By Christian Dimkpa, Germany
At present, the average Nigerian graduate, be they of the university or the polytechnic hue, is largely poorly trained and therefore ill equipped to face life’s dynamic realities. On a visit to Nigeria last summer, one of my former lecturers at the Michael Okpara College of Agriculture (MOCA), Owerri Imo State, during a discussion, concluded that the last set of motivated and serious students of his college graduated in 1998. I agreed with him not because I was of that set, but because my HND research project attests to that. However, I remembered that this same lecturer, like several of his peers, rather than engage the students in rigorous academic work, sold plagiarised hand-outs to us like no man’s business. This brings me to the recent directive from President Obasanjo, aimed at ending the discrimination between HND and BSc graduates. Whether employers of labour are heeding this directive or not, is another story. But, tell me, what is there to discriminate against when both qualifications (as obtained from Nigeria in recent times) reek of mediocrity? The truth is, like his BSc counterpart, the present Nigerian HND graduate is a lazy, dependent fellow who would not take his destiny in his hands. Many students attend polytechnics for several reasons. For me, but also, am sure, for many ND students, being from just an average-resource base family, undertaking an ND program was a form of security, since the later is of shorter duration, and there is no guaranteed funding for the longer BSc program. It was reasoned that in the event of loss of sponsorship (from death or loss of job by the sponsor); one can pause after the ND, work for a while and then continue with higher studies. For the much longer BSc program, loss of sponsorship midway could see the individual involved back to school certificate level. Would you blame anyone for reasoning this way? I wouldn’t; with poverty so palpable in Nigeria.
Although I was fully aware of the discrimination phenomenon, I did not let it be a road-block to my ambition. If you will permit, a brief delve into my career might help to buttress this point. I use to hold (of course, I still hold) a National Diploma (ND) and a HND in Crop Production, both from relatively non-renown higher institutions in Nigeria. However, it is instructive that today, I am pursuing a PhD program at one of the prestigious Max Planck institutes in Germany (best research institute in Europe and eight best globally), and this is in an innovative field of study that perhaps, may never be conducted in any Nigerian university many years from now. This is after obtaining an International MSc degree in Belgium from a university that is listed among the first 300 globally. Note that no Nigerian university is in the first 500, and in the newspaper recently, one Nigerian stakeholder lamented that even if the ranking is extended to the first 5000 best universities, Nigerian universities would still not make the list.
After my HND studies in 1998, I worked with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) Ibadan, as a Research Assistant. During the interview for that position, several BSc graduate applicants from ‘well-known’ universities such as UI, UniLag, OAU-Ile Ife, among others, were interviewed as well, but the big university names associated with those individuals did not save them from relegation, as they say in football parlance. What I am emphasising here is that it is the intellectual quality of the individual, not the institution attended, that often matters. If you know IITA, then you will agree with me that when it comes to staff recruitment, personal merit is the watchword, not merely possessing a HND or BSc degree.
Afterwards, I applied for graduate studies at the Federal University of Agriculture in Abeokuta (UNAAB). Surprisingly or not, I was not considered suitable for admission either because of my HND (upper credit), or because I do not come from that part of Nigeria (remember that tribalism is another serious scourge in Nigeria). But that is by the way. Nevertheless, I did not relent in my desire to attain the highest academic level possible, so that in spite of possessing a HND and the unexplained rejection by UNAAB, and thanks to hundreds of internet hours, I soon obtained a full scholarship from the Belgian inter-university council (http://www.vlir.be/) in 2003, to study Molecular Biology (Plant Biotechnology) in that country. When I arrived in Belgium for the MSc program, I found out that of 241 Nigerians who applied for scholarship for the course, I was the only one admitted. Remember, I held a HND, not the ‘almighty’ BSc. The curious mind that I am, I inquired more about the unsuccessful Nigerian applicants and behold, they were mostly university graduates (again from UI, UniLag, OAU, UNN, UniPort, etc). Of course, two other students of The Polytechnic Ibadan were also admitted but for a different MSc course. That polytechnic offers only HND and not BSc programs. Such is the power of the individual merit. I have since acquitted myself very well in the Belgian MSc program; hence I was admitted, again on full fellowship, to one of the International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS) of the Max Planck society in Germany (http://www.mpg.de/english and also (http://www.ice.mpg.de/) , to study beneficial plant-microbe interaction using modern biotechniques, including proteomics and metabolomics. The other Nigerian scholars, formerly holding HNDs, have since undertaken different higher pursuits here in Europe. This narrative does not by any means attempt to denigrate Nigerian BSc graduates or the universities from which they graduated, but rather to de-emphasise the entrenched segregation. There is even a dichotomy between federal and state university graduates. Wonders shall never end, in Nigeria! From my experience, it can be seen that the senseless HND-BSc dichotomy should have no place in the mind of any serious-minded Nigerian graduate. After all, the HND is fully recognised in the UK and have several equivalents in other European countries. What then is all the fuss about it in Nigeria? My little advice to the Nigerian HND holder who have suffered this discrimination, and who feel qualified enough for certain positions denied them is this: do not let man-made barriers block your ambition, except you have none. Take a cue from others; take time off to do meaningful internet browsing, not using the internet for 419 and other such negative activities. In no time, you too can obtain scholarships to foreign and much better rated institutions of higher learning. By so doing you would have catapulted yourself well beyond any possible academic discrimination if you choose to return to Nigeria to work.
Christian Dimkpa, a PhD fellow of the International Max Planck Research School, writes from Jena, Germany (email@example.com)