By KENNETH DARENG

ACADEMIC activities in universities across Nigeria may be shutdown in the coming days as the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is planning another showdown with the Federal Government over what it calls the government’s planned imposition of Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS) on its members.

Already, the Union is strategizing on how to make the strike effective in all campuses. And to prove their seriousness, the Union leaders have   summoned an emergency National Executive Council meeting which the SUNDAY STANDARD gathered that the Union had agreed on massive mobilization of members for an action against the government

It would be recalled that the Federal Government had reportedly directed that any worker not on the Integrated Personnel Payroll (IPPIS) would no longer get salary.

But ASUU on its part kicked against the directive noting that such a directive by the Federal Government is an attempt to violate existing laws and autonomy of the university system in the country.

The chairman of the University of Ibadan chapter of the union, Professor Deji Omole was quoted in The Nation, publication of Monday October 21, 2019 as saying that, “ASUU was not against accountability but would resist such directive”. Omole further stated that, the Union had offered to assist the Federal Government in designing the appropriate template to address the peculiarities of university lecturers in the IPPIS.

Omole noted that the government seemed bent on using what he called the World Bank- designed exploitative template which according to him would enslave intellectuals as it does not make provisions for payment of arrears on promotion, study leave allowance, responsibility allowance among others.

According to him “The Federal Governments template was designed to phase out university lecturers above 60 years which he said was against the new policy where professors retire at 70 years.

Omole also faulted the Federal Government for allegedly demonstrating hatred and for introducing what he called illegal policies that negatively affect  the smooth running of the Universities

In a swift reaction, the Federal Government through the office of the Accountant General of the Federation (OAGF) issued a press statement   on Wednesday, October 23, 2019 which was signed by Ahmed Idris, Accountant General of the Federation stating that,  “The attention of the OAGF has been drawn to misinformation being circulated by Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to justify their opposition to enrolling on the IPPIS, a policy of government for which the President directed that all MDAs drawing their salaries from the Consolidated Revenue Funds (CRF) should join the IPPIS by the end of October 2019. A policy aimed at saving cost and wastage in the personnel cost of government”.

According to Idris, prelude to the presidential directive, several meetings were held with the leadership of universities comprising of Vice Chancellors (VCs), Registrars, Bursars, National University Commission (NUC), and the four Unions, namely: NASU, NAAT, SSANU, and ASUU where the working of the IPPIS system has been explained and  demonstrated as to accommodate all government approved peculiarities of tertiary institutions such as retirement age, sabbatical, visiting and other peculiarities.

Based on the statement issued by the office of the Accountant General, the new policy confirmed that retirement age of 70 years for professors and Readers while 65 years for others in the universities. For Polytechnics and Colleges of Education retirement age is 65 years as in the case in all research institutions.

The press statement indicates that, visiting lecturers are entitled to 50% of their salary in the visiting institutions but only limited to one institution as approved by NUC, NBTE and NCCE their regulatory body.

For sabbatical, the statement said, 100% of their salary in the institution where the sabbatical is taking place in addition to the full salary being paid in their host institution While sabbatical leave salary is for a maximum period of one year only but applicable every 7th year and as it is the standard practice but subject to approval.

According to the statement, other allowances as duly agreed through collective bargaining between their Unions and government as approved and formalized by Salary, Income and Wages Commission (SIWC) will be paid to the last kobo, inclusive of leave allowances.

On the accommodation of their peculiarities, the OAGF notes that, “Such were fully demonstrated on our payroll slide to confirm how they will be treated accordingly in the presence of the university stakeholders and all their four unions. However, after the practical demonstration, it was only ASUU through their national leadership who questioned the legality of IPPIS and Federal Government to pay salary directly to their members in the face of their autonomy.

It is heartrending to note that the 3 unions namely, NAAT, NASU and SSANU publicly hailed the payroll demonstration and accepted to Join IPPIS immediately and promised to ensure that all their members get enrolled into the IPPIS. And have since been working assiduously to effect.

“Despite the practical demonstration, ASUU has continued to mislead their members and the public for any other reason best known to them alone”, adds Ahmed Idris.

