Following the failed efforts by previous administrations to end the lingering disparity between HND/BSc holders in the private sector and government agencies, agitations have been renewed for President Muhammadu Buhari to give his assent to the bill seeking to abolish the dichotomy. Vanessa Obioha writes
Mrs. Maria Agbodion (not real name) graduated over 20 years ago from the Federal Polytechnic, Auchi, with a Higher National Diploma (HND) certificate. She got a job with the Edo State government as a teacher and was posted to Auchi. To properly consolidate her position in the teaching profession, she proceeded to Ambrose Alli University for a postgraduate diploma in education (PGDE).
Initially, holders of the National Certificate of Education (NCE) certificate were barred from going beyond Level 14 in the Edo State Civil Service, but those with HND and PGDE, which are by far higher qualifications, have now been included in the list of those barred from crossing Level 14 too. It is strictly for those with a Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Science (B.Sc) and Bachelor of Education (B.Ed), and many have considered this as discriminatory.
This is why graduates with HND are urging President Muhammadu Buhari to give his assent to the bill seeking to abolish the dichotomy between B.Sc and HND holders in the country. They noted that the president’s assent would ensure the growth of polytechnic education in Nigeria. The dichotomy between B.Sc and HND holders in the country, especially when it comes to employment, have been in national discourse for a long time.
Discrimination either during employment or in service is not new in Nigeria. The trend places degree holders above HND holders in the work pool and subsequent promotion. On many occasions, HND holders cannot go beyond grade level 14, especially in civil service across the country, while degree holders can rise to grade level 17 before retiring from active service. Many have argued that in terms of academic discipline, both the holders of the two certificates spent the same number of years in school. But in the practical aspect, HND holders are ahead of the B.Sc holders. This is so because 70 per cent of learning in polytechnics is practical, being technological-based institutions aimed at equipping students with technical knowledge that helps graduates be self-reliant.
In developed nations where Nigeria copied her system of education, HND and degree holders are employed on the same grade level. In fact, these countries don’t care about the certificate one has; all they are after is what one can offer as a graduate. But in Nigeria, the holders of a degree are favoured more than HND holders.
In a move towards ending these disparities, the two chambers of the National Assembly – the Senate and House of Representatives – passed a bill seeking a perpetual end to the dichotomy between the two certificates. The legislation was titled ‘A Bill for an Act to Abolish and Prohibit Dichotomy and Discrimination between First Degree and Higher National Diploma in the Same Profession/Field for the Purpose of Employment; and for Related Matters’.
Sponsored by Senator Ayo Akinyelure (PDP, Ondo central), the legislation seeks to resolve the controversy and promote Nigeria’s technological advancement by encouraging many qualified students to pursue polytechnics and technology-based studies.
However, on June 2, 2021, the Senate passed the bill to abolish the HND/BSC dichotomy. The bill stipulates punitive measures against disparities and discrimination against holders of HND; this means that the two certificates are now equal. With the passage of the bill by the National Assembly, what is now left is the president’s assent, ensuring the growth of polytechnic education in the country.
Before then, in 2006, President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, in a move to end the regime of discrimination, approved a new policy reversing the existing one, which restricts HND holders from rising above salary grade level 14 in the public service, unlike their university graduate counterparts.
The new policy at the time was looked upon as the beginning of a new dawn and a ray of hope for HND holders in the country.
While attempting to enforce the policy, Obasanjo gave the directive at a meeting with members of the National Assembly Committees on Education and the Minister of Education at the time, Chinwe Obaji. The president directed his then Chief of Staff, Mohammed Abdullahi, and former Head of Service, Yayale Ahmed, to immediately prepare a position paper reflecting the new position so that the government could immediately commence its implementation.
Under the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in September 2007, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) also directed that the dichotomy and ceiling on salary grade level attainable by HND holders should be removed.
Even the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari has had cause to seriously frown at the disparity and discrimination between degree and HND holders in the civil service.
Based on this, the then Head of Service of the Federation, Mrs. Winifred Oyo-Ita, in a circular dated March 26, 2018, passed the decision of the National Council on Establishment (NCE) to all concerned. In the circular, HND holders will enjoy Salary Grade Level 08 (SGL08) in the civil service at the entry point like their colleagues with university degrees. It also encouraged serving officers who hold HND to fulfil all specified conditions in the scheme of service and extant rules for career progression beyond SGL 14.
The approval of the Civil Defence swiftly followed this, Fire, Immigration and Prisons Board (CDFIPB) for the abolition of the dichotomy between holders of a bachelor’s degree and HND in the services under the Ministry of Interior.
The board’s secretary, Malam Al-Hassan Yakmut, said the chairman of CDFIPB and former minister of interior, Lt.-Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazau (retd.) gave the approval at the board’s meeting held on May 10, 2020, in Abuja.
Yakmut said after the board’s meeting, a technical committee was immediately set up to work out modalities for the implementation, “including the harmonisation of ranks in accordance with the abolition.”
Despite this, discrimination against HND holders in private and public agencies persists because there were no sanctions for non-compliance.
This is why while addressing journalists in Abuja recently, the Coordinator of the Coalition of HND stakeholders, Sebastian Onyemaobi, called on President Buhari to give his assent to the bill seeking to abolish the dichotomy between the two certificates in the country. He argued that the bill would also end the outdated class-concept and certificate-based approach practised in Nigeria, including introducing the globally accepted performance-based approach to workplace administration.
“The passage of this bill has rekindled the joy, hope and self-esteem of millions of HND holders who over the years have been enmeshed in abject traumatisation due to unwarranted discrimination, harsh and inhumane treatments at their various workplaces in both public and private sectors of the Nigerian economy in spite of their vast potentials, hard work and immense contributions to national development,” said Onyemaobi. “While we wait with ecstatic expectations, the signing of this epoch-making bill into law, the coalition wishes to assure our dear president, the National Assembly and all Nigerians that HND holders and indeed the polytechnic system will work hard to live up to their expectations and justify the confidence reposed on them if this bill is signed into law.”
He added, “Also, we assure you that upon signing of this momentous bill into law, HND holders will be greatly propelled to utilise their talents and potential to the fullest and contribute immensely, more than ever before, to national development.”
A polytechnic graduate, Femi Adedayo, wondered why the federal government could not reform its education system to allow students to explore their potential in a particular aspect of their study, be it BSc or HND.
Agbodion believes that HND holders are better in practicals than their degree counterparts. She noted that only the federal government could put an end to the dichotomy between the holders of the two certificates. She called on Governor Godwin Obaseki to use his good offices to abolish the disparity in Edo State.
The teacher noted that the policy is discriminatory and renders hopeless all the efforts she put in going to school to obtain the HND and PGDE certificates and her commitment to work for the past 20 years.
“I wonder why the Nigerian government can’t reform its education system to give people a chance to explore their potential in a particular aspect of the study, be it BSc or HND; let it be equal in terms of everything because, to some extent, people with HND are more brilliant when it comes to practical than BSc holders,” she stated. “Therefore, Nigerian students are calling on our dear President Buhari and other relevant authorities to, as a matter of urgency, take the bull by the horns by signing into law the bill to end the dichotomy between HND holders and degree holders.”