Government, ASUU battle over IPPIS, UTAS continues
Despite efforts by the Federal Government to make members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) see reasons why they should embrace the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information (IPPIS), the leadership of the union is insistent on staying off it. Alternatively, the union has developed a solution called University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS), which it claim is equivalent to IPPIS, but government is not looking their way, UJUNWA ATUEYI writes.
Looking for peace between the Federal Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) could be likened to a search for a needle in an haystack. The reason is simple– both are always embroiled in one dispute or the other. In fact, if the dispute is not about a breach of agreement, it is about poor funding of universities, among others.
However, the latest brouhaha has nothing to do with the usual fight as both parties are locked in a battle of wits over the Integrated Payment and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) scheme.
Ever since the latest conflict broke out, both parties are yet to reach a consensus on the matter.
It would be recalled that the Federal Government had directed all federal government workers to enrol on IPPIS, including members of the university community, but members of ASUU kicked against the directive describing it as enslavement.
Nigerians are indeed worried over the constant faceoff between both parties, which seldom agree on issues, no matter how infinitesimal it may be. Even where simple understanding is expected, but have always disagree vehemently.
Overview of IPPIS
The IPPIS scheme is domiciled in its secretariat, which is a department under the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation. The secretariat is responsible for the payment of salaries and wages directly to government employee’s bank account, with appropriate deductions and remittances of third party payments such as; Federal Inland Revenue Service, states’ Boards of Internal Revenue, National Health Insurance Scheme, National Housing Fund, Pension Fund Administrators (PFAs), cooperative societies, trade unions dues, association dues and bank loans.
There were 459 MDAs on IPPIS platform as at June 31, 2017. The department is also responsible for processing and payment of salary to over 300, 000 Federal Government employees across these MDAs, while its aim is to enrol into the platform, all Federal Government MDAs that draw personnel cost fund from the Consolidated Revenue Fund.
Since inception in April 2007, the IPPIS project has saved the Federal Government of Nigeria billions of naira by eliminating thousands of ghost workers, the department claims.
The IPPIS department carries out its functions in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Finance, Office of the Head of Service, Civil Service Commission, Office of the Auditor General of the Federation and MDAs that are enrolled on IPPIS.
With the scheme’s claim of commitment to efficient and effective service delivery, accurate and prompt payment of salaries and wages etc within statutory and contractual regulations, as well as providing a payroll service that is customer-focused and that utilises technology wherever possible, it would have been expected that ASUU would not have any qualms coming on board, but while some observers insist that the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government cannot be trusted as most of its policies are obnoxious and biased, ASUU insists that IPPIS is not only a scam, but also negates the extant laws on university autonomy.
The Contentious Issue
IPPIS has been operational since it was created in 2007, but the government’s decision to bring in members of the university community is what brought about the row.
Specifically, trouble started when on October 8, 2019, Buhari, during the 2020 budget presentation at the National Assembly, ordered all public sector workers to register for the IPPIS to save cost and fight corruption.
Shortly after this, the ASUU leadership rejected the directive and urged its members nationwide to shun the scheme.
Offended by ASUU’s position, some top government officials and key stakeholders cautioned it to thread with caution, saying no government agency has ever resisted the directive of Mr. President. But ASUU vowed to be the first to do so.
In fact, the Accountant-General of the Federation, Alhaji Ahmed Idris, threatened that government would stop the salaries of ASUU members should they refuse to be enrolled in the scheme.
But despite the threat, the leadership of the union directed its branches not to participate in the enrolment, saying the body cannot be subjected to ridicule or any form of enslavement.
Even though the government threatened to stop salaries of lecturers that failed to enrol in the scheme, ASUU members have not registered penultimate week received their December salaries.
However, a faction of the union, Congress of University Academics (CONUA), mandated its members to comply with the Federal Government’s directive. A lot of them have so far registered in the scheme.
While some stakeholders alleged that ASUU is fighting a battle of interest, as the scheme when fully implemented would block all financial leakages that have been favouring the university teachers, others said the present administration was deliberately targeting ASUU.
In fact a key stakeholder who doesn’t want his name in print said, “ASUU has not said everything that is bothering them. There are some that cannot be stated in black and white in terms of interest.”
Amidst the clash of interests, ASUU executives are still threatening to mobilise its members for a strike should the Federal Government stop their salaries for refusing to enroll into the scheme.
ASUU And New Payroll System
ASUU President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, was definite when he stated that the union would never yield to the pressure of enrolling in
Ogunyemi in an interview with The Guardian said the union has designed the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) as an alternative to IPPIS. Sadly, the Federal Government is not showing any interest in the alternative.
According to him, “Accountant General of the Federation has not shown any significant interest in our proposal on the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) as the alternative to IPPIS. Our members are resolved on their rejection of IPPIS. They know IPPIS is designed to centralise payroll and personnel information. University Governing Councils should account for their personnel information and payrolls as established by the Autonomy Law.
