Professor Jibril Munzali is the Pro-Chancellor, Federal University, Lafia, Nasarawa State. He was the former Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission (NUC). He believes the controversy over the integration of the Academic Staff of Union of Universities (ASUU) into the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) is a storm in a teacup.
He spoke more on this and other issues.
What is your impression of the migration of ASUU into IPPIS?
I think the whole thing is like a storm in a teacup. I do not really see anything wrong with the IPPIS. When you hear the details, you would find out that there is very little difference between what is happening now and what would happen when we migrate to IPPIS. The bursaries of the individual universities would still prepare the payroll for each of them and export on the platform to the headquarters in Abuja, which would then scrutinise, verify and pay.
But what happens before is, money is sent to the bursaries, and they prepare and pay on the IPPIS platform, which is still controlled by the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation and the Ministry of Finance. Sometimes you would see money there, for instance, N200million, when you come to spend it, it is not available. It is being withheld, diverted, embargoed or mopped up.
IPPIS is still an electronic platform that is controlled by the government. What would happen now when we migrate to IPPIS is that after preparing the payroll you send everything to the platform, and the Office of the Accountant General pays. The difference is, you wouldn’t have any surplus money and the room for discretion and manoeuvre would be almost nonexistence.
I chaired a meeting by accident at the NUC as a stakeholder where the Office of the Accountant General demonstrated IPPIS software. It was still work in progress but they were trying to show that they had taken into account all the peculiarities of the university system, for example, the sabbatical.
After six years of continued service, you may apply to the university to allow you to go to another university, to be freed from your normal teaching responsibilities in your university of employment to another university where you will have a lighter teaching load so that you can concentrate on research. Maybe you have been accumulating data, and now you want to sit down and analyse and write.
But what happens is, the host university also pays you your full salary and the original university for which you work also pays you your salary while on sabbatical. So, you end up earning two salaries, which of course the public service rules do not allow. Yet it is the tradition of the university system.
The Office of the Accountant General recognises that and has already factored it into the IPPIS. There are also visiting lectureships. According to NUC you are allowed to be a full-time employee in one university and a visiting lecturer in one or two others, I can’t remember, but there is a restriction. At the moment, some lecturers exceed those restrictions, they teach in several universities.
And of course what it means is, either their full-time employer is suffering or the others are suffering because people are just pursuing money. Of course with the IPPIS, if NUC tells them that: “We only allow people to teach in two universities,” then, the system will catch you; you can’t collect remuneration from more than two.
Before the money is sent to the university, when there is a strike and the government says stop the salary, but the money has already left government coffer and with the universities. But under IPPIS, the money would not have been released; it will still be with the government.
If the government decides that, “okay you are on strike, we are not paying you,” then the money doesn’t leave government coffer. And it would be much more difficult for the government to be persuaded to pay money for the period of the strike, which has been the norm.
If you check back, in the last two years or more, all the strikes members of ASUU had embarked upon, no matter how long, in the end, they got paid for the period because there is a clause that they insist on being inserted in the agreement; when the strike is going to be called off; and that is a non-victimisation clause, which says: “Nobody should be victimised for embarking on a strike.”
So, they are saying if you withhold our salaries, you are victimising us. But the other side of the story is that there is a 1977 law called ‘Trade Dispute Act’, which says in layman’s language that: “No work, No pay.”
And the whole wisdom behind the check-off dues is that when a union goes on strike, it knows it will not be paid during that period, therefore the check-off dues that members pay every month accumulates and it is supposed to be used to give them a little something to keep body and soul together while on strike, it wouldn’t be anything like their salary, at least they wouldn’t starve.
A union should have strategise: “Okay, for how long can we sustain the strike? How much can we afford to give our members?” But go and check, no ASUU member has ever received anything from check-off dues as compensation for the period of the strike. What has been happening is that no matter how long people go on strike, yes salaries may be withheld, but when the strike is settled, first of all, whatever the reason for the strike was, the objective would have been either fully or partly achieved. So there is a reward for going on strike.
Secondly, the punishment that should have been there is not there. But what would stop strike? I am not blaming ASUU. In fact, the responsibility for all the strikes lies at the doorsteps of government. Because there are things government ought to do. If they don’t know some of them, they do know about most of them because they are in an agreement that they signed with the union that; “we would provide funding to this level, we would do this or that,” but as soon as the agreement is signed, and strike is over, they forget about it.
Is that why ASUU is rejecting migrating to IPPIS, to earn their pay while on strike?
In the first place, why should there be strike? I am saying that the government is the cause of most of the strikes because they fail to do what they have undertaken or ought to do.
Is ASUU not capitalising on the loophole government created?
Historically, there is every reason why ASUU should embark on strikes; there is no sanction for it, and there is always a reward at the end of the day. These are statements of facts, which I can defend at any time. I would like to see a system that works without strikes. I do not think ASUU itself wants to go on strike, but when you have a government that understands only one language, not just this particular government but others before it. From Ibrahim Babangida, Shehu Shagari, it is the same, they don’t listen. Before ASUU goes on strike there are at least six months or one-year warning, preparation, and sensitisation to avoid the strike. Because once they embark on it, it is like the furnace of a steel rolling mill once it is ignited, the fire cannot be put off in less than five years.
ASUU has a process, and once the strike is on, it is not like NLC or any other union where you go to negotiate with the big men or leaders, settle them, then the strike is called off. ASUU takes meticulous care and steps with congresses at every branch to express an opinion: “Do we go on strike or not?” And then they aggregate, have their executive committee meetings. Once they start, it is not easy to stop. Even when they agree to stop it, they will still go back to those processes because it is a democratic organisation. Every university that is a member would hold a meeting of members, where they say; “let’s call off the strike.” And it is what is aggregated that would guide the National Executive Council (NEC).
