The Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) as an employer of labour is like any other employer worldwide. They have the powers to determine what, why and how to pay their employees. The recent decision of the FG to migrate the payment system of its university employees to the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) has however met with stiff opposition from a faction of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
President Muhammadu Buhari had in November 2015, directed that all Ministries, Departments and Agencies, MDAs, including universities, drawing their personnel cost from the Consolidated Revenue Fund, CRF, must enrol in the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS). This directive did not really affect the universities then, not until July 2019 when the President repeated it. On the 8th of October 2019, while presenting the 2020 budget to the joint session of the National Assembly, the President said the decision was part of the Federal Government’s effort at managing personnel costs in line with its fight against corruption. He added that ‘Accordingly, I have directed the stoppage of the salary of any Federal Government staff that is not captured on the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System platform by the end of October 2019.’
The IPPIS Secretariat is a Department under the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation (OAGF) responsible for payment of salaries and wages directly to Government employee’s bank account with appropriate deductions and remittances of 3rd party payments, such as Federal Inland Revenue Service, State Boards of Internal Revenue, National Health Insurance Scheme, National Housing Fund, Pension Fund Administrator, Cooperative Societies, Trade Unions Dues, Association Dues and Bank Loans. The IPPIS platform, which was established in 2007, boasts to have enrolled 490 MDAs with total staff strength of over 700,000 employees as at April 2018 and claims to have saved the Federal Government of Nigeria billions of Naira by eliminating thousands of ghost workers.
In line with the President’s directive to capture all federal employees on the IPPIS platform, the OAGF fixed November 25 – December 7, 2019 as dates for university workers to enrol on the platform. At the end of the enrolment exercise, 90,000 workers in 43 universities were said to have enrolled on IPPIS. 8,000 out of these 90,000 workers were lecturers.
ASSU has staunchly refused to align with the government’s directive and has instructed its members not to enrol on IPPIS. The body rejected the IPPIS on the basis that IPPIS does not capture some peculiarities of the university system, that it is not corruption-proof as being touted, and that implementing the scheme in universities will mean a violation of university autonomy.
Professor Biodun Ogunyemi, the National President of ASUU, told the media that ‘The most important reason is that accepting IPPIS will rob the university of its autonomy. There is a law that governs the establishment of all universities and those laws have a provision on how the university should be governed in terms of personnel management, finances. The law we are talking about here states that the governing councils should be the agency that governs the activities of the universities. Every university has a mechanism or a structure for its operations.’
ASUU proposed and has developed The University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS), which it says is fraud and corruption-proof.The platform was put forward as an alternative payment platform, in order to avoid any heated disagreement with government.
When considered in isolation, ASUU’s motive seemed valid, but it soon became obvious that the Union’s employer did not agree with their position. In February 2020, the Federal Government commenced payment of lecturers via IPPIS and as it had earlier promised, it withheld the salaries of lecturers who were yet to enrol on IPPIS. ASUU did not take this lightly and commenced an indefinite strike on the 23rd of March, 2020.
Was the FG’s decision to enforce IPPIS in universities reason enough for ASUU to withdraw its services? Is there anything normal about an employee dictating to her/his employer how payment must be made? Could there be more to ASUU’s claim of violation to university autonomy by IPPIS? Will IPPIS eliminate the likelihood of ghost workers?
In the same interview with Premium Times initially quoted in this piece, Professor Ogunyemi, ASUU’s National President, made some assertions. He said:
‘Universities are regarded as universal cities. This means that we attract the best and the brightest from any part of the world to come and work in the universities. So also, students can come from any part of the world because a university is a global marketplace for ideas and not just a workplace.
Universities are also ranked in terms of diversity of their scholars and students. What I mean is that a global criterion for global ranking of the university is in the diversity of the community. So, scholars can come from any part of the world, provided we have what they can contribute. There are lecturers that can come on short service either as visiting scholars, adjunct scholars or fellows to render some services; whether to establish a department or to nurture an existing programme and they will go back. A university needs a flexible work environment and the payroll system cannot be the one that is centralised somewhere outside the universities.’
With this provision in the university operations system, lecturers can choose to work in more than one university at any time, and draw salaries from all of them. Universities can also decide to hire contract staff, academic and non-academic, to make up for some shortfall in skilled manpower to cater to the courses they offer. Lecturers moonlighting or universities hiring contract staff are not bad in themselves, a possible problem though is that they leave a huge opportunity for corruption. A lecturer may decide to moonlight in more than the allowed number of universities (NUC dictates that lecturers can only teach in two universities including their primary university) and receive full payment from them. Same way university councils can declare that a number of contract staff were hired, and there’s no way to question their assertions or say otherwise. These are probably some of the reasons the Federal Government decided to enforce IPPIS in universities. Members of ASUU may have realised that its sources of legitimate/illegitimate revenue was about to be nipped in the bud. So it has been so vehement in its opposition to IPPIS.
In June, Bayero University, Kano, sacked about 30 academic contract staff because there was no provision for their salaries on the IPPIS platform. ASUU was quick to react, they body said that this was one of the reasons they were not in support of IPPIS. ASUU’s National President said, ‘They forcefully moved our members to the IPPIS and consequently, contract staff have been sacked. And the disengagement of the contract staff is a disservice to the Nigerian university system as we have it today.’
‘The first problem with that is that it is going to rob our universities of the high calibre human resources in certain areas. These are areas where we have a scarcity of personnel. If I ask you, how many professors of neurosurgery do we have in Nigeria? I don’t think they are more than five, and universities have to produce neurosurgeons.’
‘These are the people who have to train a new crop of academics because it takes a professor to produce a professor. So, when you dispose of their services, you have cut off that chain of continuity.’
‘The disengagement has started in Federal University, Wukari, and the BUK, Kano. By doing that, IPPIS is creating a problem by appropriating the powers of the council in terms of employment, promotion, and disengagement of the people in the system.’
Mr Ben Goong, Spokesperson at the Ministry of Education rebutted, ‘By October and November 2019, universities engaged so many staff; they were fraudulent about staff engagement and a university that has 5,000 staff will say they have 7,000 staff and you have this huge personnel cost that was pushed to the universities. Virtually, most universities are guilty of this.’
ASUU may not be truthful and truly altruistic about their reasons for resisting IPPIS. ASUU should be partnering with the FG to make IPPIS robust enough to address the peculiarities in the university system, or better still work to integrate IPPIS with the UTAS, which was earlier contemplated according to this report. A refusal to give the IPPIS a chance or an attempts to sabotage the scheme will make the union come across as having skeletons to hide.