Gabriel Dike (Lagos) Fred Ezeh (Abuja)
In the past few weeks, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and Federal Government have been on loggerheads over the directive by the Federal Government for ASUU members to be enrolled in the Integrated Payroll and Personnel information System (IPPIS).
The directive has generated mixed and unfriendly reactions from both the Federal Government and ASUU officials. ASUU officials insisted that they will not join the platform, arguing that it violated university autonomy.
But the Federal Government insisted that ASUU members must be enrolled in the IPPIS just like the police, military and other Federal Government employees who have been verified, fully migrated and integrated into the platform.
IPPIS was conceptualized in 2006 to improve the effectiveness and efficiency in the storage of personnel records and administration of monthly payroll in such a way to enhance confidence in staff emolument costs and budgeting.
It was envisaged that IPPIS will be implemented according to best practices obtainable in other parts of the world where Information Communication Technology (ICT) is used to improve management reporting.
The pilot phase implementation financed by the World Bank commenced in February 2006 at the Bureau of Public Service Reforms (BPSR) upon the approval of the Federal Executive Council (FEC)
The project went live in April 2007 with seven pilots MDAs before its management was transferred to the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation (OAGF) in October 2008. The government said that IPPIS has heralded unprecedented sanity in personnel records management and payment system.
The pilot scheme was done in federal ministries of education; transportation, finance, foreign affairs, information, National Planning Commission and Budget Office of the Federation.
Prior to their registration, the nominal rolls of the seven pilot MDAs submitted indicated 55,000 staff. But after the enrolment into the scheme, it was discovered that their total staff strength was 32,000.
Howbeit, virtually all Federal Government workers, including the police and military have joined the IPPIS platform except ASUU and a few other revenue-generating agencies.
ASUU President, Prof Biodun Ogunyemi, had told newsmen in Abuja that universities could not be categorised as a ministry, department or agency.
He explained that in the IPPIS blueprint, universities were not supposed to be captured in the scheme because it will affect the ability of universities to attract visiting professors.
He said: “Just a few weeks ago, we were at the headquarters of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where scholars gathered to think of how best they could help revitalise higher education in Africa and a lot of case studies were presented.
“The case of the late Prof Pius Adesanmi, who was until his death, the Director of African Studies in Carlton, Canada, was mentioned. He was a visiting professor at more than three universities in Africa.
“In fact, the Director of African Studies in Legon, Ghana, recalled that Adesanmi was on their payroll as a visiting scholar. He said Adesanmi would visit for at least three months and return to his base. He did that for more than five years. He did the same for two other universities in South Africa.”
But a source at the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation (OAGF) who pleaded anonymity asked Nigerians to disregard the “media noise” being made by ASUU leadership as regards the enrolment in IPPIS platform.
The source disclosed that biometric verification of ASUU members is currently ongoing across federal universities in Nigeria, for the purpose of joining the IPPIS platform, and anyone who fails to get captured within the stipulated period may face unfriendly actions from the Federal Government which could also include withholding December salary.
The source said: “Officials of OAGF left Abuja last week to federal universities in Nigeria for the biometric registration. They are currently doing the verification across the designated institutions.
“Remember that President Buhari had directed that December 31 deadline for all Federal Government employees to get on the platform of IPPIS is sacrosanct.
“No one will be exempted. If the police and the military, after initial resistance, could join the platform, who is ASUU not to join. They are simply afraid of the revelation that would be made by IPPIS.
“If you doubt me, call officials of any federal university that is closer to you to confirm.”
Meanwhile, a source at the University of Abuja, confirmed that ASUU members are doing the verification, but secretly to avoid unfriendly actions from the leadership of the chapter.
The source said: “I am a non-academic staff, but I was with many academic staff who are committed ASUU members earlier today (Wednesday) at the biometric registration point. They were extremely careful and jittery during the process because they don’t want to be seen by officials who are opposed to the policy.
“Several of them who are my friends have done the biometric capturing since this week, even as many others are still skeptical about it. But they have no choice. I told them that they can’t win the war because they are employees of the Federal Government.”
FG position on IPPIS
At the peak of the face-off, the Federal Government through the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Ajuri Ngelale said that the introduction of IPPIS is aimed at curbing the excesses and corruption in the payment system of lecturers
His words: “At the time we are trying to manage the revenues. We can’t afford to sit and watch individuals take multiple salaries for themselves at the expense of the institutions and this country,”
He said the platform will enable the Federal Government to stop lecturers from earning full-time salaries from multiple universities under the disguise of sabbatical leave. He said the regulation is like the Presidential Initiative on Continuous Audit (PICA) that was introduced in 2015 which linked BVN to all accounts of federal services workers.
According to him, the implementation of PICA has revealed about 54, 000 ghost workers in the service’s payroll as the country saved about N200 billion through the process. The presidential aide explained that the union cannot refuse to be enrolled on IPPIS when the country’s military and other agencies are on the same system.
Ngelale further stressed that although the IPPIS will regulate the excesses of lecturers, instead of the Federal Government paying a lecturer four times salary during their sabbatical leave, benefits, and allowance, will be provided to them.
Union stand on the new platform
ASUU University of Lagos branch chairman, Dr. Dele Ashiru, however, explained that lecturers are entitled to such a system of payment during their sabbatical leave. He said lecturers earning from different universities during their sabbatical leave which is at an interval of six years is a practice embraced across the world.
Said he: “Government should stop this hype about fighting corruption, they are paying only leave service”.
The union leader observed that the government overruling such practices are against the university autonomy and agreement it entered and signed with the union.
