Twice, the Federal Government has bent over backwards in its directive to universities to adopt the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) by softening its stance on the payment of salaries of the Academic Staff Union of Universities members for the months of December and January. The lecturers have been resisting the policy on the grounds that it negates university autonomy.
A total of 96,090 academic and non-academic personnel had reportedly enrolled in the IPPIS, as of early January, out of the expected 137,016 staff. It is a development that should inspire the government not to buckle. What is more, the abuse of funds in the universities, as the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission and Auditor-General’s reports reveal, is becoming mind-boggling.
The IPPIS has been implemented in all government agencies that draw their personnel cost from the Consolidated Revenue Fund, resulting in N206 billion being saved from payroll cleansing in 2017 and 2018. Non-academic staff unions in the universities have embraced the policy. The process ought to have been completed between November 25 and December 7 when IPPIS officers were sent to universities for biometric capture of the personnel. However, ASUU’s intransigence has rendered the deadline elastic.
A circular early last month from the Director of IPPIS at the Office of the Accountant-General for the Federation, Olusegun Olufehinti, had requested the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, to direct the stoppage of release of funds for the pay of federal universities and other tertiary institutions yet to comply with the directive. As a result, ASUU was on the brink of industrial action, with its directive to members to enforce a “no pay, no work” earlier resolution. This was averted with the salary payment.
The union’s bid to have its way on this matter led to a meeting it held with the President Muhammadu Buhari, last month, where its trite argument that this is “a platform that discountenances the peculiarities of the university system” in replacement, recruitment of academics, mobility of academic staff for visiting, adjunct, part-time and sabbatical offers was rehashed. Seeing the government’s adamant stance, the Biodun Ogunyemi-led ASUU is bristling for a showdown.
Since its opposition began, government agencies have held countless meetings with ASUU, where the government said it explained how the IPPIS operates and accommodated the lecturers’ interests. These meetings involved the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation, vice-chancellors, registrars, bursars, National Universities Commission, and non-academic unions, Ministers of Finance, Labour and Education.
The lecturers are, however, not persuaded. Ogunyemi says ASUU has an IPPIS equivalent – University Transparency and Accountability System – which will address all the concerns of the government. Cloaking lecturers’ interest in the garb of the overall interest of the university system to reject IPPIS is deceitful.
To ensure that academic standards are maintained, the NUC, the regulatory body, approves no more than one visiting contract appointment for a lecturer or professor. But many of them are alleged to have more of such appointments, which IPPIS, like the Bank Verification Number, could burst. It is racketeering that has put in jeopardy many post-graduate programmes in the lecturers’ original institutions.
Findings by the ICPC, chaired by Bolaji Owasanoye, a professor familiar with the university system, indicate that the institutions are neck-deep in the unethical practice of padding their personnel budgets, a tendency also rife in the civil service.
ASUU has turned a blind eye to the fact that the commission indicted the University of Benin Teaching Hospital for allegedly padding its budget to the tune of N1.1 billion; Nnamdi Azikiwe University (N915 million); University College Hospital Ibadan (N701 million); University of Ibadan (N558 million); Usmanu Dan Fodio University (N636 million) and University of Jos (N896 million). These are anomalies that the IPPIS seeks to prevent.
It is ironic that universities, which profess to find their graduates worthy in “character” and learning, before awarding them degrees, cannot always be vouched for on integrity matters. This is queer. Therefore, the IPPIS as a mechanism that promotes transparency and accountability, a global best practice in public finance management, should not be compromised by anybody or institution under any guise. The ICPC should deepen its fight for sanity to return to public treasury handling by ensuring that the accounting officers of the institutions caught in the act are made to face the law. Otherwise, the abuse would continue to fester.
As citadels of learning, Nigerian universities should be agents of moral rebirth, and not be obstacles to innovation and cutting-edge technology in the fight against corruption. It is on record that some vice-chancellors and pro-chancellors have soiled their hands in managing funds. In 2017, one VC of a Federal University of Technology was arraigned for N156.9 million fraud by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. He was said to have allegedly “collected housing allowances whilst living in the government residential quarters, drew furniture allowance annually instead of once in four years as approved by the income and wages commission.”
The government, as the sole financier of universities, has the right to ensure that public funds are accounted for. ASUU flaunts the Universities Miscellaneous Provisions (Amendment) Act 2003, which it says contains the autonomy of universities, but is oblivious of the fact that autonomy makes no sense without financial independence.
Universities abroad, which enjoy such luxury, receive only grants from government and depend on endowments, patents, and tuitions from their students, just like Harvard University. This is an attribute which no public university in Nigeria possesses, thus making hollow, ASUU’s claim of the so-called autonomy.
University autonomy and accountability are not contradictory. Therefore, rather than dissipate its energy on this banality, the union should renew its vigour on how to get the N1.3 trillion FG-ASUU renegotiated 2012 deal implemented.
Punchng.com Editorial | February 9, 2020