The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has said it would not go to court to stop the federal government from enrolling university lecturers into the Integrated Payroll and Personal Information System (IPPIS) designed for federal workers, saying the federal government has a record of violating court orders.
This is coming as human rights activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. Femi Falana, has stated that the federal government only obeys the judgment of foreign courts.
The union had opposed the IPPIS, saying that it is not only unconstitutional without any backing by law, but also a violation of the law on university autonomy and other agreements reached with the federal government.
But the Benin Zonal Chairman of ASUU, Prof. Fred Esumeh, told THISDAY that the union's refusal to approach the court to stop the implementation of IPPIS as it violates university autonomy was because it felt that would be an exercise in futility knowing full well that government does not obey court orders.
Esumeh added that a government that does not even respect its own laws cannot be trusted, as going to court will begin another long-drawn battle in view of the long judicial processes that characterise the Nigerian court system and disobedience to court ruling on the part of government.
"The legal option is not one of it. If it is a simple process that can go speedily one can take the legal process but ours is not so. Before you know it three to four years would have been spent on motions alone before the main case will begin. And when this is going on, government will look for a loophole and begin to implement IPPIS. Before you know it a lot of damage will be done to the system," he stated.
Asked whether any of the universities under his zone namely; University of Benin; Ambrose Alli University; Delta State University; Federal University of Petroleum; Federal University Otuoke and Niger Delta University has reported any form of harassment by their respective university management, Esumeh said when the federal government rolled out the policy, some university vice chancellors were afraid of the government and had tried to stampede their staff to comply with the policy but ASUU resisted the implementation bid.
He added that even when ASUU was still discussing with the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF), the government went through the back door to use the university VCs to enforce the policy but ASUU also resisted.
Esumeh said some VCs might still resort to harassment because government had given them extra pay to make some of them to detach themselves from the university system.
Reacting to the federal government's claim that it had adjusted the IPPIS software to take care of the union's peculiarities, Esumeh described the claim as deceitful.
He said: "The software is still where it is," adding that if government is interested to create software, it should approach ASUU to help rather than deceiving the public to believe that the union is the problem.
"However, government cannot seek help from ASUU because of the interest in contracting every job. The union is ready to assist government do the right thing. It is when government does the right thing that we will consider joining but failure to do so, we will remain where we are," Esumeh added.
He also told THISDAY that the union did not think that another meeting with the Senate regarding IPPIS was necessary.
He said the body had already met with the Senate to state its position on why ASUU should not be part of the policy because it negates the laws establishing universities that conferred autonomy status.
Esumeh added that the union did not think that the Senate was proposing another meeting having met with them and they promised to meet with presidency to present ASUU's position.
According to him, "when we met with the Senate leadership, we made them understand that the policy violates the various laws establishing universities which vested authority on governing councils to remunerate, promote staff in the university system.
"The university system does not have a rigid structure as you find in the civil service because there are people with expertise who are usually remunerated or those doing external examinations and research which are part of the norm to get ideas from other universities whether as a sabbatical staff or consultants."
He stressed that the law of 70 years retirement age in universities does not accommodate the IPPIS policy being pushed by the federal government, which recognises 60 years for those in the civil service.
"How can a centralisation of payment system help to adequately curb corruption in these days of cybercrime with lack of technical know how? We should stop operating on sentiments and mere policies that cannot override laws already established," Esumeh said.
However, the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation, told THISDAY that before the lecturers could be captured in the IPPIS, the OAGF has to enrol the university workers first on the payroll.
The Director Media in the OAGF, Mrs. Mosun Ogunmosunle, stated that once the AGF has enrolled the university workers on the payroll, she would transmit the information to the HoS, who would now place the affected workers on the IPPIS.
"The AGF has to enrol them on the payroll. Once she forwards the information to the Head of Service, they will be put on the IPPIS," she said.
Some of the vice chancellors of the universities contacted by THISDAY, said nobody had directed them to update records of staff for the purpose of IPPIS.
For instance, the Vice Chancellor, University of Ibadan, Prof. Idowu Olayinka, simply told THISDAY: "I am not aware of any circular on IPPIS from the HoS."
Also, the National President of ASUU, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, told THISDAY that no branch of the union had reported to the national body that it received any circular from the federal government on IPPIS.
"I am not aware of receipt of such circular in any of our branches. But excluding universities is the best thing to do. University governing councils are the employers of university academics, not Head of Service. Provisions of establishment laws of the universities have made this point very clear," he said.
Ogunyemi told THISDAY that the Senate leadership promised to engage government on ASUU's presentation.
"We don't know if that has been done. However, we are always prepared for engagement, if that will make our position on the need to separate the university system from the civil service structure clearer and better understood," he added.
FG Prefers to Obey Foreign Judgments, Says Falana
Meanwhile, Falana has stated that the federal government obeys only the judgments of foreign courts but brazenly disobeys the orders of Nigerian courts.
The human rights activist said in a statement sent to THISDAY yesterday that the federal government had alleged that the controversial judgment debt of $9.6 billion was obtained fraudulently by Process and Industrial Developments (P & ID).
Falana argued that despite the fact that the government believed the judgment was fraudulent, the commercial court in London recently ordered Nigeria to pay costs of $250,000 within 14 days as a precondition for filing an appeal against the judgment and the government promptly obeyed.
"The said sum of $250,000 has since been paid to P & ID Limited in strict compliance with the orders of Her Majesty's High Court in London. But since national security takes precedence over the rule of law at home the orders of the Federal High Court for the immediate release of Messrs Sowore and Bakare have been brazenly disobeyed by the State Security Service," he said.