When Rent Becomes Unpleasant: How Caretaker Killed 20-year-old Student
For students living in off-campus housing complexes, it has been war with their landlords. While some returning students have been battling with rent payments, many others are contending that the remainder of their rent should be credited, reduced or refunded as a result of their forced absence for almost a year following the initial COVID-19 lockdown as well as the over eight-month strike by unions of tertiary institutions in the country. ANGELA NKWO- AKPOLU and EMMANUEL MGBEAHURIKE recount the sad story surrounding the death of a 20-year- old Anthony Chinweotito Emmanuel, an undergraduate of Nekede Polytechnic, Owerri.
An uneasy calm has enveloped the Federal Polytechnic, Nekede in Owerri, Imo State after a caretaker of one of the off campus hostels, Ezinwanne Lodge, allegedly killed a 20 – year- old student of the institution, Anthony Chinweotito Emmanuel, over issues surrounding payment of rent.
Anthony, a first year student of the Department of Building Technology, reportedly slumped after he was hit with a saw blade on his stomach but died five days later .
According to some of the students in the hostel, the caretaker, whose name could not be ascertained, had locked up the water supply because some students refused to pay the full house rent.
This, it was gathered, led to argument by the student that they did not live in the hostel all through and January, 2021 following the COVID-19 lockdown, a situation which further provoked the said caretaker to lock the water supply.
Following the excruciating agony they faced while the taps were locked, the students in the lodge identified as “Ezinwanne Hostel” decided to open the tap and fetch water in the absence of the caretaker.
When the caretaker returned and saw the tap open, he proceeded to use a saw and cut open the water pipe.
The angry students began exchanging words with him and unlucky Anthony was allegedly stabbed by the caretaker, who was said to have also gone ahead to hit him with a plank.
The caretaker was said to have escaped immediately, leaving the student in the pool of his blood. LEADERSHIP Sunday gathered that It took the intervention of fellow students who rushed Anthony to a nearby hospital where he was rejected until he was taken to the Federal Medical Centre, Owerri where he died on Saturday.
When contacted at that time, the spokesman of Imo Police Command, Orlando Ikeokwu said, he was not aware of the matter but promised to call the divisional police officer in charge of Nekede Police sation to get clear picture of the incident.
LEADERSHIP Sunday later gathered from a source at the police station who pleaded not to be named , that the killer caretaker is presently in police net but would be handed over to the State CID for further investigation.
The news of Anthony Chinweotito’s death immediately sparked a protest as aggrived students who could not hide their pain demanded that the school management compel the police to hunt and arrest the killer caretaker or face the consequences of anarchy in the school .
This whole drama started after students resumed for academic activities in January but were told that their rents had expired.
When schools at all levels were closed eleven months ago as a result of the outbreak of coronavirus pandemic in the country, nobody envisaged that the closure would take nearly a year.
Although, the closure of tertiary institutions , particularly, was aggravated by the strike actions by the various unions which even started before the COVID-19 trauma set in. Sadly, most tertiary institutions remained shut even when other levels of education were reopened partially.
However, as students living in off-campus housing complexes began to resume from January 18, the issue of who bears the cost of accommodation while the shut down lasted has become topical.
While we agree that the COVID-19 global pandemic affected negatively the world of real estate, we make to say also that it has been particularly impactful on higher education and student housing.
This is because, despite financial insecurities felt by most of these off-campus residents during the COVID-19 pandemic, some landlords, have maintained that rent is still due in full for many of them.
Some of these off-campus residents whose parents are without work due to federal government’s initial order to close nonessential businesses, are in a tough position, as many students are left without a source of income. This is why some of them are asking their landlords for support, but many rental companies have refused to neither lowered or forgo the cost of rent based on the lease agreement.
Although most of the students who live in clusters have already left their apartments due to fear of their own safety , Phillips, a Mass Communication student at the Federal Polytechnic Nekede, Owerri , in Imo State said, until the outbreak of coronavirus , he was an HND 1 student of the citadel of learning.
As a student, he lived in a private hostel in Umudibia, Nekede with other students and paid his rent annually. He was supposed to complete the academic session by October 2020 and begin his HND 2 .
Following the lock down in March 2020, Phillips, alongside his school mates had to leave school and returned back to his parents , who reside in Aba, Abia State.
LEADERSHIP Sunday gathered that when school reopened in January 2021, Philip was told by his landlord that his initial rent for the year 2020 had expired.
While he battled to grapple with that reality message that greeted him, pleaded that his parents only empowered him with school fee and a token for his upkeep. He explained that arrangement was based on the understanding that he was yet to utilise his 2020 rent.
While hostel accommodation in most Polytechnics goes for reasonable amounts, N60,000 a year, these students pay reasonably higher amounts for private accommodation outside the campus.
Chidera Nweke , who lives off campus, said she paid her house rent barely a month before the closure. While her mother is looking forward to when she will help support in the upkeep of her siblings, the poor girl has sleepless nights over the issue.
She lamented that attempts to squat with other female students,mostly her coursemates proved abortive as they all claim they prefer their privacy.
