Nigerians urge FG, ASUU to reach common grounds and be considerate
As the disagreement between the Federal Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) over the Integrated Payroll Personnel Information System (IPPIS) gets messier, leading to a two-week warning strike by the university teachers, Nigerians have urged the two parties to be considerate in their positions to ease the possibility of reaching a common ground. Some of them, including key stakeholders in the education sector, who spoke with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), emphasised the need for government and the university lecturers to place the interest of the nation and the young students affected by the impasse, well above any other consideration.
NAN reports that while the Federal Government insists on paying salaries to only lecturers that have enrolled into the IPPIS platform, the lecturers have vowed to resist IPPIS which they opined is a fraud. In the place of the IPPIS, the lecturers have offered its option – the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) – a model it said would tackle the unwholesome issues around wages payment, which government says IPPIS will eliminate
The Minister of Finance, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, while insisting on the IPPIS, warned that lecturers not enrolled into its portal would not be paid salaries, and indeed actualised the threat by withholding the lecturers’ February salaries which ASUU President, Prof Biodun Ogunyemi, cited as the immediate cause of the latest round of strike.
The warning strike, he told newsmen last week, is to allow government more time to address the issues or risk a definite strike action.
But Nigerians have urged those concerned to remember the place of education in the growth and development of any nation and make sacrifices so as to reach common grounds that could ensure the reopening of the universities. Speaking on the face-off, Prof. Moyosore Ajao, ASUU Chairman, University of Ilorin, advised the Federal Government to continue to dialogue with the union to avert any further crisis. “The only way forward is continuous dialogue with the union; if they discuss with us, there will eventually be resolution to all these issues,” he said. Ajao, however, warned that failure to embark on mutual dialogue would result to “anarchy”, with many casualties. Mr Adeshina Owoyele, the acting Secretary, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), in Kwara, shares similar sentiments. “ASUU should discuss with its employer, the Federal Government. Both parties should strive to reach a quick consensus in the interest of the common good. “They both claim they want to sanitise the system. It means they both agree that some thing is wrong and needs to addressed. “Clearly, no employer of labour will watch while its employees draw salaries from multiple sources. ASUU’s claim of entrenching autonomy in the university is not tenable and cannot outweigh the allegation that many lecturers draw salaries from different universities. “Unless there is something to hide, nothing is wrong with the IPPIS platform. What the union needs to do is to discuss the peculiarities with the Federal Government and resolve the issue once and for all,” he added. Mr Adesegun Olagoke, an educationist, also believes there is the need for the Federal Government and ASUU to come to a peaceful resolution hinged on sincerity of purpose and willingness to reach a compromise. Olagoke said that the crisis could be forestalled with both parties sitting at a round table to address all grey areas causing the problem. According to him, the Federal Government must, for instance, recognise the peculiarity of the university system and all its processes which run based on its constitutionally-backed autonomy as is the case everywhere in the world. “If government can recognise and capture on the IPPIS such multifarious peculiarities as the issue of Sabbatical, 70 years retirement age, external examiners and external assessors, earned academic allowances, visiting adjunct and part time consultancy services among others, it would have allayed the fears of Nigeria’s university teachers,” he said. But the Chairman of ASUU at Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, Dr Adeola Egbedokun, insisted that only respect for autonomy for universities would bring peace. Egbedokun, who noted that the autonomy in the university system was backed by law, added that the Federal Government was ignoring this aspect of the law. He said that until the law of autonomy returned to universities, there would continue to be tension on the campuses. His colleague at Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA), Dr Olayinka Awopetu, agrees, saying the University Transparency and Accountability Solutions (UTAS) which ASUU had already suggested, was a better alternative. “UTAS is in line with the law as against IPPIS which is against the law establishing the nation’s universities. ASUU will never support anything that contradicts the law. “Last week, ASUU demonstrated UTAS to some vice chancellors, registrars and bursars; I am sure they were all convinced that UTAS is a better alternative,” he said. But Mr Ayodeji Ebenezer, Coordinator of the Federal University Oye Ekiti chapter of Congress of University Academics, a rival group to ASUU, advised his colleagues to abide by government’s directive, saying that nothing could be achieved in an atmosphere of rancour.