What is your appraisal of the government’s funding of federal universities?
Not too well. I don’t have the current figures but when I was at the NUC, there was an international benchmark at that time that for developing countries like Nigeria, we should spend a minimum of $1,000 per student for recurrent expenditure.
NUC about 10 years ago worked out the actual minimum cost of training an average undergraduate. In fact, they categorised it by discipline. For Arts and Social Science, it is a little more than N300,000, which is about a thousand dollars. For science it was $500 then for Applied Science, like Engineering and so on, it was about N700, 000, about $2,000. For Veterinary Medicine, Dentistry, those are the most expensive, almost a million naira or a little more than that per annum.
But if you now compute what government gives, by aggregating all the recurrent expenditure, dividing by the total number of students enrolled in federal universities or in each university, you would find that we are not giving up to 50 per cent of what is required to produce good students. The costing takes into account staffing, consumables in laboratories and so on, but does not even include capital infrastructure because that is a separate thing. We are not really funding our universities, as it should.
And of course, it has an implication in quality. In the educational input, if funding is low, then probably staffing and other facilities are inadequate and in the end, the quality that you get is not optimum and as required. Go to the elite primary schools here in Abuja, and take a Basic 3 pupil, ask her to write you an essay in English Language, she will writer better than someone in SS3 in any of the states’ public schools.
So, you can’t make a blanket statement that standard has fallen. But in terms of the university standards, given that in 1962 we didn’t have up to 3,000 students in the whole university system. Now in the federal universities alone, you are talking about more than two million students, and add to it the state’s universities.
Private universities, unfortunately, are so many in number because their number I think is greater than federal and states put together. Unfortunately, they don’t have up to five per cent of the enrollment share because Nigerians are too poor to afford their fees. They are looking for students, the facilities are there. The cheapest of them is about N500,000.
What is your impression of research funding vis-à-vis TETFund in the universities?
There is a need for more funding for research. TETFund has come into research in a very big way. It is supporting lecturers to attend conferences apart from sponsoring them for higher degrees. In fact, their problem is that not enough people are applying for it. Big research money that can even accommodate joint research projects, not restricted to individual universities but corroborative efforts where billions may be required.
This include money for research infrastructure like buying special equipment but the equipment would not only be for your university or laboratory alone, it may be designated for the whole region because it is so expensive, and cannot afford one for each, everybody can access and use it. TETFund has made tremendous progress and we must give credit to whom it is due.
It is ASUU’s idea. In the 1991-92 agreements, they insisted that companies must be taxed, education tax and that the money should be given to educational institutions especially the universities. That was how it came into being. When it was set up, it had components for primary and secondary. ASUU spearheaded the review, amendment of the law to restrict it to the tertiary institutions only. Not just universities only but colleges of education and polytechnics.
If you compare what the funding situation was in the universities at that time, and what it is now, you would find out that if TETFund were to be removed, the system would collapse in certain state universities. The state governments have stopped funding except for salaries. Every building, infrastructure project, and equipment you see was TETFund. The states have abdicated their responsibilities even in the federal system. The Federal Government is doing better in providing capital funding for its universities.
Years back, lecturers were disciplined and transparent. In recent times, some are involved in corruption and immoral behaviours. What has gone wrong?
I suppose it is because of the expansion of the system and laxity in the selection process. When we were undergraduates, our lecturers were monitoring us. They were not only monitoring our academic performance but also our character.
At that time, we did not apply to be appointed lecturers. If you made a second class upper or a first-class, it was your lecturer who would invite you: “Come we’re interested in you, fill this form,” while you were preparing to go for National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) or during NYSC. Before you finished your NYSC, you would have your letter of employment. And that was what happened to me.
In fact in my case, not only did I have my letter of employment, my Head of Department (HOD), a foreigner also arranged for me to get admission to the United Kingdom.When I finished my NYSC, within two months, I was already outside the country for my master’s degree on full sponsorship without teaching for one day. They were looking for people who were brilliant and showed good character.
Now, you have all sorts of people coming into the university system, maybe because they have acquired a masters’ degree or Ph.D. Teaching is a noble profession. I also imbibed good qualities from my teachers without them coming to tell me, “This is how we do it. This is what should be guiding you.”
If you look at all the sex- for-grade and sorting, I doubt if you would get lecturers of my generation involved. It is younger people. We have set rules, it has been breached, we have punishments specified, and yet we are reluctant to apply it, what signal are we sending to people? I think in the circumstances of the situation what we can do is to make sure that sanctions are applied fully.
With about 174 universities, how prepared are they in meeting technological goals and aspirations of the country?
There are challenges, a lot of private universities are not well staffed. They survive on part-time lecturers from states and federal universities near them. Their business model is based on the fact that: “We are allowed to start from 500 students and to grow within ten years to 3,000.” We project them. If we have 3,000 students paying say N1million a year, we would have X million every year. We pay salaries and consume goods and then we would recover part of our investment in infrastructure and maybe made a small profit. But it is not happening because they fight.
As far as I know, none of them has reached 5,000 enrolments up till now, even Igbinedion University, Okada, Edo State, which was one of the first to be licensed. I was the one that handed them the license because it was processed during my time as the first executive secretary to register private universities in 1999. I also registered Madonna and Babcock universities and later on Bowen University in Iwo, Osun State.
But up till now, not because they don’t want to grow, the students are not there and parents can’t afford their tuition fee. They are not adequate in terms of enrolment that they cover and they don’t have enough facilities. Even for the courses that they offer. You need to know how they manage to scale through accreditation.