The long-standing disagreement between the Federal Government and the Academic Staff of Union Universities (ASUU), which cuts across various demands from the Union, has continued unabated even to the detriment of the students and the country’s educational system as a whole.
The emergence of the indefinite strike that kicked off early this year, March 23, 2020, was based on the FG’s insistence on implementing the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS), which the government declared that all employees under its system must adopt for their salaries to be paid.
The Federal Government buttressed that the IPPIS platform was meant to check fraud, including the payment of salaries to non-existent personnel, and also check the payment of unauthorized allowances.
The Union, however, refuted the adoption of the IPPIS as introduced by the government, and also faulted the government on its refusal to meet other demands as consentingly agreed upon in the past years.
It was made known that the Union had developed and proposed the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) which is to serve as an alternative to the government’s IPPIS. But the Federal government in response to this proposed paying system, insisted on subjecting the UTAS to an integrity test. The test was to be carried out by the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) before final decision could be made as regards the payment platform that was most suitable for the payment of salaries for university lecturers in Nigeria.
Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, National President of ASUU, while speaking on the passage of the integrity test, said, ‘The integrity test will be handled by NITDA, it is the government that will facilitate it because NITDA is a government agency and unless you get clearance from the government that test cannot be conducted.’
Ogunyemi recalled that the demand of N110b by ASUU to revive the weak university system over the course of 5 years was not totally met. According to him, the government declared that it would not be able to pay the sum demanded in tranches. The government as such offered N20b for revitalization of the educational system and N30b for Earned Academic Allowances, due to the economic hardship faced by the country as a result of the impact of the global pandemic outbreak.
Several meetings have been held with no agreements reached. All deliberations made to end the lingering strike has failed with both parties holding onto contrasting options. In one of the meetings held, Dr. Chris Ngige, Minister of Labour revealed that there was an impasse in reaching a collective agreement on the mode of payment to be adopted in paying lecturers’ outstanding salaries owed by the FG, as most lecturers are yet to be on the IPPIS platform.
Dr. Ngige, while addressing the press clarified that, ‘We never said UTAS will replace IPPIS… The UTAS developed by them is for the University systems and they feel that it captures the peculiarities that are configured to accommodate all the peculiarities of the University systems especially as it affects the Professors and other teaching staff, and even the Non-Academic Staff.’ The National President of ASUU, however, expressed that workers whose salaries have not been paid for months cannot be convinced to return to work without being paid:
‘The first step to resolving the impasse is for the government to pay the withheld salaries of our members. It is between four and eight months. You cannot tell a person whose salaries have been seized unjustifiably to go back to work. Moreover, the salaries must be paid through the normal channel.’
He added that ASUU had presented UTAS at three levels: Ministry of Education, Senate and Ministry of Finance. The union president maintained that all other stakeholders were present, including NITDA, at the presentation. The next stage is that of the integrity test which he said the union acknowledged. He also gave the assurance by saying that ASUU was ready to resume academic activities if the government was ready to play its part. In the defense of the FG, a member of Joint Action Committee (JAC), a civil society coalition in the universities, opined that an employee cannot choose for his/her employer the salary payment platform to be used, and that the only concern of such employee should be to receive his/her pay as at and when due.
A resolution between both parties should be fashioned out. So far, no agreement has been reached despite the series of meetings held after the ease of lockdown. This has adversely affected the new generation of students who do not know their fate and are bothered about what this portends for their prospects in the labour market. Many students are aware that education is meant to give one a global competitive advantage, so they are justified to worry about the implications of the long strike to their socioeconomic advancement in life. There is no doubt that the Nigerian Education system needs a drastic reform in order to equip Nigerian Students with a versatile range of ideas and a critical mind for the social, economic and developmental growth of the country.
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