The Academic Staff Union Of Universities, (ASUU) is on the verge of embarking on an indefinite strike if the Federal Government fall to acquiesce to their demands.

The Academic Staff Union of Universities, (ASUU) threatened to down tools again, barely few months after calling off a protracted Industrial action.

Few months after the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) called off its six months old strike, another round of industrial action may just be around the corner.

This time, the union and the government are engaged over the Integrated and Payroll Personnel Information System (IPPIS), a new platform of payment that was introduced by government for all the workers on its payroll.

For the second time in a year, ASUU and the government have failed to reach an agreement, posing another threat to the relationship between the two.

The Federal Government, through the office of the Accountant General, introduced IPPIS with a view to creating a centralized data base system to aid government pay its workers salaries directly, to ensure that wastages and leakages are done away with, by ensuring that staff remuneration is based on correct information.

However, ASUU and the federal university authorities are kicking against the new system, alleging that the scheme will temper with the most sought after university autonomy.

This disagreement led to the constitution of the truce committee that failed to deliver after holding several meetings.

The tripartite committee comprising the National Universities Commission, (NUC), ASUU and the federal government which was constituted to discuss and come up with modalities on the way out of the impasse, have failed to reach a compromise as regards the new initiative.

ASUU has threatened to down tools again, barely few months after calling off a protracted industrial action if the government insists on getting them to join the new payment platform.

This necessitated the extension of the deadline for the new payment scheme by another six months to terminate by August this year which will create room for more discussion by both parties.

The Federal Government had earlier set a December 2013 deadline for full implementation of the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Management System (IPPIS) and the Government Integrated Financial Management System (GIFMIS), in all ministries, department and agencies of government.
Owing to pressure from ASUU the date was shifted to February, and still no agreement was reached.

However, as at February,2014, only 308 MDAs have been captured on the IPPIS platform which accounts for a total staff strength of about 257,000, with the Accountant General office making frantic effort to bring onboard every government institution that draws her revenue from the consolidated revenue funds of the federation.

Most significant amongst the outstanding institutions are the universities, polytechnics, Colleges of education, the military and police.

These institutions have advanced strong resistance to their subscription for what they described as peculiarities ,which either the IPPIS cannot accommodate or an infraction on their autonomy.

According to ASUU North West zonal coordinator, Dr. Rabiu Nasiru, the university system cannot operate under this kind of system ,because of the nature of their operations, employment and promotions are made as the need arises.

He argues that subjecting university to this system will cause untold hardship on teaching and learning in the nation’s universities.

‘Subjecting universities to IPPIS will be a serious problem. Staff are recruited very often so to say if one needs to be recruited you shortlist, send to Abuja, do documentation. All these processes take time and will lead to delay in remuneration, in salaries, promotions and what have you’’ he said.

He said, ‘This new system will deter the growth and development of our institutions. As such proper discussion must be entertained for the mutual benefit of all and sundry, saying that since the federal government directive to capture all its workers on the new platform by February this year, a six months grace has been extended for the universities and ASUU because of the ongoing discussion, to enable them reach an agreeable resolution.’

Already, he added, ASUU has issued a circular to all its members directing them not to enroll in the system, noting that “anyone who does so does it at his own peril and will have himself to blame’’.

Dr. Ademola Aremu, the ASUU National Treasurer, was recently quoted in a media report to have said: “We do not really know what the government wants to achieve with the new system. We have been telling the authorities that many countries across the world embrace decentralized system for clarity and managing of data.

When you try to use centralized system as the government is trying to do, the system becomes cumbersome. If the government wants to eradicate ghost workers; it knows what to do and where to go.”

According to the treasurer, the new policy would not work in the universities because of their peculiarities.

This is because it recognizes the name of a staff just once in the payroll, whereas an academic staff can work as a support staff in another university apart from the institution where he works as a permanent staff. This means that under the IPPIS system, he can only be paid once , even when he has rendered his service in two places.

Informed by this resistance, series of workshops and seminars are being organized by the federal government through the IPPIS office, to sensitize and educate the universities with regards to the need to be part of the new transformation agenda ,which is aimed at cutting wastages and leakages in government funds.

However, ASUU, and other unions within the universities have been boycotting the ongoing IPPIS, seminars that have held so far in Port Harcourt, Bauchi and Kano states, representing the south south, south east and north west centers of the sensitization.

At a recent workshop in Kano, IPPIS Coordinator, Mrs. Nana Fatima Mede said the new system would not in any way temper with the autonomy of the Nigerian University System ,but it is aimed at ensuring prompt payment of salaries directly to employees accounts, with appropriate deduction and remittance of third party payments like tax, pension, cooperatives, and union dues.

While allaying the fears of the lecturers, Mede noted that the new platform is capable of handling primary, secondary even tertiary assignments, and can design a template that will accommodate sabbatical, tenure and contract appointments, as well as having high levels of security and control that make it flexible yet secure.

“Before now, government had expressed worries about the high personnel costs of its workforce, as the system in place, as at that time, made it difficult to plan, manage and make effective budgeting.

Through this medium, wastages are cut down, and it promotes effective planning and decision-making through the automation and storage of personnel records, to support monitoring of staff emolument payment against budget,” she said.

Perhaps, the National University Commissions (NUC) stand on the lingering issues shows a no going back on the implementation of the IPPIS in the universities. The commission spokesman Ibrahim Yakasai when confronted over the issue said, “The stand of NUC is that IPPIS is a national policy which incorporates all federal staff, including all the federal universities’’.

For the university authorities it’s a double standard on the part of government. “The unions have been struggling with the government over autonomy for so many years. You do not give something on one hand and take it through another. Once we take away the financial autonomy, then the fundamentals of university autonomy have also been taken away. In an election year, technocrats and consultants should not come up with ideas that would add extra pressure on the polity.”

Professor Rufai Alkali who is the chairman governing council of the Federal University of Technology, Minna said at IPPIS meeting in Kano.

However, the Acting Vice Chancellor, Nasarawa State University, Professor Mohammed Mainoma, said we must not understand autonomy from the point of view of finance. The hindrance to that is the fact that government said there should be free tuition on the part of the students. Government therefore should pay on behalf of the students – Funding the university is a necessity. The erroneous belief that he who pays the piper must dictate the tune does not apply here.

They are paying for services that are heavily subsidized by the university administration. So autonomy is really essential if the universities are expected to deliver on the mandates of developing young minds and carry out advanced research that can advance society.

For Professor Abubakar Rasheed,Vice Chancellor Bayero University, Kano, the new initiative can work effectively and enhance the payroll system if it addresses some peculiarities of Nigerian universities, such as staff on study fellowship abroad, sabbatical and other similar issues, just as he urged the government to strive hard to carry along all the university unions, through incorporating all their concerns and should exercise patience as the system is gradually put to practice, he added.

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