, however, with a good negotiation leverage of the student Union government of all universities, perhaps, landlords and students tenant may reach a reasonable compromise of payment or a timeline for extension for payment or even a reduction.”
Similarly, Kehinde Faboade, a 400 level student of the Obafemi Awolowo University, opined that the leadership of students’ associations or unions should meet with landlords for dialogue and reach a compromise with them; adding that partial or outright waiver of the 2021 rent are some of the options available to both parties.
He further said “rent is paid for the possession of someone else’s property (a house for instance) for a fixed period of time and for a particular sum. It matters less whether the person who rented it uses it or not, more so that the possession of the said property is passed immediately there is an agreement. Also, during the period of rent, the property would be unavailable to the owner for other economic use. The rent remains valid until the agreed period lapses. At the expiration of the period, the possession returns to the owner unless the tenancy agreement is renewed with the volition of the two parties.
“In the landlord-student scenario, I think asking for a fresh (2021) rent from students by their landlords is not unlawful. After all, the students paid for possession of rooms. More so, where the agreement stipulates that the rent paid sometime ago is for a period to 2020 and not 2019/2020 or equivalent academic session which is still running, I think a new rent is necessary to avoid brawl.”
He concluded by saying “I don’t think either of the parties should dance to the tune of the other. Rather, this issue should be settled as a win-win. The students want an outright waiver because they’ve suffered enough psychological stress by staying at home too long while hoping that the ASUU strike would end soon coupled with the current economic hardship facing many Nigerians. Landlords also want new rent to be paid not only because they believe that students only paid for possession not usage of their houses but because they also feel the pang the worsened Nigerian economy unleashes.
“With the intervention of the leadership of students’ associations or unions across the board, solutions can be proffered through constructive dialogues, hence, reach a compromise with the landlords.”