For today’s University of Nairobi students, finding an affordable and hygienic place to eat well has remained a big challenge. UoN students are forced to eat miserable meals at the nearby Klub 36.
A visit to the club reveals how students eat food poorly prepared in a filthy kitchen and unhygienic ramshackle lean-tos. At the Club 36, water has been a serious problem.
Last week, not a single drop of water came from the taps. The hygiene as well as physical state of Klub 36, where students have been reduced to eat will no doubt send even the most ardent supporters and allies to Peter Mbithi into panic mode.
Most students are malnourished, as food, which the university used to provide in adequate amounts a while back, has become too expensive. To make matters worse, cooking in the hostels was banned when Prof Mbithi came to power.
Although cooking in the hostels can be dangerous, the real reason for the ban was to force students to eat at the cafeteria in order to generate funds for running the university, which with a deficit of nearly Sh3 billion and surviving on an overdraft of Sh650 million, is now in the red.
Back to Club 36, the women who cook in the shacks had to ferry water and foodstuff supplies with hand drawn carts. Still students end up at Klub 36 in their droves. They have no choice. Here, a meal costs about Sh60, roughly half of what it costs to eat at the university cafeteria.
To make matters worse and considering the dangers that the students are exposed to due to poor state of the club, Mbithi has been sponsoring articles in media to paint the university ever reaching the great heights in academia where the just completed 22-storey University Towers is time and again displayed.
Insiders say the mismanagements at the premier university have reached fever pitch levels. The UoN is not only dead broke but also the malaise has now hit all time high at the students’ management. And now, there are palpable and justified real fears that University of Nairobi students could protest against the highhanded mismanagement of the university.
Last week, irate students smashed windows in some of the buildings at the main campus, including Education Building, following a PR event organised to hoodwink them into forgetting their woes. The event, attended by a top East African musician, was organised in conjunction with a leading media house.
The said media house wantonly disregards its public interest role and sees no evil and hears no evil on matters relating to UoN and has largely kept its best investigative journalists away from unearthing the mess at UoN.
Investigations shows that the media house has entered into a partnership with the UoN for joint events and sponsorship, and this deal has completely obliterated any hopes of the media house ever publishing negative stories about the ailing university.
Without coverage to expose the real situation at the university, some students have absolutely no idea about the dire straits their favourite university mired in. Wallowing in ignorance, the students cannot be enraged enough to demand for change.
This creates a false normalcy that all is well at the university. Many alumni of the University of Nairobi cannot but marvel at the patience of the current students in the face of the mess. They argue that had such mess happened during their time, things would definitely have taken a nasty turn as the then rights-conscious students would definitely have taken to the streets.
One area where things have deteriorated badly is in boarding and catering departments. It is a pity that the brightest students in Kenya, many of who come to the University of Nairobi, are forced to lead a dog’s life when they arrived at this legendary university.
Rooms in the hostels are allocated corruptly and undeserving students and goons end up taking up some most of the rooms. In fact, hostels have in the past been converted into barracks for goons who come to the aid of the VC when he wants to force his will on other students.
According to the Nairobi county police commander, Japheth Koome, the goons, some of who were arrested last year with crude weapons, were responsible for the common violence at the university. The goons are so vicious that an aspiring student leader was last year stabbed with a knife outside Mbithi’s office. Needless to say, none of the goons was punished for it. They are a law unto themselves.
There have also been a number of mysterious – and unresolved – deaths in the hostels, making UoN one of the most dangerous institutions for students, almost rivaling Garissa University, which suffered a terrorist attack in April of 2015.
The difference is that danger at the University of Nairobi is posed by goons reared in the hostels by the administration, in fact in fully knowledge of the VC, his DVC in charge of student affairs, Isaac Mbeche, as well as the dean of students, the evergreen freelance priest with a mane of white hair, Fr Wamugunda Wakimani, whose terms of employment were illegally changed from administrative to academic and his retirement requirement was extended by ten years by Mbithi who once attended a catholic seminary with him.
While Mbithi pursued further education, Wamugunda, with the help of his father, an influential Catholic from Gatundu North constituency, was airlifted to Italy to train as a priest.
Wamugunda is also inaccessible to students with genuine grievances as he spends his time in meetings instead of solving student problems.
As a result, the university has been turned into a veritable killing field. Some of the deaths occur within the precincts of the university while others happen in risky shantytowns where students, denied hostels at the university, are forced to live.
In February 2017, Edwin Kigen, a fourth-year student, died mysteriously at Madaraka Estate. In March 2017, Kelvin Ikatwa, popularly known as Razor, a third-year student, was allegedly stabbed by his girlfriend in Kangemi slums where they lived. Teaching students how to handle relationships is supposed to be Wamugunda’s docket and these deaths are a statement on his failures as a counselor.
In May 2015, another student, Duncan Ndegwa, mysteriously fell from Hall 8 and died, sending panic across the university. This was not an isolated incident. In 2015, 22-year-old Julius Omolo and his friend Mohamed Yusuf died after they were allegedly attacked by a mob in mysterious circumstances in the wee hours of the night within the university grounds.