The Accountant General also stressed that, the University community based on their level of knowledge, experience, academic and research; one would have expected them to be in the forefront of championing any policy that is geared towards accountability and transparency in government expenditure. Instead, ASUU is threatening to go to court for injunction against IPPIS and government as well as use of propaganda to misinform their members and the public. And also to denigrate this lofty policy of the federal government which has achieved savings of over N273 billion from personnel cost between 2017 and 2018.

“There are established rules and procedures on engagement of contract staff, casual workers, NYSC, consultancy etc. and modalities for their payment. These are not full time employment and therefore are not a payroll matter which ASUU hinged their opposition to IPPIS on. The statement added.

Furthermore, the office of the Accountant General noted that, “it is a known practice all over the world that employees are entitled to their salaries and wages as at when due. That notwithstanding, there is no where employees dictate to their employer as to how he or she should be paid as being dictated by ASUU.

“ASUU opposition to the IPPIS is an open endorsement of corruption in the Nigerian university system as the IPPIS platform will not allow employment of workers at will without compliance to due process of employment and to meet the dateline of government, the process of enrollment is on-going. We therefore urge all university staff to ensure they enroll onto the IPPIS platform as it is pertinent to note that other unions in the universities have complied and the campaign of calumny against the office of the Accountant-General of the Federation by ASUU is uncalled for and should be ignored” further reiterated by OAGF statement.

On his part, ASUU President Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi had during a visit to the Senate last week Monday, told the Senate that the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System of the federal government was nothing but a scam.

Ogunyemi who addressed the leadership of the Senate shortly before the meeting ended behind closed doors, said forcing ASUU members into the system would destroy the education system in the country. He said the IPPIS as currently structured was a violation of the University autonomy as enshrined in section 2AA of the universities miscellaneous provisions (Amendment Act 2003). He also said that forcing the university lecturers to get captured in the payroll system would take away the powers of the governing councils of the various universities.

He also said the system would automatically discourage the lecturers from performing at optimal levels because they would be short changed with the system. Noting that, “it is backing the governing council to exercise full control over finances of the universities, IPPIS lacks constitutional backing. It is not supported by any Act of the National Assembly.

“The proposed forceful enrollment of staff of universities to the direction and control of the office of the Accountant-General of the Federation. This is in respect of the staff remuneration, salaries, wages allowance etc.

“The OAGF has no constitutional or legal backing to so direct the affairs of Universities, the latter being creations of statutes via the Acts establishing the universities. This is also the case with the OAGF with payments made to the staff of the Federal Universities through the IPPIS”.

“Neither the constitution nor the Act of the National Assembly confers such powers on the office of the Accountant-General” stated Professor Ogunyemi.

Meanwhile, SUNDAY STANDARD gathered that the federal government is standing by the October dateline it gave all ministries, departments and agencies of government to enroll in the IPPIS platform.

The Accountant-General of the federation, Ahmed Idris in a statement over the media described the ASUU opposition to the compulsory migration of all Federal government staff to the IPPIS as an “open endorsement of corruption.”

SUNDAY STANDARD also discovered through independent sources that the IPPIS would undermine universities autonomy and infringe on academic freedom.

Even the ASUU President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi was quoted by the Daily Trust as stating that, “one of the biggest challenges of IPPIS is that it poses a great threat to our national security. The system is not strategic for a sovereign nation in a world system where almost all countries are vulnerable to sabotage by international cyber criminals and states. Once sabotage happens, the entire country would be plunged into confusion and dysfunction. This has happened before and can happen again.

“It will constitute an impediment in the ability of the universities to provide staff for new programmes as well as replace staff. This is because new staff members cannot be paid salaries until they are enrolled into IPPIS database, which will take months to actualize.

“The IPPIS system only recognizes staff members that are on permanent and pensionable appointments. Universities are universal in outlook in terms of recruitment of staff and student intake.

According to the ASUU President, “the IPPIS restricts the ability of universities to employ much needed staff at short notice. Such staff when recruited may not be paid until cleared by the office of the Accountant-General of the Federation, thus creating avenues for corruption.

The dynamism associated with staff recruitment will become cumbersome with the introduction of IPPIS. Lecturers in Colleges/Faculties of Medicine serving as honorary consultants in Teaching Hospitals and consultants serving as honorary lecturers would face problems collecting their proper remunerations, as it is currently the case with some allowances of our members in Basic Medical Sciences.

“The IPPIS is designed in such a way that outsourced services such as cleaning and security,casual workers, NYSC etc cannot be captured.