We do not have problems with the Federal Government’s policy on IPPIS. We have come to understand that the policy is good and capable of curbing corruption in the system. “Again, since he who pays the piper dictates the tune, members of the academic community have no option than to shift ground by complying.” A parent, Mrs. Kemisola Owodunni, advised government to strive to disabuse ASUU’s conception that IPPIS was conceived to undermine autonomy in federal universities. Accordding to her, ASUU had rejected Federal Government’s IPPIS only on the point of law, while offering an alternative platform which the union felt would take care of universities’ peculiarities. ” It is important that the Federal Government first consider putting the cards on the table to look into addressing the concerns of ASUU so as to allay all that is their fears,” she said. For Mr Kowe Odunayo, the Southwest Coordinator of National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), Zone D, ASUU has nothing to fear since virtually all other federal agencies and federal universities had subscribed to IPPIS. “There is no reason for ASUU as a collective body not to fully subscribe to IPPIS. The union is swimming against the popular tide and should always be realistic and considerate in its demands.” Mr Ike Onyechere, Founder, Exam Ethics Marshall Institute, who also spoke on the face-off, cautioned against any situation that could slow down progress in the academic calendar of tertiary institutions. “The educational sector needs to be protected from unwarranted disruptions. We cannot afford the consequences of such distractions. “The circles of conflicts, strikes and showdowns have had devastating consequences on the education system. “ There is the need to stop further occurrence of such strike actions and this can only be done if both parties come together and agree on terms that will not jeopardise the interest of the students. “The norms of democracy require ASUU to formally sign on to the IPPIS programme since most of their members have already signed. “I urge ASUU to sign and avoid unnecessary conflicts,’’ he said. Also, Mrs. Adekemi Jegede, a retired Headmistress, urged both parties to place the national interest above “this ego clash”, noting that it was the students were the victims of the clash by the two elephants. “ The interest of the students must be protected by both the Federal Government and the union; both parties must ensure that the educational sector is protected. “If the system is to be protected, the parties, regardless of their differences, should not allow any strike in the system. “The youths of this country are the leaders of our future and we must do everything possible to make sure they are in school so as to complete their education without any distractions from the union,’’ she said. Miss Glory Oche, a student of Federal Polytechnic, Nasarawa, in her reaction, declared that the disruption of studies was not healthy for student. “When students return home after such distractions, they become promiscuous and could yield to the temptation to be take drug leading to psychological effects. “It could also result into the reduction in learning ability when the students finally resume due to several months of non-academic activities.” She called on ASUU and the Federal Government to go back to the drawing board to resolve the issues so as not to truncate the education of the youths. Stakeholders in the South-East, who reacted to the impasse, proffered various ways toward resolving the lingering quarrel with the Federal University of Technology, Owerri chapter of ASUU insisting that sticking to international best practices was the best solution to end it. Dr Christopher Echereobia, its Chairman, said that IPPIS did not align with international best practices which granted autonomy to universities. Echerobia, a crop scientist, said that the system should not be introduced in Nigerian universities because it was a major distraction from what he described as “some yet to be fulfilled” agreements between the two parties. He, however, urged government to look into the agreement which it signed with the ASUU in 2009 with a view to fulfilling its part of the agreement. According to him, this will help to address the decade-old yearnings of lecturers. “IPPIS does not agree with international best practices which allow for university autonomy and Nigeria should not do anything that will be contrary. “IPPIS contravenes the laws of the university system because we have a governing council to whom we are directly accountable and who takes charge of issues, including but not limited to, the system remuneration. “We urge the Federal Government to look into some of these issues, including fulfilling its part of the ASUU/FG agreement signed in 2009”. Dr Stephen Ufoaroh, the ASUU Chairperson, Nnamdi Azikiwe University (UNIZIK), Awka, described as adistraction’ the directive