The dispute between the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Federal Government over the plan to include ASUU members in the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) is surprising if not embarrassing. In an era of the so-called fourth industrial/electronic revolution in which literally anything is programmable, it was slightly disappointing the rustic arguments by ASUU that “IPPIS is a scam… a threat to national security;” and the government side which ridiculed the union, saying the threatened strike by ASUU over IPPIS was “a planned revenge over the closure of the cold room,” a place where lecturers lured their female consorts for trysts.
We must commend both sides that the dispute has not degenerated to industrial action due to the timely intervention of the Senate President. The Office of the Accountant General of the Federation (OAGF) should be patient while the issue is resolved. Nigeria has a reputation as one of the most corrupt places on earth, not necessarily because we are the most depraved but because we have a system that makes corruption easy to perpetrate and difficult to detect. The Federal Government, with the help of the World Bank, finally found IPPIS after decades of ghost workers and all kinds of payroll scams. Even now, after claims of having saved billions of Naira, there is suspicion that the high and the mighty still subvert the system by drawing pay at each of the three tiers of government, because the payroll of the three tiers are not synchronised.
IPPIS has been found to eliminate the bugs in the payroll system and it is understandable why President Muhammadu Buhari insists that all Federal employees be enrolled in the system by October 31. It has now been extended to November 2019. ASUU’s objections are that being enrolled in IPPIS would place fetters on the freedom of action and autonomy of the university system. The union cites the Universities Miscellaneous Provisions (Amendment) Act 2003, which vests powers in the governing councils of the various universities. Yet the union has been unable to transparently explain how the autonomy of the universities would be hampered by its members being paid through the IPPIS system. The argument of the government side that employees ought not dictate to the employer on how best they should be paid does have validity, especially given the situation of most of our universities where the government pays virtually all the bills from salaries, allowances, pensions and gratuities, leave allowances, research grants, the construction of physical infrastructure and other expenses required for the smooth-running of our public universities. It is not only that these issues can be taken care of by the system but even issues on which the union has expressed anxiety, the so-called peculiarities of the university system, such as “replacement, recruitment, mobility of academics for visiting, adjunct, part-time and sabbatical” issues that arise fairly regularly in the university system. It is wrong for ASUU to argue that given goodwill on all sides, these issues cannot be accommodated in the IPPIS system. Besides, other unions within the university system, such as the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and the Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU), have found IPPIS system completely satisfactory. The University of Ilorin Vice Chancellor, Prof. Sulyman Abdulkareem, could not understand why ASUU is making an issue out of IPPIS. “ASUU’s logic is not clear to me. I wonder why ASUU is taking a different position after attending a meeting with all the representatives of all the five unions in the nation’s university system with the representatives of the Federal Government where they were adequately briefed on the new policy.” The management of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, which had nothing against the IPPIS system, expressed surprise at ASUU’s objections.
We think ASUU should calm down and explore the IPPIS system. There is no peculiarity of the union or its legitimate needs that would not be accommodated in the IPPIS system. The nation has supported the union all these years when it thinks the union is fighting for just causes, even when it has gone on unnaturally lengthy strikes that tested the patience and endurance of Nigerian parents and students. Considering the intellectual background of ASUU, the argument over the matter is slightly embarrassing, knowing that the union has always supported measures that would minimise corruption in Nigeria. IPPIS may have been a World Bank’s suggestion, but until we discover something more efficient and more honest, we appeal to the union to get accommodated within the system.