“I have not spent a month before we were asked to go home. In fact, I thought we would just be away for a few weeks and I did not take along many clothes. It was after staying at home for a few months that I had to go and buy some clothes. Now, the landlord wants me to bear the rent for the months that I was away.
“Agreed that my belongings were kept in the room while away but we were away for almost a year, and if it were normal school holiday, we could not have stayed that long and that would be understandable,” she said.
For Godwin Ikpeazu, another student, everything boils down to the failure on the part of the government to provide the necessary facilities in the nation’s higher institutions.
In his contribution, Johnson Okoye a student of the Mass Communication confided in our Correspondent that he pays N60,000 for one room apartment ,which according to him ,expired last December adding that his landlord sent words to him along with seven (7) of his colleagues who are his co-tenants that he would visit them soon to announce increment
Cecilia, an ND 2 student in the faculty of Business lamented that her poor mother and a widow may die of hearth attack if she dares to demand for another rent.
For students who were unable to complete their rents in 2020 but still had their possessions in the apartment, their landlords insists they must pay the outstanding and then that of 2021.
Call it an implosion and you may not be totally wrong. It is trouble lurking around and nobody knows what to expect.
Already a student is in coma at the Federal Medical Centre Owerri after his landlord hit him over renewal of rent which resulted to a shouting bout.
On his part, Chief Ambrose Uka, a landlord of one of the hostels said bank interests on the loan he collected is choking life out of him. He can’t wait to complete the payment and heave a sigh of relief.
When contacted,he President of the Students Union Government (SUG) Chuwuebuka Eze, told our correspondents that all they was justice for the students and nothing less.
He said “As students, we will not accept anything but justice for the National Diploma one student who was killed. We embarked on a March on Monday and we have told the authorities what we want. We have given a time frame and if the timeline expires and nothing is done, we will block Imo state government house until the governor sees and address us”.
He said, “We want the killer caretaker prosecuted. We want the family of the killed student compensated. We want the immediate stop of the intimidation of the students by hostel owners in our schools. We will stop at nothing in ensuring that Anthony gets justice”.
Eze said “We tried to have an arrangement with the landlords association but it didn’t yield any positive results. While our members are calling for waiver of rent, the landlords argue that they have loans to repay. They said their lodges were built with bank loans and that the banks are after them. After all our entreaties failed, we had to run to the school management to intervene”.
Further he said ,” We proposed that final year students in HND and ND 2 should pay half rents since we are to complete our programmes by April and round up project writing by June maximum. While HND and ND 1 students should complete their one year rent because they will return for the new academic session. Hence they need to be assured that they have a place to keep their things and also lay their heads upon return”.
Interestngly, a landlord whose identity could not be confirmed at the popular “ Back Gate” was said to have cancelled last year rents for his tenants, an action that elicited jubilation from the students especially his tenants.
Meanwhile, LEADERSHIP Sunday gathered that the school authority has since intervened in the friction between the students and the landlords with a view to finding lasting solutions to the conflict.
To buttress the concern of the school authority, a high powered committee has been set up to look at the immediate and remote causes of the disagreement and tp come up with a workable solution to the challenges.
This position was made known by the public relations officer, of the school, Mr Evah Nwosu who further disclosed that the school management held a meeting with the landlords association , the off campus students , with the Students Union Government (SUG) in attendance.
According to Evah, the landlords complained that the students, though their tenants were very uncouth and rude , also breaches their agreements. He said, “no responsible management will sit down and watch a group of persons take undue advantage of its citizenry.
He revealed that the management of the school has put mechanism in place to checkmate the activities of the landlords.
The PRO emphatically submitted that the school will stop at nothing to protect the interest and welfare of their students.
According to him, “we are responsive and proactive in handling issues concerning students as well as the lecturers.We will continue to do our best in making sure that landlords do not reap off the students in the name of collecting exorbitant house rents.”
He disclosed that the deputy Rector, Dr (Mrs) Anthonia Nwosu led the school management to the meeting with traditional rulers and landlords.
“We were able to reach an agreement that HND and OND 2 students who have just a semester to round off should pay half rent while HND and OND 1 students should pay full rent”, Nwosu said.
According to him, the landlords complained that the students engaged in cohabiting as though they were legally married, saying it was agreed that such students should be evicted.
Nwosu noted that landlords act as parents of the students who look out for them and ensure their safety while in the hostels , adding that they should be respected.
Among the traditional rulers who attended the meeting were Oma Dike of Umu Umuoma, Eze Maurice Dike who doubles as a representative of landlords as well as the traditional ruler of Umudibia Nedeke, the host community of the institution and two others.
Prior to the meeting, Okoreaffia Okafor – the Dean , Students Affairs of the school in an invite to the landlords and others for the meeting explained that normally, rent due is the right of the landlord.
He however, stressed that these are abnormal times that require dialogue and understanding.
One thing is obvious, whichever modus adopted, it is sad that the students will still pay new rents despite the devastation caused by COVID-19 19. By extension, parents will have to cough out more monies if their children must not be chased out of their apartments.
Findings by LEADERSHIP Sunday revealed that the five hostels in the school can barely accommodate up to 20 percent of the over 13,000 school population.
Source: Leadership newspaper