by the federal government for lecturers to enroll into IPPIS. Ufoaroh said the government and the union had more important issues to jointly handle for improvement of the nation’s tertiary education system. He said that the union’s position on the matter was not a mark of disobedience, but a display of her belief that the existing IPPIS system was characterised with unhealthy practices. “It is due to these obvious defects plaguing the IPPIS that made our union to design a better payment platform for government to use. But Mr Titus Eleweke, an Awka-based social commentator, told NAN that there was no justification for ASUU to foot drag over government’s directive on the IPPIS. “Government is the employer to ASUU and if they want members of the union to enroll into IPPIS, it does not call for argument,” he said. Eleweke said it was regrettable that in recent times, struggles between government and the union had revolved around welfare. He noted that other issues raised by the group were mere cosmetic, aimed at deceiving the public. He said it was regrettable that lectures nowadays compared themselves with politicians on the issue of remuneration, leaving out grants on research at their disposal. A civil servant, Mr Geoffrey Odogwu, said government and the union should find workable means of resolving the issue. “We sometime hear that IPPIS officials were involved in fraudulent activities which show that the system is not entirely okay. “If government and ASUU should handle the matter maturely, the nation might get a flawless integrated payment system,” he said. A social commentator in Enugu State, Dr Maxwell Ngene said that IPPIS had come to stay as long as the federal government was in charge of salary payment in the university. “ASUU should work out their peculiarities with IPPIS office. Currently, ASUU has a divided house and public sentiment is not on their side, so a face-off with government will be detrimental to ASUU. “However, one may ask why the special interest in universities when CBN, NNPC and some other agencies are still left out of IPPIS?’’ Ngene said. Meanwhile, some stakeholders in Nsukka have urged the federal government to allow public universities to use Universities Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) as alternative payroll platform to IPPIS. They told NAN in separate interviews in Nsukka that this would be the only way to avert the looming nationwide indefinite strike by Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and ensure industrial harmony in public universities. Mr Alex Ezurike, the Proprietor of Bishop Alex Continuous Education Centre, Nsukka said that what government should do is to monitor UTAS payroll platform closely as it did to IPPIS. “Government says reasons for asking ASUU to enroll in IPPIS are to fight corruption and fish out ghost workers in universities. With close monitoring of UTAS implementation, government will also achieve the same result it has achieved in IPPIS. “Government should consider the interest of students in public universities who will be at the receiving end, if ASUU embarks on nationwide indefinite strike because of IPPIS enrollment,” he said. Dr Emma Ugwuerua, member representing Nsukka West in Enugu State House of Assembly, advised government not to stop the salary of ASUU members to avoid nationwide strike. “When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers; this face-off between government and ASUU should be resolved amicably to ensure industrial harmony in public universities. Ugwuerua said that industrial strike by ASUU at this moment would increase security challenges in the country since students would become idle at home “An idle man is a devil’s workshop. These students, who will be forced home if ASUU embarks on strike, may be lured into one crime or the other due to idleness. “Government should grant the request by ASUU to use UTAS as an alternative payroll platform to ensure industrial harmony,” he said. Meanwhile, Dr Salim Abdurrahman, the Chairperson, Federal University, Dutse (FUD), chapter of ASSU), has said that the union was not against enrolling its members IPPIS platform. “What we want is for government to rectify some grey areas so as to have a policy that will stand the test of time,” he told NAN. Abdurrahman, who did not state the grey areas. But some residents of Dutse have expressed divergent views over the matter, with Mr Ahmad Balarabe, a civil servant, opining that ASUU had no ground to refuse being enrolled on the IPPIS. “ASUU members are being paid by the federal government and have no legal basis to reject the IPPIS. They should struggle through it like other federal civil servants. I don’t see any problem with IPPIS, ASUU is just trying to prove stubborn or has some skeleton in its cupboards,” Balarabe opined. Another resident, Malam Ahmad Shuaibu, advised the two parties to resolve the contending issues amicably. “The government