He said the template of the IPPIS presented by the accountant general is different from the one the law states. Ashiru said that if the Nigerian government is fighting against corruption, it is not by” sloganeering” and accusing ASUU of corruption.
ERC position on IPPIS
As the government and ASUU continue the drama on the new payment platform, the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) view the controversy generated around the implementation of IPPIS in the public universities as unnecessary and diversionary, especially considering the enormous challenges of underfunding, skyrocketing tuition fees and the clampdown on democratic rights facing the education sector.
No doubt, mind-boggling corruption has become the hallmark of many public tertiary institutions in Nigeria. In fact, if a serious and diligent investigation is carried out into the activities of universities and other educational institutions, many vice chancellors, rectors and provosts alongside with other principal officers and account officers and members of the governing councils would become permanent inmates of high-security prisons, the group said.
ERC National Coordinator, Hassan Taiwo, and the National Secretary, Omole Ibukun do not believe that the IPPIS on its own is capable of curbing corruption and ensuring sanity, transparency, and accountability not just in the public education system, but also the MDAs where it has been introduced.
The ERC believes that only the democratic management of public schools by elected representatives of workers, students, parents, and communities can begin to curb corruption in the educational system and ensure that every kobo voted actually reflects in the progress of the sector.
On fighting corruption, the group noted that five years of Buhari administration, several government officials under him have been exposed to different corruption scandals.
“For instance, the Attorney General of the Federation, Justice Abubakar Malami is currently enmeshed in a scandal concerning attempt to pay a whopping $2.15 billion (N774 billion) as commission/professional fees to a private company, Trobell International (Nig) Ltd to help recover the sum of $62.1 billion from oil companies. This is aside from other scandals which have further exposed the fact that despite its anti-corruption mantra, the Buhari government is swirling in an ocean of corruption.
“President Buhari himself has been Minister of Petroleum for the 5th year running yet the NNPC continues to bleed out an enormous amount of money through opaque transactions with oil majors, underpayment of oil receipts to the treasury, corrupt subsidy scheme, etc. An IPPIS domiciled with any official of a government with this kind of record will not necessarily lead to any stoppage of corruption and corrupt practices,” the group said.
According to ERC, this is not the first time that any government in Nigeria claimed to be fighting corruption, adding that ‘’some of the most corrupt regimes in Nigeria have always claimed to fight corruption. Indeed the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) were created by the President Olusegun Obasanjo regime in the years 2000 and 2003 respectively. Yet this did not prevent the same regime and its officials from perpetrating different mind-boggling corruption.
‘’As with successive regimes, the messianic attitude of President Buhari to the fight against graft has turned out to be a ruse for mind-blowing corruption by officials of the regime, including members of his inner circle’’.
ERC said against this background, no genuine effort can be expected from the regime to seriously fight corruption. The group explained that only democratic management of schools by workers and students can begin to resolve the problem of accountability, thus an IPPIS deployed in this condition would only serve as a technological reinforcement for workers, students and other stakeholders in their effort to fight corruption.
The group urged the Federal Government not to throw the educational system into a needless crisis by going ahead to stop the salary of lecturers who are opposed to the IPPIS, nothing that such a step will provoke a strike which would lead to another shutdown of the university system.
‘’We also urge ASUU to deepen its argument beyond just the question of defending university autonomy or the so-called uniqueness of the university environment to boldly demand democratic control and management of schools as the only effective way to ensure that any measure aimed at curbing corruption in the university system works.
‘’Most importantly, we want to point out that there can be no trust in the governing councils, as presently constituted with a majority of the members being political appointees, to fight corruption in the university system. Even visitation panels have been known to be compromised to bring out recommendations in support of corrupt administrations in the universities,” it said.
ERC, therefore, tasked ASUU to demand as a first step, the re-constitution of all governing councils through an open and democratic process wherein elected representatives of workers and students can have a voice in the administration of the universities, stressing that ‘’only this kind of measure alongside active campaigns involving strikes and demonstrations to expose corrupt VCs and university officials can begin to have an effect in curbing corruption in the university system’’.
An educationist, Chief Lawal Adekunle advised ASUU and the Federal Government to resolve the issues in contention in order to avert any industrial action by the lecturers.
‘’The National Assembly and key stakeholders must intervene to end the deadlock between ASUU and the Federal Government over the implementation of IPPIS. Rather than threaten to stop lecturers salary if they fail to comply with the directive, the government should engage the union in a serious discussion on the benefit of the IPPIS,’’ he said.
Adekunle said that any strike by the university lecturers will further compound the situation as many universities are still battling to end the 2018/2019 academic session because of the previous strike.
Speaking from the legal angle, a lawyer, Soji Oludare urged ASUU to carry along with other unions in the Nigerian University System (NUS) rather than take on government alone on the IPPIS case, stating that already, other staff unions have directed their members to enroll.
‘’ASUU cannot fight this issue alone and win. The three other unions in the system have complied with the Federal Government directive leaving ASUU standing alone. Very soon public opinion will be against them and if they embark on strike, Nigerians will not support them,’’ Oludare said.
A 400-level student of the University of Ibadan, Toyin Oremeji wondered why ASUU is opposed to its members enrolling in the IPPIS if truly they are against corruption and other fraudulent activities that the new platform is meant to correct.
According to her, many of her colleagues on campus want the face-off between the Federal Government and ASUU on the IPPIS issue resolved amicably without leading to industrial action which would affect students and also prolong the academic calendar.
Nigerians are watching to see if the Federal Government would keep to its threat of not paying ASUU members who fail to enroll in the IPPIS at the end of this month.