By Stephen Ubanna
For years, there had been a major crisis in the Nigeria public sector, government agencies and the paramilitary over the discrimination of HND holders in career progression . The situation became so bad as Polytechnics students took up the matter with the leadership of the Academic Staff of Polytechnics at various times and to reassure them the HND Certificate is equivalent to the University degree.
Indeed, worried by the discrimination , the Association, it was gathered had been in the struggle for the past 20 years to facilitate the removal of the dichotomy, claiming that HND is equivalent to University degree and therefore should be rated equally in career progression and job opportunities.
B David Mark, a former Senate President made the situation worse when he opposed the debate to equate the HND Certifcate with the University degree insisting that it could only be done if Polytechnics become degree awarding institutions.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, had given the nod to the Council of Establishment comprising of the Heads of Service of the 36 states and the Head of Service of the Federation to remove the dichotomy to curb the crisis being generated by the discrimination.
But the Council did not take the Obasanjo statement serious , claiming that it was not backed up by any document for implementation. The refusal of the Council to adopt the policy statement of the former President may have forced him to order the then Head of Service to issue a circular in 1992 formally removing the dichotomy.
It was learnt that the Nigeria Police Force, NPF, took the lead to implement the reform but the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, and the other government agencies were reluctant to do so. The NCS made the matter worse in the Administration of Abdullahi Dikko as many HND holders who were on the upward rise in the Service were demoted to the Inspectorate Cadre. The aggrieved demoted Officers refused to wear the Customs Inspector’s uniform until their original ranks were restored.
Investigation by the Magazine shows that most of the downgraded senior Officers had HND certificate. Many were forced to go back to the University to acquire the degree to remain on their rank. There was also pressure on Dikko by the aggrieved Officers to reverse the policy but that was how far they could go .
It is not surprising why the aggrieved Officers and indeed Officers and Men of the NCS are happy with Haeed Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General of the Service for toeing the line of the NPF to abolish the dichotomy in the Service. With the removal of the dichotomy, it has given both HND and University degree holders equal opportunity of career progression in the Service. Ali’s action, according to a source has soared his popularity in the Service.prior to the removal of the Certificate dichotomy, Ali’s popularity with Officers s and men of the Service was at the lowest ebb.
Many believe that the retired army Colonel action was part of the mandate given to him by President Muhammadu Bhari to restructure and reform the Customs as well as improve its its revenue collection for the government. Ali took advantage of the promotion of over 3,000 Customs personnel to remove the discriminatory dichotomy in the Service.
He may have been encouraged by the resolution of the Council of Establishment at its meeting in Minna, in July 2016 and subsequent Circular Ref:HCSF/EPO/CND/100/ST/98 removing the dichotomy on Sept. 8, 2016 by Daladi Kifasi, the then Head of Service of the Federation.
The circular was released at the instance of Buhari to avoid the mistake of 2005 when the Council claimed that Obasanjo’s statement was not backed by the relevant document ,thus stalling the implementation of the policy during Obasanjo’s Administration.. The Council, according to a source has been a major obstacle for this struggle since 2005 and was not ready to change its position on the matter.
The statement by Adamu Adamu, minister of Education in August 2016 that President Buhari has approved the removal of the dichotomy, may have facilitated the decision of the Customs boss to go ahead with the implementation of the policy without further delay.
In a statement by Joseph Attah, a Deputy Comptroller and the Customs National Public Relations Officer, the Customs boss instructed that the Service ”align with the police rank structure with the removal of the dichotomy against holders of HND from the University Degree holders in the Service”.
To match his words with action, he ordered that ”Officers on the Inspectorate Cadre on Grade level 08 and above are to align with the appropriate Superintendent Cadre” in the Service. Tthe removal of the dichotomy and immediate alignment of the rank structure of the Service with that of the police has restored normalcy in the Service.
From Lagos, Abeokuta, Kaduna, PortHarcourt, Bauchi, to maiduguri, the story is the same: Ali has saved the Service from the crisis that was affecting its operations and revenue generation in that couple of years. Ali is optimistic that with the removal of the dichotomy, the Officers are expected to put in their best to improve the revenue collection. ”To whom much is given, much is expected of him’, he told the Officers.
Mahmudu Harna, Comptroller, FOU, Zone A, disclosed that what Ali, the Customs boss has done in the Service is ”no men achievement and should be appreciated by all”. he is optimistic that going by the steps which the Customs has taken so far, he will win more accolades for the Service. He urged those who has the potential to deliver to do so as ”the sky is their limit under Ali”. He may have spoken the mind of Ali when he said more officers who distinguish themselves in revenue generation and the gallantry ones in anti-smuggling Operations would berewarded with instant promotion and other incentives.