and ASUU should sit and sort out this problem once and for all. It is not in anybody’s interest that it should linger,” he said. Reactions from the South-South zone of the country showed a mixed feelings over the face-off with some people expressing total support for the government’s position aimed at stemming corruption in public universities, while others said that more areas of dialogue should be explored toward reaching an amicable solution. According to Dr Williams Wodi, a senior lecturer in the Department of Linguistic and Communications Studies, University of PortHarcourt, some ASUU members, who did not enroll on IPPIS platform, ought to comply. “Out of 1,200 ASUU members in the university, 876 members have so far registered on IPPIS, including 160 academic doctors and consultants. “The remaining ASUU members that are yet to register should quickly do so. It is not possible to dictate to your employer on when and how to work for him, or how one should be paid. “The employer wants to know how many people are on its employment; how many are on regular and adhoc appointment, and those on sabbatical. So, ASUU has no case. “The solution is that the remaining ASUU members should swallow their pride and get themselves registered on IPPIS,’’ he appealed. Wodi said that the implementation of IPPIS would expose lecturers who took teaching jobs in five to six universities at the detriment of students in their parent institutions. On his part, National Publicity Coordinator of the Congress of University Academics (CONUA), Dr Nwoke Onyebuchi, opined that IPPIS would address corruption in the nation’s academic system. According to him, the introduction of IPPIS in tertiary institutions will result to employment of more lecturers as ghost lecturers will be weeded from the system. “The detractors are claiming that the payroll system will affect lecturers on sabbatical, but we found out that those on sabbatical would be adequately captured in the system. “So, nothing is going to be btaken away from lecturers. However, this will never be told to workers because some individuals want to orient conflicting trajectory with the government,” he explained. Similarly, respondents in Cross River, who expressed support for government’s decision, described the IPPIS as a veritable means of checking corruption and curbing wastage in governance. An enrollee, Mrs Eme Offiong, who is a member of staff of the Ministry of Information, told NAN in Calabar that the programme had helped in sealing leakages associated with payment of workers’ salaries. “With IPPIS, a worker can predict and calculate what his or her salary can be in a month. “It has also helped in regular payment of salary. IPPIS has created a situation where the least officer in an establishment collects the salary from the same source with the chief executive. “It has never happened before and I think it is a good idea that should be embraced by all workers,’’ Offiong said. Another senior civil servant, Mr Ignatius Odey, said that IPPIS had closed all leakages that usually led to waste, thereby encouraging corruption. “Before now, you find those in accounts adding fictitious names where they will clear remnants after salary payment; but now, everybody receive from the same IPPIS. “It is a good omen because some workers were even receiving double salaries,’’ he said. In Uyo, a Chartered Accountant and Tax Consultant, Mr Ntudo Udoessien, also appealed to members of ASUU to avert unnecessary strike and cooperate with government by enrolling with the IPPIS. Udoessien also told NAN that since other Ministries,Department and Agencies (MDAs) had enrolled on the IPPIS platform, there was need for ASUU members in federal universities to comply. He said: “My view is that the Federal Government has a template into which every MDA has been captured. ASUU should just queue in. “If ASUU keys in and there is a problem regarding salaries, this could be resolved without going on strike. So, I think that all universities should be able to key in and see what is going to happen.’’ He said that that there was no template computer software engineers could not develop to address complaints on peculiarity in salaries as canvassed by ASUU, and cautioned against throwing the university system into unnecessary strike at the detriment of innocent students and parents as the system had already been overstretched. In his contribution, Edet Akpakpan, a Professor of Economics and former lecturer, University of Uyo, said that the impasse between ASUU and the federal government could be resolved with sincere dialogue. He said that the issues raised by ASUU should be looked into sincerely by the federal government, while ASUU on their part should be willing to listen to their employer. The professor opined that Nigerians lacked negotiation skills, adding that people that go into negotiation should always be sincere and willing to shift grounds. On