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Inside Story: How UNILAG Squatters Struggle For Shelter

“Are you here? Where is your hostel pass?” a male porter at the gate of Jaja hall asked Terry, who is a final year student at the University of Lagos.

Terry, who is a squatter in Jaja hall had no hostel pass which belongs to only bonafide students in the hostel. He was denied entrance into the hostel after his classes and had to stand outside in the burning sun.

“As a squatter, there’s a constant fear of coming into the hostel because I know I will be embarrassed by the porters and security guards,” he said.

Iris, a female student in the university who is a squatter in Moremi hostel also had a similar experience.

To Iris, who resumed school later than her mates, she was stuck in the hostel and could not go to class out of fear of being stopped from coming back into the hostel.

“Moremi porters were very strict with squatters when we resumed so I missed some classes and could not go out of the hostel for fear of being stopped at the gate,” she said.

This has become a normal experience for squatters in UNILAG because according to the school management, it is illegal to squat in the school hostels.

Getting A Bed In UNILAG 

The University of Lagos has 11 hostels; 6 female hostels and 5 male hostels. Every hostel can comfortably accommodate more than 1000 students. Unfortunately, the hostels are not enough to accommodate all undergraduates and freshers because the number of students is more than the available bed spaces. 

According to research, the University of Lagos currently admits over 9,000 students, which makes the balloting process a survival of the fittest. To secure a bed, students are required to log in to their student portal and follow the process for reserving bed spaces in the hostel of their choice. This can only be done on the day designated by the Dean of Student Affairs. 

The people who can reserve a space are referred to as Bonafides while those who can not get a bed space and are staying in the hostel are the Squatters. Students who are unable to reserve bed space are left with the choice of either renting an apartment outside school– which is very expensive––or squatting. 

To squat in a hostel, the student would have to live with their bonafide friend, beg or pay a stranger to stay with them

The squatter will get a small space in the locker and sleep on the floor or the bed with the bonafide. The bonafide makes the rules concerning sharing spaces and decides whether the squatter sleeps on the bed or not and they can be evicted from the room by the bonafide in case of misunderstanding or the mood of the bonafide.

Squatters sometimes have to settle the porters for easy access into the hostel and must not cause any trouble in the hostel. Additionally, cannot bring too many loads into the hostel because they will have to share the bonafide’s space in the room and squatters do not have a say in matters concerning the room and other bonafide except stated otherwise by the other bonafide.

The Struggle Of UNILAG Squatters

The school management recognises squatting as illegal, as stated in the hostel rules and regulations: “Squatters and collaborators in the room are liable for punishment” and this leaves the squatters at the mercy of the porters and roommates.

Squatters are caught usually through a process called “raiding” where the hostel mistress, accompanied by some porters, go from room to room in search of squatters.

The raiding exercise is an unexpected visit from the hall mistress and squatters caught in the web are evicted from the hostel along with their bonafides who will have their beds seized and taken to the porter’s lodge.

Squatters have no right in the hostel and their room and they do not enjoy the freedom and luxury that comes with being bonafide.

“Squatters have to mellow down and be on a low key because they do not have equal rights like bonafide so the hostel authorities do not recognize them fully.

“You have to manage whatever space you’re given, you do not have a personal bed or locker, you can not carry too much load inside the hostel except your bonafide help, you also do not receive the free food all bonafide get in all hostels during hall week, and you must not fight in the hostel which means you might have to accommodate a lot of crap from people but if your roommates and bonafide are nice people, you will enjoy your stay in the hostel,” a student who spoke anonymously explained.

Aside from the challenges squatters face in the hostel, they also risk being denied entrance into the hostels by the porters––sometimes for a very long time. 

This tends to reduce in some hostels as the semester goes on.

“When I was in year 2, I was stopped outside the hostel along with other squatters till 1 AM [after] midnight, only those that are friends with the porters were allowed to enter early but I don’t think they do that anymore,” Anu explained. 

“I wanted to pick something from my room and was stopped by the hostel porter and asked for my destination. I told him I wanted to see someone and asked me to call the person instead of going into the hostel so I had to hang around the hostel till I was able to enter,” Eben complained.

“This semester, it was stressful, I wouldn’t want to go out because I was stopped severally from coming back inside the hostel. But on a particular day, I went home for the weekend. I came back on Sunday evening when my parents brought me and they didn’t allow me to enter until I called my dad and they told him to settle them. Since then it has been easier to go out and come in,” Tayo explained.

Legalising Squatting In The Institution 

The University of Lagos is one of the most sought-after universities in Nigeria and as a result, the school admits over 9,000 students into new academic sessions. 

However, there is not enough accommodation to shelter all the students, and squatting being illegal makes accommodation another challenge for students.

Some students who spoke to the reporter explained the severity of the situation. 

“The lack of Bedspaces is not the fault of the students and if they can’t legalize squatting, the school should create accommodation for the number of students admitted. More hostels should be built, there is land everywhere. Many come from far and can barely afford outside school accommodation for an outrageous amount. Squatters are humans too. In my first year, I’ll leave home at 6 am and get home at 11 pm because I don’t have a place to stay. The stress is very terrible,” Glory said.

John, another student, said: “I think squatting should be legalised but with a maximum number for each,” bonafide.”

“Squatting should be legalised if the school can’t afford to build more hostels, and squatters should be given a hostel pass or better still, the hostel authorities should stop harassing and disturbing squatters and that raiding thing should be stopped or should we sleep on the road because we want to learn? Something should be done,” Bisi laments.

It remains to be seen what the university intends to do about this situation.

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the respondents 

 

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