The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has been at logger-heads with the federal government over a presidential directive that all federal workers must migrate to the IPPIS platform or risk their names being struck off the payroll. SAMSON BENJAMIN in this report examines the battle of wits between government and ASUU.
The war of words between the federal government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) over the order that university lecturers should be enrolled into the Integrated Payroll Personnel Information System (IPPIS) is far from being over.
IPPIS secretariat is a department under the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation responsible for payment of salaries and wages directly to government employee’s bank account with appropriate deductions and remittances of 3rd party payments such as; Federal Inland Revenue Service, State Boards of Internal Revenue, National Health Insurance Scheme, National Housing Fund, Pension Fund Administrator, Cooperative Societies, Trade Unions Dues, Association Dues and Bank Loans.
Like the Single Treasury Account (TSA), IPPIS was introduced by the Goodluck Jonathan administration and adopted by the Buhari’s administration.
While the federal government is insisting the payment scheme would expose atrocities being perpetuated in the universities, ASUU has consistently opposed the scheme being driven by the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation, stating that it was in gross violation of the autonomy of federal universities as enshrined in the Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) Amendment Act 2003 (also called Universities Autonomy Act No1., 2007).
The federal government had given civil servants October 31, 2019, as the cut-off date for enrolment into IPPIS, warning that anyone not on the platform by that date would no longer be paid. The deadline was however, extended to November December 7, 2019.
A press statement by The Office of Accountant-General of the Federation said, “Data of university workers and colleges of education be captured on the system between Monday, November 25 and December 7, 2019.
Also, President Muhammadu Buhari, while presenting the 2020 Appropriation Bill to a joint session of the National Assembly on October 8, 2019, had said the directive was targeted at managing personnel cost, which has ballooned to over N3 trillion.
In an interview with a national daily, ASUU President Prof. Abiodun Ogunyemi, gave reasons why the union is against IPPIS.
He said: “The most important reason is that accepting IPPIS will rob the university of its autonomy. There is a law that governs the establishment of all universities and those laws have a provision on how the university should be governed in terms of personnel management, finances.
“The law we are talking about here states that the governing councils should be the agency that governs the activities of the universities. Every university has a mechanism or a structure for its operations.”
It’s unfit for university system
Similarly, in a telephone chat with Blueprint Weekend, ASUU Zonal Coordinator, Bauchi state, Professor Abubakar Lawan, said the union was opposed to the “forceful imposition of IPPIS” on the university system.
He said: “The system might work well in other sectors but its shortcomings make it unfit for university system. For instance, if you are earning your salary and any other allowances, the system (IPPIS) can either stop one or even both. And this is not how we operate; there are some of our colleagues on sabbatical; of which some of them are encountering problem with their accounts.
“The system will create bottlenecks for replacement of professors after retirement. Imagine that every university must go to Abuja before replacing any hand. We have laws that guide our operations.
“The policy is a renegation of the federal government’s agreement with ASUU. Universities have various laws that decide how lecturers should be paid while the governing councils of the institutions employ and sanction staff,” he said.
Scheme’ll expose irregularities, corruption
But in its reaction to the controversial unified payroll system, the Ministry of Education told a national daily in an interview that ASUU’s opposition to the scheme was due to the irregularities and corruption perpetrated at the ivory towers.
The spokesperson of the Federal Ministry of Education, and Deputy Director of press, Mr. Ben Bem Goong, said there was no agreement anywhere that stipulated how ASUU members should be paid.
Goong who reiterated that all the peculiarities of ASUU has been taken care of in the scheme, said the union was deliberate in its refusal as it is bent on taking the country back to the 1960s, despite the evolution of technology and its several phases.
“There’s no basis for anyone to resist payment through IPPIS. Even on the issue of double appointments in different institutions, which will be discovered by the scheme, the ministry of finance promised to take care of all that. Going on strike is unnecessary and should be the last resort.
“If tomorrow, technology evolves in such a way that we will have to move from IPPIS to a more refined system of payment, government will do that. But ASUU is saying that the nation has reached the final bus stop and so the system of payment should not be refined. Government will continue to refine the system and make it watertight so that some of the observed sharp practices can stop.