his part, Mr Unyime Usoro, former Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in Akwa Ibom, says that the federal government was “too rigid with ASUU on the issue of IPPIS”. Usoro said that intellectuals in the government departments should by now have a working formula that would be acceptable to both parties at negotiation table. He said that all issues discussed should be sincerely looked at and proper solutions taken before ASUU queues in. “It will be difficult for ASUU to come out when they have queue into the IPPIS. So, it has to be sure that the interest of lecturers is protected by IPPIS system before it joins. “All over the world, universities solve problem of the society. So, if these people have offered to provide solution to this, why don’t people give them benefit of doubt? “So, when you want to take them to IPPIS, immediately you enter, you know you will not come out,’’ Usoro said. Stakeholders in the north-central states have expressed mixed feelings on the face-off with students and parents rooting for an amicable solution to the debacle. Dr Lazarus Maigoro, Chairman, University of Jos chapter of ASUU, told NAN that UTAS, as proposed to the government by the union, would address the disagreement According to Maigoro, UTAS will address all the peculiarities in the universities without violating the laws of the land. “The full implementation of UTAS will naturally bring to an end the impasse between ASUU and the federal government over this IPPIS saga. “This is because it will take care of all peculiarities in the university system; it will address personnel enrollment, corruption in the system and everything the IPPIS is intended to do, without violating the law establishing universities in the country. “IPPIS is alien to the university Act 2003, and implementing it in the university system will mean going against the law,” he said. But Mr Jacob Pwakim, a postgraduate student of the University of Jos, said that the lecturers’ refusal to accept IPPIS showed that they were selfish and did not want to be accountable. Pwakim, who commended the move by the federal government to implement the IPPIS in the university system, said the initiative would not only curb corruption, but would also ensure accountability and transparency in the university system. He said the quest by lecturers to work and earn multiple salaries led to their rejection of government’s efforts at sanitising the system. “For me, the move by government to implement the IPPIS in the universities is a noble one; it will not just curb corruption, but it would also address other challenges within the system. “It is unfortunate that ASUU is rejecting it and the reason is because they are selfish, corrupt and want to work and earn multiple salaries,”he said. The student, therefore, called on both ASUU and the federal government to reach an agreement, and not to allow the lingering issue to get to the point of industrial action, as students were always the victims of such face-offs. Similarly, Mrs Jacobeth Fara, a parent, urged ASUU to comply with the directives of the federal government on the IPPIS enrollment, adding that rejecting the move suggested that the union had “something to hide’’. Fara, a federal civil servant, said embarking on strike over the lingering impasse was unnecessary as the action would only delay students’ graduation and inflict more hardships on parents. “I think ASUU is just dragging this matter unnecessarily and it is not good for the system. “For me, they should comply so that peace will reign, because I see no reason why they don’t want the IPPIS to be implemented in the universities. “I am a federal civil servant, my organisation has been part of IPPIS for long, so, why are the lecturers singling out themselves,?’’ he said. In Benue, the stakeholders appealed to both the federal government and ASUU to speedily resolve their differences over the IPPIS matter so as to avoid industrial unrest. A cross section of the stakeholders, who spoke to NAN, said an early resolution of the face-off would be in the overall interest of students and parents. Mr Timothy Washima, a parent, said IPPIS enrollment should not constitute problems between the government and the union, in the first place. Washima urged the federal government to call for a roundtable between it and the Dons in order to settle the disagreements amicably. “The meeting will be a platform where both the government and the union will table what they want and solutions will be found,” he said. Another parent, Mrs Roseline Terwase, also urged the government to allay the fears of the lecturers on the new payment platform by addressing their concerns. “It is very simple, what the federal government ought to do is to assure the union that their allowances will be captured. “What is stopping the government from doing the needful. Why is it forcing members of the union to be captured on IPPIS