“IPPIS cannot serve the purpose of a 21st century university system. All over the world, universities are known for their flexible personnel recruitment and management. IPPIS cannot handle that, but UTAS can. IPPIS will take Nigerian universities back to the core civil service and over-localise Nigerian academics. There is nowhere in the world where universities don’t recruit short-term and contract staff in areas of critical needs. IPPIS will shut the door against our colleagues from other parts of the world whose services are in dire need to give Nigerian universities increased global feasibility.
He continued: “ASUU members are annoyed that the agents of World Bank who are imposing IPPIS on Nigerian academics cannot show us any country in Europe or North America where the platform is being applied in their universities. Why must the Nigerian University System be the experimental pig for IPPIS, which bears no relevance to the global university tradition? If government had seen our point of view since 2014, today we would not be talking of IPPIS.”
Why some ASUU members enrolled
Speaking on noncompliance by some of the members of ASUU that have registered with the scheme, Ogunyemi said, “We are aware of few academics that have enrolled on the IPPIS platform for a number of reasons. Some did as a mark of protest against some perceived problems they have with ASUU. For this category of academics it was to landmark their exit from ASUU, not necessarily because they have any intellectually sound arguments in support of IPPIS.
“We believe academics should operate at a more ennobling height than the run-of-the-mill argument of “he-who-pays-the-piper”. But there is little you can do to save someone who willingly walks into a slave camp for recruitment, until they have a change of heart. The second category of academics who have enrolled on IPPIS are the few ones who caved in to pressures or fears of the unknown. Some vice-chancellors created an atmosphere of panic around the threat of non-payment of December salaries.
“There are also those who are at the verge of retirement and thought their pension would be in jeopardy if they failed to enrol in IPPIS. But all these are not excusable. The union has never relented in providing information. IPPIS is alien to the university tradition of flexible personnel recruitment and management. We believe that knowledge should dispel any fear whatsoever. The good thing is that the vast majority of our membership have held firmly to the time-tested trade union principle that united we bargain. So, as for few members who have worked or are still working against ASUU’s position on IPPIS, we are collating the reports and all concerned shall be taken through the processes of handling such matters.”
Refuting claims that ASUU has been polarised, the ASUU boss said the union is still waxing strong, as few members of the union that enrolled in the scheme have retracted their action.
He said: “ASUU is not polarised. As I have tried to explain above, only few of our members enrolled in IPPIS under different circumstances. We are talking of less 10 percent of academics in public universities. You certainly cannot call that polarisation. And let me shock you: some of those who were misled into following the wrong path are already regretting it and retracing their steps. For instance, not less than 10 of our members at the University of Nigeria (UNN) ,have approached the branch leadership to express regrets for enrolling in IPPIS and they have vowed to reclaim their enrolment documents from the IPPIS officials.
“At Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), about 20 academics who initially identified with some aggrieved members of ASUU at our last National Executive Council (NEC) meeting in Federal University of Technology (FUT), Minna, were welcomed back to the union on account of their rejection of IPPIS and formal application for reabsorption.
So, I can assure you that ASUU is waxing stronger by the day. We remain focused on our motto, which is: knowledge, truth and service.
Maintaining that the union’s stand on IPPIS is from the position of knowledge, he said: “For as long as what we say about IPPIS is the truth, we believe we’re serving the interest of the Nigerian University System and Nigeria. We are therefore assured that all lovers of truth will rally round ASUU to deliver our universities from the grip of agents of the World Bank masquerading as Nigerians.”
Lagos Zonal Coordinator of ASUU, Prof. Olusiji Sowande, who confirmed that the members of the union have received December salaries, informed that none of the antics of government would persuade or change the stance of ASUU on IPPIS.
He said: “I can confirm now that December salary has been paid. We have made our position known that IPPIS is against university autonomy and even if you go into the nitty-gritty of it, it doesn’t capture the peculiarities of the Nigeria university system. There is a difference between presidential directive and the law of the land, the president swore to the Nigerian constitution of the Nigerian law. So, he cannot be above the law.
“If something is against the law, somebody should advise the president, he has advisers. Because we are very sure the president was misinformed about this issue. Law does not establish ministries; but universities are established by specific laws, which passed through the National Assembly and then the presidential assent. So if university has autonomy and we have quoted copiously from the university law that any circular that is against the law of the institution shall not apply to the university system. So why is somebody interested in enforcing that everybody in the university system must join IPPIS, even in Ghana where they do IPPIS, universities are exempted.
Reacting to the admonition that ASUU can enrol and gradually include other peculiarities not captured in the scheme, Sowande said: “It is not about the peculiarities alone, it is also about the law. Why should we enrol while the scheme is against the law? We have said this; we are not against transparency and accountability. We have proposed alternative, we can devise another scheme that will be controlled in the university system, which can also be seen from outside the university, but it will be operated within the university.”
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