Friday, 8th December 2023

Worries over HND, BSc bill as Buhari’s exit nears

By Adelowo Adebumiti
25 April 2023   |   3:34 am
The struggle to end the disparity in certificates issued to university graduates and Higher National Diploma (HND) polytechnic graduates in the country has again taken the centre stage as the May 29 exit date of President Muhammadu Buhari draws near.

National President of ASUP, Anderson Ezeibe

The struggle to end the disparity in certificates issued to university graduates and Higher National Diploma (HND) polytechnic graduates in the country has again taken the centre stage as the May 29 exit date of President Muhammadu Buhari draws near.

The National Assembly had, after attempts in June 2021, passed a bill to end the disparity. The bill was later transmitted to the President for assent.The bill, among other things, aimed to resolve the wage disparity and discrimination against HND holders in the public and private sectors. It also seeks to promote Nigeria’s technological advancement by encouraging many qualified candidates to pursue polytechnic and technological studies.

Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, said it would serve as motivation to HND holders from polytechnics.One of the sponsors of the bill, Senator Ayo Akinyelure (PDP, Ondo Central), said the discrimination against HND holders is a threat to the nation’s core policy of evolving a technological and scientifically-based society.

But two years after the passage of the bill, the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP), has renewed the call on the President to assent to the bill. ASUP National President, Dr. Anderson Ezeibe, who made the call recently, urged President Buhari to sign the bill before the end of his tenure on May 29.

Ezeibe noted that if Buhari leaves without signing the bill into law, the entire exercise would amount to waste of public resources. He said failure to sign the bill into law means it may later be discarded unless lawmakers in the 10th National Assembly would consider it for a fresh debate and passage, before handing it to the next President.

In an interview with The Guardian, Ezeibe said since the bill has passed the third reading in the two chambers of the National Assembly, it means all legislative processes have been complied with.

ASUP president said government should sign the bill as a matter of necessity, pointing out discrimination against HND holders is no longer acceptable. He said: “It is undermining the development of polytechnic education. It is affecting the self-worth and confidence of HND holders and adversely affecting their workplace productivity. Our contention is that workers should be assessed on the basis of their output, and not on the basis of the colour of their certificates. The discriminatory practice has been removed by some agencies of government already, particularly the paramilitary bodies, but it’s still prevalent in the core civil service, and it has stagnated the career growth of HND holders. Our nation’s Constitution forbids discrimination against persons.”

The move to end the dichotomy is not a new development in the polity. In 2016, the National Council of Education (NCE) at its 39th meeting in Minna, Niger State, resolved that Bsc and HND holders should both enter the civil service on Grade Level 08, but federal ministries, departments and agencies were reluctant to implement the resolution. That changed in July 2017 as the Ministry of Interior abolished the dichotomy in all the paramilitary services.

According to the directive, the Civil Defence, Fire, Immigration and Prisons Board (CDFIPB), under the chairmanship of the former Minister of Interior, Abdulrahman Dambazzau, made it mandatory that all officers with HND should be upgraded to COMPASS 08, which is the salary grade level for holders of degree certificates at entry point.

But there are concerns that the move was not enough to tackle the issue at the core of the disparity. The NCE resolution only address the disparity in entry points between HND and Bachelor degree holders but it was silent on the terminal points, where there is also a gap between the two qualifications.

The reality is that HND holders cannot rise beyond Grade Level 14 or 15 without obtaining additional qualifications such as a Masters degree, while a degree holder can rise in the service to Grade Level 17,which is equivalent to the Permanent Secretary cadre.

While such efforts to bridge the gap represent a massive step in the right direction, only the bill can address all issues associated with the disparity between the two certificates.

Speaking on the call by ASUP for the President to assent to the bill, former Dean, Faculty of Education, Lagos State University (LASU), Prof. Tunde Owolabi, said HND/BSC dichotomy is an age-long controversy. Owolabi, who described it as unnecessary, said polytechnic education was established to train technologists, technicians and other personnel to acquire management skills. He pointed out that it was meant to develop practical skills to meet the manpower requirements of low, middle and higher-level technical manpower.

