Abuja — The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has resisted government's policy for its members to be enrolled in the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS).
The system, which is meant to centralise the payment of salaries and allowances of all federal government employees, has been embraced by most Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) who draw their personnel cost from the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF). The purpose of IPPIS is to achieve three things, according to the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation (OAGF):
i. To enable the federal government to ascertain the actual number of employees on its payroll in all MDAs.
ii. To determine and budget the actual personnel cost of all MDAs drawing their personnel cost from the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF)
iii. To entrench probity, transparency and accountability in the federal government expenditure in all MDAs.
Being a union that has advocated from transparency and accountability in governance, it is an irony that ASUU would oppose the inclusion of university lecturers on IPPIS. Since 2019, ASUU has been opposed to the policy, in spite of interventions by the Office of the President and the Federal Ministry of Education. Perhaps, the most virile argument advanced by ASUU was captured in an interview granted by its chairman at the University of Nigeria Nsukka, Dr Christina Opata, to journalists last year.
She had argued that "The federal government has not told Nigerians the truth about what it wants to achieve through the IPPIS because the IPPIS is an embodiment of corruption itself. There is evidence to prove that many people are on the payroll under IPPIS yet they are not working anywhere. If they are sincere, they should decentralise it. Each university should have desk officers so that anytime somebody has a complaint, it doesn't require the person going to Abuja; you walk over to the desk officer in your university and put up your complaint. But as it is now, if you go to Abuja, you will hire a hotel and you may spend three, four days without meeting the officer in charge. These are the things that people have been pointing out but they don't want to understand it that way."
It is simplistic for ASUU to allege corruption in a system that they have not enrolled in. No doubt, the system could be imperfect, as there could be teething problems in its implementation. But to impugn corruption at this stage may be hasty, especially, without empirical evidence. It is clear that what ASUU is jittery about is that this system could limit or obstruct the multiple incomes of university lecturers from their engagements in several tertiary institutions. For instance, a university lecturer could sample courses in four or five universities, and earn salaries or allowances from them simultaneously.
On its part, the Office of Accountant General of the Federation had conceded to aspects of this requirement. It said the IPPIS would accommodate all peculiarities such as sabbatical, visitation, honourarium and earned allowances, and the like. Of course, it is not only ASUU that has such complex income patterns. The Nigeria Police, and other paramilitary agencies, the military and even polytechnics, who have multiple streams of income from their services, have been enrolled. Therefore, ASUU cannot be caged in fear, doubts, and preemptive assumptions in order to be excused from a system that has been conceived as a solution to disorder in government payroll. Moreover, the Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), Professor Abubakar Rasheed, has described IPPIS scheme as one of the best things that have happened to public finance management in the country, saying it is "the best way to overcome some of the challenges affecting the universities."
At a point, ASUU was said to have produced a software or payment system for Nigerian universities and presented it to the federal government, saying, if accepted, it could take care of the alleged inherent corruption in the IPPIS. With due respect to our university professors, if government accepts the software submitted by ASUU for use, it would mean that every MDA which feels dissatisfied with IPPIS could innovate a convenient software and insist that they should be used in the payment of their salaries and other allowances. No doubt, acquiescing to ASUU's demands could lead to chaos in the system.
It is reassuring that the OAGF, in implementing the IPPIS policy, works hand-in-hand with the various MDAs. Under the arrangement, each tertiary institution will process their payroll though the responsibility of IPPIS is that of coordination and consolidation. Payments shall be made directly to the bank accounts of every employee that enrolled on IPPIS platform. From the argument advanced by government, the application system has been made flexible to accommodate Sabbatical, Visiting, Check-off dues as well as other third-party deductions as duly approved by each university. Therefore, all things being equal, the process will be seamless.
Over the period that this argument has raged on between ASUU and the federal government, two things have happened. First, some members of ASUU have seen reason with government and have registered on the IPPIS platform. Apparently, many more would have registered if it were not for the critical position taken by the National Executive Council (NEC) of ASUU. Also, in spite of the fact that ASUU had embarked on an industrial action over IPPIS, President Muhammadu Buhari, has graciously approved the payment of salaries to all lecturers, even those who have not been captured on IPPIS. This is a kind gesture which must be reciprocated by ASUU.
ASUU cannot say it would not enroll in IPPIS, a federal government approved payment platform, because of corruption, when there are agencies of government to deal with corruption. It is time for ASUU to have a rethink, and, in the interest of national cohesion, transparency and accountability, join IPPIS platform. Some of the resistant approaches being adopted by ASUU do damage than good to the education system. For instance, embarking on strike is an unfair measure because it disrupts the academic calendar, obstructs the acquisition of knowledge by students and a waste of time and resources. There are no challenges that would come with the implementation of IPPIS that would not be dealt with in our strides.
Mohammed wrote this piece from Abuja.