We created alternative platform because IPPIS is not working, says SSANU
National Vice Chairman, Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), Abdussobor Salaam, in this interview with IYABO LAWAL speaks on why the union is opposed to IPPIS, the creation of an alternative payment platform for members, and why the Federal Government should honour the agreement reached with the union to guarantee peace in the institutions.
Why is SSANU opposed to the Integrated Payroll and Payment Information System (IPPIS) introduced by the Federal Government for its workers, including university workers?
When IPPIS was introduced, we did not hesitate to key into it, particularly against the background of the principle behind the payment platform, which has to do with the issue of corruption and fraud in the system. So, as a result of that, we were in support of anything that would stem the tide of corruption, especially personnel corruption in our institutions. However, it was also with a proviso that the peculiarities of the university system, with respect to payment of salaries and allowances should be captured under IPPIS and we were assured that it would be done.
As a result of that, we had series of meetings with the Federal Government and the designers of the platform, and by June last year, there was a presentation of the newly designed platform to fit into the peculiarities of the payment of non-teaching staff n the university system. It was against this background we agreed. Since we have done it to a point where our peculiarities have been captured, and at the same time guaranteed to be safe proof against corruption and fraud in the system, we told the government to go ahead. So as at November, last year, we urged our members to key into the platform, which they did.
However, by January, when the first payment came, we found out that all those peculiarities were not put in place. A lot of our members were being paid only a fraction of their salaries; we even had a situation in some places where two months salaries were being paid in advance, in other places the salary of a chief accountant was paid to a chief clerk, so there was a lot of confusion. We first assumed that it was teething problems, but unfortunately by March, we discovered that it had become a recurrent experience. A lot of things went wrong with staff salaries, and at the end of the day, we had to write series of letters, and unfortunately, it fell into COVID-19 pandemic period, and because of restrictions on movement and a lot of things, they couldn’t go to Abuja to make physical follow-ups, but of course, there were a lot of letters, phone calls, and official correspondence between the unions and Office of the Accountant General of the federation and the Ministry of Education. When we now discovered by June/July that there was no getting out of the issues, immediately the restriction of movement was eased, we had to immediately swing into action by asking our members, who of course by virtue of their profession, are actually the custodians of salary payment in the system to design a platform, which will be an alternative to IPPIS as a solution to all the challenges that the payment platform has thrown up in the last one year.
You rejected IPPIS because of the shortcomings you outlined, why is SSANU not embracing University Transparency and Accountability System (UTAS) designed by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU)?
You cannot beg to join what you have not been invited to. As far as we are concerned, the so-called UTAS is unknown to us; we don’t even know it exists because if the union wants to establish such a platform, from onset, it should have carried all stakeholders in the system along. But a situation where we are not even informed formally, and only read it in the papers like everyone else that a union is creating a platform, it shows that that platform is not for us. We do not have to beg that we want to see what ASUU is doing since the union did not inform us that it is doing anything. We have four unions in the university system, ASUU’s mandate does not include payrolls and salaries; ASUU members cannot understand the payment system in the university, they are not the ones who implement it. It is SSANU and NASU members that make payments.
So for us, we believe that ASUU has no right to design a payment platform in the system, we believe that they do not have the expertise because that is not their area of competence. No ASUU member has been involved in paying salaries before, so how do you know those challenges and limitations that are involved in payment of salaries? This is the job of our members, we have accountants and professionals in the field of payment of salaries, and we also have professionals in IT who design those platforms, that is our competence. So, for us, it would be abnormal for ASUU to say they want to create a platform and then we will be the ones to key into that platform, when it should be the other way round.
What is this alternative platform that you are proposing to the government, can you tell us more about it?
I do not fall into the technical aspect. I’m an administrator by profession and not an accountant, but I do know that the platform has been designed such that it captures the full complement of working in the universities, in terms of payment of salaries and allowances for both non-teaching and teaching staff.
It accommodates everything, it is flexible, amendable, can be corrected, adjusted or modified. Of course, there are controls. So, it is a complete package and it has undergone the first stage of testing. We have had an in-house presentation because we have not fully gone public, and it is still going through some other assessment stages.
If the various university unions are coming up with different payment platforms, don’t you think it is unhealthy for the system as other bodies can also design theirs?
In taking our decisions, we are fully conscious of implications of some of our actions. We are not part of this adversarial style of unionism, which at the end of the day does the system no good. As a result, we cooperated with government, if not, we would not have keyed into IPPIS at all. We gave the IPPIS an opportunity to be able to present itself. If ASUU has not keyed into the platform abinitio, we too had not keyed into the platform, what it would have meant is that we did not give the platform an avenue to present itself, either positively or negatively.
We keyed into the platform, we ensured that our members enrolled into the platform in many universities, and at the end of the day, we have seen that the platform is not working. We gave the platform an opportunity to work, we gave government an opportunity to prove itself and obviously it did not work. The same challenges that we faced since February this year when this problem started are the same challenges we are still facing in November. What we have designed is flexible enough to also key into another platform. It is flexible enough to also key into IPPIS, so it is not as if our rejection of IPPIS is a blind one, what ASUU has done from the onset is a blind rejection by saying they are not joining the platform, but we gave the platform an opportunity, we keyed into it, so the issue of not cooperating with government in our case and in the case of NASU, does not arise.
But creating an alternative platform would mean you are dictating for your employer?
The issue of dictation does not arise, we are suggesting and not dictating. ASUU is dictating. The whole core of ASUU strike is that “this is not how we want to be paid”. Our own ground is the fact that it is not giving us what we expect. If somebody’s salary is N250, 000 and all of a sudden, because he keyed into a platform, he is being paid N75, 000 and you expected him not to voice out that the mode of payment is not working for him? So we are not dictating, we are advising government on the way to go.
If government adjusts the payment platform to address your complaints, would you still be willing to go on with IPPIS?
By all means. In as much as every worker is deserving of his salary, and he gets his salary. Do you know that since February till today, all of us that keyed into IPPIS do not even have pay slips? No evidence of payment. We have a lot of members that have not received salaries since February, and they have been working, they are not on strike. They keyed into IPPIS, suddenly their salaries disappeared, and they are not ghost workers? If the adjustments are made, then we are good to go.
SSANU recently embarked on a warning strike over government’s failure to address some pressing matters? How far have you gone in resolving these issues?
Government has met with us, and an agreement was reached, particularly with respect to IPPIS. Concerning those observed lapses; we agreed to set up a committee comprising the government team and SSANU representatives, to see how we can evolve a better platform. But then, as we speak, that is still in the works. If we had a demonstration last year and it looked like everything was perfect, and over a year after, we are still setting up the committee, something is wrong. But then, it’s an agreement that had been reached, a lot of other things were also agreed upon that would be done, but we are watching to see. So, it is left to government to be able to consummate its own part of the collective bargaining that we entered into and also ensure that it keeps to its own side of the bargain.
We had an agreement, which is still being implemented in bits, we have arrears of Earned Allowances and other allowances in the university system that have not been paid. 2019 was when national minimum wage took off in Nigeria, but as it is, we still have arrears meant to be paid to us. We also have issues of visitation panels to our universities, and as we speak, there has been no panel except in the case of University of Lagos (UNILAG), where a special visitation panel was set up to consider a peculiar matter.
But generally speaking, there ought to be visitation panels across all universities in the country, federal universities if you like, because the proprietorship of state universities lies with the state government and the state governors.