“The IPPS platform does not allow for reductions from staff salaries arising from legally sanctioned Union and Cop-operative society activities. This will directly infringe on the constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights of staff to association.

Also sharing his views with the ASUU leadership, Senate President Ahmed Lawan said; “My worry has always been why government will sign agreements that they know are different and sometimes impossible to implement, I,m meeting with the Minister of Finance to tell us what exactly is to be done because we do not want any strike.” Lawan was quoted saying by the Daily Trust of Tuesday 29 October 2019.

However, the implication of the strike as expressed to the SUNDAY STANDARD  by a member of ASUU, Plateau State Chapter who spoke under anonymity is that “Our students across all Federal Universities and even other tertiary institutions may likely be affected. I am concerned that the school calendar is going to be disorganized. For instance those students that are supposed to be writing their first semester exam are going to be affected. What about students that have carry over exams (C.Os) that are supposed to join their fellow students at this period to round up their programme?They are also going to be caught in the ordeal.”

Also concerned is Ayuba Joseph who has just passed out from the Department of Management Studies University of Jos, He lamented that the frequent strikes by University Unions have always affected students at the long run. “Imagine my colleagues in private institutions, we started almost at the same time but look at me still struggling to get my project supervisor to give me the go ahead to proceed with my project.  My fear is that any strike at this time is a complete distraction for me.”

Adamu Sabiyu, a parent blamed ASUU for their refusal to be enrolled on the IPPIS stating that”, I don’t understand why university lecturers are making life difficult for us. If the government gives a directive on a policy, it is expected that as knowledgeable people they should be at the vanguard of embracing it. I feel ASUU is behaving as if it is a government within a government. Their excuse for not joining the IPPIS capture is a sign of arrogance and unpatriotic. After all other unions have accepted it, why is ASUU exceptional?”

A new group making waves as a possible rival of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) known as ; the Congress of University Academic (CONUA) had through its Protec. National Coordinator, Dr. Niyi Sunmonu in a chat with The Nation of Thursday, October 17, 2019  distanced itself from ASUU on a wide range of issues particularly on the recurrent calls for strike by the leadership of ASUU.

According to Dr. Sunmonu, “CONUA as a breakaway body from ASUU would seek other ways than going to strike to resolve issues.” Adding that , “strike was as bad for lecturers as it was for students. For any Academic that knows his unions, it is painful for strike to interrupt the academic calendar. It does not only affect students negatively, it affects the lecturers too because we are unable to compete with our counterparts in other countries.

“It is a long term vision of CONUA that solutions to any problem cannot be one and it behooves of academics to look for other solutions to a problem.

“The government might have developed resistance to strike option. Even the students might have developed resistance to strike. During strike, they go to learn something else-learn a trade or skill.

As a measure of development, we need to think of solution to problems and the solution to a problem starts with you interrogating the problem by brainstorming about it, getting experience of other climes. Until you have tried, it you cannot say it cannot work” Sunmonu said.

Meanwhile, Acting Head of Civil Service of the Federation (HCST), Folashade Yemi Esan has said 368,351 civil servants have been enrolled on the integratedd Payroll Personnel Information System (IPPIS) platform.

In a news report monitored by the SUNDAY STANDARD, the Acting Head of Civil Service while appearing before the House of Representatives Committee on Public Service Matters during the 2020 Budget defence at the National Assembly told the committee that “We have been able to get the Core civil service workforce on the IPPIS”,

The Senate President, Ahmed Lawan had on Monday, October 28, 2019 made a special appeal to ASUU at a meeting with ASUU leadership at the National Assembly Complex in Abuja, urging ASUU members to shelve its proposed strike action. Stressing that, “We are all in this together and we believe that the Nigerian Education Sector especially the tertiary institution  needs serious support. We know that you have made some sacrifices and that you have put in your best with the little given to you. The legislature is always prepared to take necessary steps to ensure that the tertiary institutions remain open and functional.”

From the statement so far, neither the Federal Government nor the Academic Staff Union of Universities ASUU is willing to back down on its stand on the IPPIS controversy. However, the coming days will clearly determine which way to go on the matter as all hands are on deck by stakeholders to avert another showdown with the government that could disrupt academic activities in all Federal Universities in Nigeria which normally comes with dire consequences.

Categories: Magazine

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