Suspicions were expressed that goons associated with some Student Organization of Nairobi University leaders murdered the two. Sonu chairman Babu Owino said that the two students were killed by a mob after stealing a laptop from a student at 3am in the morning.
Surprisingly, even before investigations could be complete, Mbithi echoed Babu’s line – that the dead students were thieves. There was no police report, no inquest but just the word of Mbithi and his favourite student leader.
Of course the dead tell no tales. The news was so shocking that it sparked off a Twitter hashtag, #UoNGangs, which trended for two days. In May 2017 a person purporting to be a student in the halls of residence died in the students halls of residence. However his body disappeared with no trace.
Initially the purported student had sought medical attention at the university student clinic using a fake student card. He however got worse on going back to the room which he had been illegally allocated and died.
The university security at the halls of residence could not trace the dead body after a report was made that a student had died. By the time they arrived in the room where the “student” had died, his body had already been removed leading to the suspicion that the person was not a student after all.
When seven students died at the university within a space of seven months in 2015 Mbithi finally spoke on the deaths and washed his hands off the matter. Without batting an eyelid, he claimed that the deaths were purely accidental and therefore normal. Besides the six deaths, more than 200 students had been injured in the incidents, according to media reports.
For the students who are lucky enough to get into the university hostels, misery awaits them, in addition to potential death. Those coming to the university for the first time are surprised at the huge difference between the reality and the idyllic image of the university as a top-ranked institution.
The halls are decrepit. There is no privacy. Theft is the order of the day. There are goons galore, and according to media reports, some are armed with guns and are involved in violent robberies in the city.
Students’ valuables such as phones and laptops keep getting stolen. There are no sockets and students have to skip meals to buy sockets in order to run their gadgets. Maintenance is an alien term.
Investigations reveal that the UoN students are suffering with a lot of bitterness but are a worried lot following a steep deterioration of their living standards, mysterious killings and disappearances, constant interference by the administration in student affairs, and the hijacking of their student association, Sonu, by the administration.
Almost three months since Sonu elections were supposed to be held in April, there is still no word when the elections might be held and students are getting agitated at the impunity displayed by the administration in delaying their legitimate elections.
The students also squarely blame their lecturers for their silence in the face of evil taking hold of the university while lecturers have more information on what is going on than the students.
“I think our lecturers are very selfish. They know exactly what is going on and that university is being mismanaged. But they don’t say anything. They prefer to go to their businesses and operate as if things are normal,” A third year commerce student said.
“The lecturers have been compromised. The VC gives them money. That is why the university is broke. They are eating together,” claimed a student.
This year, Sonu elections have been postponed for no apparent reason. Word has it that the postponement is due to the coming general elections but there is absolutely no connection between the two elections. The real reasons, according to sources, include the fact that that Mbithi is worried that allowing elections at this time will produce a student leadership that he cannot control.
The aspiring student leaders had also asked that they be provided with Sonu audited accounts for Somu funds which Mbithi cannot account for because he has cleaned the accounts with the help of Prof Mbeche who is the DVC (Student Affairs) and doubles as DVC (Administration and Finance) and Wamugunda who is the dean of students.
In his usual and characteristic manner and in a way that has become now common knowledge due to its predictability, Mbithi has thrown a spanner in the works in the 2017 Sonu elections. He has instigated students to hit the courts and file a case to scuttle the implementation of the Universities (Amendment) Act 2016 on students’ election.
The CS for education, Fred Matiangi, through a Kenya Gazette Supplement Acts, 2016, the Universities (Amendment) Act 2016 published regulations governing the students unions in all public universities.
The import of Matiang’i’s endeavour was to streamline the elections of students’ union representatives at public universities. This was informed by the fact that public universities have been marred by violence during students’ elections time and again with claims of interference by the universities’ administration in the students’ elections as has been witnessed at the Sonu elections at UON in the last two elections.
Mbithi’s reaction is linked to the realisation that the term of pliant Sonu leaders led by Babu Owino real name Paul Ongili, has come to an end and by the coincidental declaration of intension to vie for chairmanship by the archrival of Babu in the 2016 Sonu elections, Mike Jacobs. Jacobs is one of the students expelled in the aftermath of the 2016 botched Sonu elections. Jacobs challenged the university in court and the university was ordered to take back all the suspended students, as there was no evidence against them.
A university senate committee led by Godfrey Muriuki who is the students’ adviser, was constituted to investigate the mayhem and the committee came with a raft of recommendations that were never implemented.
It remains to be seen whether students will move to reclaim their university from a cabal that is preventing them from having a great experience at the university and getting a good quality education that is worth the money they pay.
Meanwhile, some of the UoN staff are yet to receive their salaries. One Jackson Maalu was heard complaining bitterly that he had not seen his salary a week after the end of month.
Mbithi instituted a divide and rule method of paying the staff. He differentiated who to pay when. Those with accounts in Barclays Bank and Equity were paid first making those who know the ill happenings at the premier institution say that he got an overdraft in those banks.