The age long discrimination against Higher National Diploma, HND, holders is causing tension in the Nigerian Customs Service.
A quiet storm is brewing in the Nigerian Customs Service as holders of the Higher National Diploma, HND, certificates are complaining about the disparity in the conditions of service between them and bachelor’s degree holders.
Although the complaints started at the stage of murmuring among aggrieved graduates of Polytechnics in the Customs, those affected across the country are mobilizing to take action to register their position.
A few of the affected customs officials who spoke to icirnigeria.org complained that although they spend more years in a tertiary institution, the management of the service still discriminates against them and places them below degree holders.
The aggrieved customs men listed several ways in which the conditions of service of their colleagues who had university education and possess degrees are better than those of polytechnic graduates who hold HND certificates.
For example, while HND holders enter the Custom Service on Grade Level GL 7, degree holders’ entry point is GL 8. Also while polytechnic graduates can only rise to GL 14, their degree holder colleagues can rise to GL 17 and even become the Comptroller General of Customs, CGC.
Invariably, because of the grade level disparity, the salaries paid to HND holders are also lower than the ones received by bachelor’s degree holders.
But the biggest complaint of the polytechnic graduates is in the disparity in the schedule of duties between them and university graduates. According to them, while degree holders are posted to executive/superintendent cadre assignments, HND holders are treated as minions and posted on assignments like guard duties.
For example, three OND holders in the Customs who spoke to our reporters claimed that they were on guard duty in the residence of senior officers. One of them was guarding a retired customs officer in one of the Northern states.
“Though in terms of allowances, we enjoy same allowances with our Bsc/BA counterpart, but in terms of schedule of work, we do jobs meant for First School Certificate holders,” one of them bemoaned.
Another area of discrimination is that HND holders on GL 7 are not allowed to wear uniforms designated for officer cadre unlike degree holders. They can only wear officers’ uniform when they get to GL 8.
Although some of them who serve in Abuja are allowed to wear uniforms meant for officer cadre, in other parts of the country HND holders have to wear uniforms meant for the rank and file.
The complainants also stated that even when they try to improve their careers by obtaining degrees after graduating from the polytechnic, the management of the Customs Service still make it impossible for them to convert to officer cadre.
“ Many of us have gone to get university degrees, a few even have Masters degrees but what they tell us is that there is no vacancy,” one of the aggrieved men said.
The polytechnic graduates are demanding that they be put at par with their colleagues who are degree holders in line with a circular of the National Board for Technical Education which they provided.
In the circular dated February 13, 2009 signed by A.B Kurawe for the executive secretary and addressed to the Comptroller General of Customs, the board in response to a previous memo from the Customs stated, “the entry point for HND holders into the public service is CONTISS 7 (GL 7) and they progress to a terminal point of CONTISS 12 (GL14).”
Wale Adeniyi, the Customs Service spokesman refused to make comments on the matter when our reporter phoned him. While declining to grant an interview, he offered that the Customs employs personnel based on a scheme of service.
But investigations by icirnigeria.org indicate that the complaining customs men might be fighting a difficult battle. It was gathered that the disparity between HND and bachelor’s degree holders is not peculiar to the Customs Service but is a public service policy that affects the civil service and even the military and security services.
Tope Ajakaiye, deputy director of press in the office of the head of service of the federation, shed some light on the reasons behind the different conditions of service for the two cadres.
According to him, the disparity is “a policy issue that is fundamental and has existed for a long time and is rooted in the curriculum and philosophy behind setting up polytechnics and universities.
Ajakaiye explained that while university education and its curriculum were structured to produce top level policy makers, the polytechnic syllabus was conceived to produce technicians and technologists to drive advancement in technology.
He stated further that while the university graduate is trained to assume management and decision making positions, the polytechnic graduates are trained to implement decisions thus taken.
“In the public service the management level or decision making level is the directorate level between grade level 15 and 17 that is why a university graduate can reach grade level 17. But the polytechnic graduate who is trained to be a technician can only rise to chief technical officer or grade level 14.
Many people in the polytechnic system do not agree with this. Godwin Onu, a professor and rector of the Federal Polytechnic, Oko says the disparity is inimical to technological development and shows a lack of seriousness on the part of government.