“Asking for parity is unreasonable for some reasons: First both university and polytechnic were established to meet different structural purposes of the workforce. Ideally their job descriptions are clearly delineated. For instance, how would polytechnic graduates in teaching expect parity? Even degree holders without teaching qualifications are not placed at par with those who have teaching qualifications. What then is the hullabaloo about? By virtue of the training, polytechnic graduates in the same calling as university graduates are to provide support unless they acquire some other qualifications like professional qualifications.

“Second, the world today is driven by knowledge. Persons with knowledge earn more irrespective of a degree or not. The agitators for parity are only over-flogging and over-emphasising certification to the detriment of knowledge. In a developed nation, nobody cares about your certificates but the knowledge and skills you can offer,” he said.

He, however, noted that if the Buhari administration refuses to sign the bills into law, the new government will determine the implications of this action and take appropriate steps.

Owolabi said: “After all, governance is a continuum. The sit-at-home threat will not force the government to take a hasty decision that will be detrimental to the nation.

It is high time we quenched this unnecessary and distractive debate. Therefore, the government as a matter of urgency should consider the need to re-examine the extant law establishing polytechnics and adjust to become degree awarding after elongation of stay on the programme.

“Curriculum should be restructured to meet this task. More so, all stdents sit for the same entrance examination through the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME).”

Looking at the legal implication of the matter, a Lagos based lawyer, Oviemuno Obobolo, expressed doubt on whether President Buhari will sign the bill into law, having refused to do so in the last two years

According to him, however, if the bill enjoys popular support among the lawmakers, the National Assembly is empowered by the 1999 Constitution (as amended) to override the President by a two-third majority of members.

He said instead of the union embarking on strike, which will subject students and the already battered educational system to more hardship, ASUP should resort to lobbying members of the National Assembly to override the President’s veto.

“One is curious on why ASUP will wait till the twilight of Buhari’s administration to embark on proposed strike, having failed to do so for two years after the passing of the bill by both chambers of the National Assembly. In a nutshell, the proposed strike is not likely to achieve results,” he said.

On ASUP’s concern that if the present government fails to sign the bill before a new one comes on board, it may get trashed and may have to be represented to the National Assembly, the lawyer warned that if the President fails to sign it into law before he hands over, the whole process would have to start de novo, which means the bill will have to be presented afresh.

Obobolo, however, agreed that ASUP, as a pressure group, has the right to canvass for positions that improve members’ welfare. But he advised that they should be wary of deploying the tool of industrial action indiscriminately, saying it is not every problem or challenge that answers to the weapon of strike.”

Obobolo called for proper engagement of all stakeholders, stating that the Federal Government should be able to advance cogent reasons why the president has failed to sign the bill for two years.

“The reason should be made public so that Nigerians, particularly those directly affected, would not be kept in the dark in terms of the rationale for the action or inaction of the President in this regard. If the current bill requires some amendment, then machinery should be set in motion to actualise the stated objective,” he said

Lagos lawyer, Tony Odiadi, said ASUP’s worries about the bill are in order as the 10th Assembly may not wish to revive a bill that was denied assent. The legal luminary said ASUP must be patient and study the situation, saying parity is an age-long debate without any end in sight yet.

“Government must approach it as a delicate matter. A strike at this time is unnecessary for it may lead ASUP to lose the sympathy of the public. For now, more studies must be commissioned to see whether the current administration of the qualifications pose any danger.

In his contribution, another lawyer, Benson Ngozi Iwuagwu, said it is within the rights of the government to exercise its power of assent. He said it might just be that it is not on its scale of priority, reminding that the National Assembly that it can, after a stipulated time, override the President. He said: “It is within ASUP’s constitutional and labour rights to advocate and bargain for improved working conditions, including proper classification with the contingent remuneration package, consistent with international labour standards.