“The federal government says ‘let’s pay everyone from the centre,’ and ASUU is jittery. That means there is something that is fishy. What is it they are doing that they don’t want to be on IPPIS, which will solve many things?
“ASUU has no issue at all. You don’t tell your paymaster how to be paid, but you can negotiate with your pay master how much he will pay you. It is what we have been doing over the years under the national wage commission.
“The question is what does ASUU have to hide? There is no agreement anywhere that states how ASUU members will be paid. They claim it will disparage their autonomy, but they have never been specific to which part of the autonomy. If you know, tell me,” he asked?
IPPIS can’t curb corruption in public education
Meanwhile, the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) has stated that the IPPIS cannot curb corruption, ensure sanity, transparency and accountability in the public education system and MDAs where it has been introduced.
ERC in a press statement on December 1, signed by its National Coordinator, Comrade Hassan Taiwo Soweto, and the National Secretary, Comrade Omole Ibukun, in Ibadan, cautioned the federal government against throwing the nation’s education system into a needless crisis by going ahead to stop the salary of lecturers who are opposed to the IPPIS and as such, a step will provoke a strike which would lead to another shutdown of the university system.
ERC said there was no basis for the ongoing controversy generated over the implementation of IPPIS in the public universities, adding that the controversy was unnecessary and diversionary, especially considering the enormous challenges of underfunding, skyrocketing tuition fees and clampdown on democratic rights facing the education sector.
“We 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,” it said.
ERC stated further: “This means the governing councils of universities and boards of other educational institutions have to be reconstituted to ensure workers and students have a say and that they are the ones who decide how money is spent etc.
“In the same vein, vice chancellors, rectors and provosts as well as other principal officers have to be elected from the academic community, not appointed by the visitor. This will ensure that both the financial and the political power of the university community is democratised and resides with the members of that community, making them directly responsible for their own welfare and thereby curbing corruption.
“IPPIS is simply a technological platform domiciled in the office of the Accountant General of the Federation that allows the centralisation of the payment system through collation of data of workers on the payroll. No doubt, mindboggling corruption has become the hallmark of many public tertiary institutions in Nigeria.
“In fact, if a serious and diligent investigation is carried out on 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.
“In the hands of a capitalist government, whose officials are corrupt, the IPPIS will not automatically achieve the expected outcome of curbing corruption. Rather, it will only shift the centre of corruption and manipulation of the payroll system from the Governing Councils of the respective universities to the offices of the Accountant General of the Federation, Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).”
CBN, NDIC, FIRS not on IPPIS
Meanwhile, ASUU has posed some tough questions to the federal government, asking why some federal agencies such as the Federal Inland Revenue Services, Central Bank of Nigeria and the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation are not captured on the IPPIS.
ASUU chairman, University of Abuja branch, Dr. Kassim Umaru, raised the query while puncturing the insistence of the federal government that its members must enroll on the platform.
In a statement, Umaru dismissed the payment system as a scam and said ASUU members will not join it.
Umaru said the National Executive Council of ASUU had a meeting and directed its members not to enrol, adding that the chapter will comply with the order from the national body.
Umaru argued that the payroll system is totally in violation of university autonomy and does not have any legal backing.
He faulted the government for resorting to threats whenever there was disagreement between the union and government.
“There is massive corruption in IPPIS. Did government care to investigate IPPIS itself? We are saying why is CBN not in IPPIS? Why is NDIC not in IPPIS? Why is Federal Inland Revenue not in IPPIS? It’s the lecturers who are just collecting stipends to be pulled into IPPIS so that our legal entitlement will not be paid.
“We are not going to allow it. We are not going to be part of the staff that are going to be enrolled in IPPIS. We took a resolution and we are reaffirming the direction of the national, which is NEC. NEC took a decision that we are not going to get enrolled into IPPIS and you know what our union is actually against is that the university has an autonomy and if you look at it clearly, this autonomy we are saying is enshrined in Section 2AA of the University Miscellaneous Provision Amendment Act of 2003 which clearly explained the role of the Governing Council,” he said.