He advocated allowing polytechnics to award degrees, observing that countries like South Korea, India and other technology conscious nations have done so.
“I think that’s the solution to it. The proper solution if they can be realistic is to allow the polytechnics to start awarding degrees, allow upward mobility of the staff, provide them with the facilities without losing site of technical and vocational content of the polytechnic education,” he said.
He lamented: “We train people in the polytechnic and at the end of the day, they acquire a PhD and leave the polytechnic and join the university system because he cannot be a professor here and that is why we are advocating that polytechnics, as they are should all be made polytechnic universities as they are in other countries of the world.”
The issue of disparity between HND and degree holders has always been an issue in the public service and actually received presidential attention during the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Sources in the federal civil service said that Obasanjo tried to get the National Council of Establishment to bring the two cadres at par. However, the council made up of the head of service of the federation and the head of service of all the states, reportedly came up with the resolution that the issue had to do with the curriculum in universities and polytechnics and could not be tampered with.
The council, this website learnt, advised, however, that the syllabus of some polytechnics could be structured so that they start awarding degrees. This would have enabled Ordinary National Diploma, OND holders to study for the award of degrees instead of the HND.
It was also gathered that the council specifically suggested that two polytechnics and four colleges of education. These polytechnics are Yaba College of Technology, Kaduna Polytechnic and Auchi Polytechnic.
The colleges of education are the Federal College of Education, Kano; Federal College of Education, Zaria, Kaduna State; Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education, Owerri, Imo State; and Adeyemi College of Education, Ondo, Ondo State.
Since then there have been conflicting signals from the government about its true position. In May 2009, shortly before Sam Egwu, then minister of education at an interactive meeting with members of the Senate committee on education said that the federal government had commenced the process of eliminating the disparity between HND and degrees.
Egwu said that the government was concerned about it because if was affecting moral and productivity in the public service.
“We are addressing the problem, because when a staff with HND does not earn the same recognition that his counterpart from the university earns, it creates problems,” he said.
But in August 2010, Ruqquayat Rufa’i, the education minister, told journalists that the issue of eliminating the disparity was just a proposal that was being worked on and that it might take years to bring it to the federal executive council for approval.
“The planned conversion of these institutions is just the recommendation of the Implementation Committee on Guidelines for Degree Awarding for Colleges of Education and Polytechnics, which submitted its report on Tuesday, July 20. There is still a lot of job to be done before we can present it for approval by the Federal Executive Council,” she said.
The minister said that among the issues that still need to be worked out are the restructuring of syllabus; reconciliation of academic profile of members of academic staff and the status of existing students of the institutions.
There were indications last week that the committee saddled with working out these issues might have submitted its report to the minister and that the education ministry is putting finishing touches to a document to be presented to the federal executive council soon.
A source in the federal ministry of education told our reporter that it had been decided that as a pilot project, Kaduna Polytechnic and Yaba College of Technology will be immediately recommended to FEC for upgrade into degree awarding institutions.
The source said that issues such as curriculum and service conditions of HND holders have been worked out and that the institutions would be called university of technology.
As observed by Onu, other countries have adopted this policy. For example, in Britain, academic degrees were validated for polytechnics as far back as the ‘60s. Over the decades, polytechnics in Britain have all upgraded to universities and the disparity between degrees and HNDs, referred to as “binary divide” was abolished in 1092 by the Further and Higher Education Act.
Our reporter could not confirm from our source what the status of those who already have HNDs would be when polytechnics start awarding degrees.
But Ajakaiye admonished parents and guardians to always counsel their wards on the course of study and choice of institutions they should take in future. He believes that part of the problem is that students no longer have the benefit of career guidance and counselling before making a choice of which course of study to pursue and where to study.
He observed that with examinations into tertiary institution becoming more competitive, students who leave secondary school do not bother to distinguish a polytechnic and a university not minding that their curriculums are different and that they would take them on different career parts.
“I think that we should advice our children to seek career counselling before making choices such as the course they want to study and where to study them because universities and polytechnics are not structured to produce the same cadre of personnel,” he advised.