Directive divides ASUU
However, the National Steering Committee of the Congress of University Academics CONUA directed university lecturers who belong to the group to immediately begin enrolment on the IPPIS in compliance with the federal government’s directive.
Leadership of the group, which is a faction of the ASUU, disclosed that the decision to enrol on IPPIS against the stand of ASUU was reached at a meeting of CONUA National Steering Committee.
It added that the national steering committee of the group had earlier held a meeting with the Minister of Finance and her team that had the Accountant-General of the Federation, the Director, IPPIS, and others on Thursday, November 14, 2019.
CONUA said the meeting focused on addressing the peculiarities of the academia in the implementation of IPPIS and other issues.
A statement signed by the CONUA National Coordinator, Dr Niyi Sunmonu, and the National Publicity Coordinator, Dr Ernest Nwoke, said the group agreed to enrol on the platform with faith that the federal government would fulfil its promise of prompt action on any issue that arose in the implementation of the policy.
The statement read n part: “CONUA members are in full support of every policy and effort of government to reform the Nigerian public financial system with a view to combating corruption and thereby sanitising our educational system.
“That the IPPIS being one of such efforts is welcome by CONUA in the light of government’s assurance on accommodating the peculiarities of the academia.
“That CONUA notes the Federal Government’s promise to address any other issues that may arise, through the desk offices to be placed in the bursary unit of each university.
“That, in view of the foregoing, CONUA implores members to enrol on the IPPIS platform with a strong belief that government would reciprocate our good faith.” The statement said.
IPPIS enrolment continues
Similarly, staffs of Federal Universities and Colleges of Educations (CoEs), are currently been enrolled on the IPPIS, Blueprint Weekend has learnt.
Blueprint gathered that registration exercise at Federal University of Petroleum Resources, Effurun, Delta state continued without hitch on Wednesday December 4th, 2019.
Also, at the Federal University, Otuoke, Bayelsa state and Federal College of Education, Pankshin, Plateau state and Eya-Amufu in Enugu state registration also went on hitch free.
A member of the verification team at the Petroleum University in Warri, Delta state who will not want his name in print because he was not permitted to speak on the matter told our correspondent that the exercise has been peaceful.
He was optimistic that ASUU will respond before the end of exercise which is expected to end on December 6.
FG, ASUU relationship affecting education
Meanwhile, an education consultant, Dr Kenneth Ugochuchukwu has condemned the frosty relation between ASUU and the federal government. In a chat with Blueprint Weekend, he said lack of industrial harmony in our educational system has hampered innovation and growth in the system.
He said: “No one is sure anymore whether industrial harmony on the scale that existed in the 1960s and 1970s can ever be restored to Nigerian universities. The reason is that the educational revolution needed to reform and reinvigorate the sector has not been forthcoming.
“When ASUU is not protesting infrastructural decay and poor funding, the government is busy thinking of schemes and policies capable of upsetting the little peace existing on the campuses. One of such schemes is the recent introduction IPPIS. It is the latest controversy stoking anger in the university system, driving a wedge between ASUU and its employers, and between the union and a new faction of the union, CONUA.
“Predictably, the attempt by the government to force enrolment into the IPPIS has been destabilised by some resistance so far. CONUA has embraced the scheme, and some university workers are also enrolling. But a majority of ASUU members have resisted the scheme, promising to fight the imposition and disruption to the bitter end.
“It is surprising that rather than find ways of regenerating the universities and declaring an education emergency that would lead to better funding for tertiary education, the government’s ‘bright’ but meddling idea is to see how to suck in everybody into one unified whole. That is not what the country needs. After all, since the beginning of the Fourth Republic, there has been no educational vision worthy of the name. That students and parents are tired of interrupted academic calendar does not absolve the government of a huge portion of the blame for destroying education.
“The controversy is needless. Hopefully, reason will prevail and peace and harmony will be restored, he said.
In the meantime, the House of Representatives, Thursday, resolved to intervene in the crisis between the federal government and ASUU over the IPPIS.
The House decided to investigate the crisis following the unanimous adoption of a motion by Hon. Tajudeen Abass, who called for the intervention of the parliament in the crisis.