without addressing their fears. “However, both of them should come together and resolve their differences for the overall good of the society, because what affects the university system affects a larger population of the society,” Terwase said. On his part, Mr James Ikpev, a civil servant, advised the government to come to a mutual agreement with the union for the benefit of students and the stability of the university system. Ikpev, a father of a 400level student of the Benue State University, pleaded with ASUU to look for an amicable ground and come to an agreement with the federal government, saying,” when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers”. The Chairman of the Federal University of Agriculture Makurdi chapter of ASSU, Dr Ameh Ejembi,appealed to the federal government to “listen to the stakeholders, especially ASUU, which is a major stakeholder in the matter”. Ejembi also urged the government to listen to the voice of reason and accept the alternative pay system suggested by ASSU to safeguard the sanctity of the university system in the country. In Nasarawa State, a retired teacher, Mr James Peter, urged the dons to enroll into the IPPIS in the interest of peace and for the overall development of the education sector. ” If almost all workers in the country, particularly those in the federal service, have embraced the IPPIS, I see no reason why the lecturers should reject it. “The introduction of the IPPIS will address the ghost worker syndrome, corruption and will block all leakages,’’ Peter said. However, Mrs Amina Abdul, a parent, called on the Federal Government to relax its directive on the enrollment of the university lecturers into the IPPIS pending the resolution of the impasse. “In the interest of our children and the education sector, I appeal to the federal government to have a second look at the reasons given by ASUU not to enroll into the IPPIS,” Abdul said. Mr Sunday Emmanuel, a student of the Nasarawa State University, Keffi, also appealed to the federal government and ASUU to resolve the matter amicably, in the interest of the students and parents. “I appeal to the federal government and ASUU to come to terms because we, the students, need industrial peace in the pursuit of our education, ” he said. In Jalingo, Dr John Ajai, an associate professor of Mathematics and Statistics with the Taraba State University, Jalingo, called for understanding between the two parties in the interest of industrial peace. Ajai, who is also a former Vice Chairman of ASUU, Taraba State University chapter, said that ASUU’s worry about IPPIS was due to the uniqueness of the university system from the other public organisations. According to him,there are Sabbatical and Visiting professors in the university system and the payment for these peculiar services do not conform with the IPPIS portal designed by the federal government. Ajai suggested thatASUU and government should come together and develop a system that would take care of the peculiarities in the university system. “I know that ASUU is not against a central pay system that would checkmate fraud but due to the fact that the university has some services that are different from the other public service “The solution is to sit on a round table and come up with a version of IPPIS that could fit into the system and at the same time, checkmate fraud in the system. A similar mixed grill was found in north-east Nigeria with Dr Adamu Babayo, ASUU Chairman, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi chapter, insisting that IPPIS would only erode the autonomy of the university system and stifle research and learning. “As a union, we have developed our alternative platform that will address the peculiarity of the university system. ASUU is not daring the government on this matter, the autonomy of the university is at stake. Our autonomy is a law and you cannot by mere oral pronouncement set it aside or implement policies that will undermine it,” he said. He alleged that the policy is a world Bank idea and Agenda, borrowed from the Bank to the detriment of Nigerians. The ASUU chairman urged the Federal Government to rescind the decision and allow Nigerian universities to operate according to international best practices. Dr Audu Gani, a public commentator, however, urged university lecturers to comply with the Federal Government’s directive and register on the IPPIS portal. “The IPPIS scheme was developed to checkmate corruption in the system. We are told that the payroll system has lots of throwbacks for lecturers, but we checked and found out that the claims have no substance. “Those campaigning against implementation of IPPIS in the universities are being economical with the truth and are not telling their union members the whole truth,” Dr Gani said. Mr Ezekiel Tumba, a parent, appealed to the Federal government and the university lecturers to work for the common ground for the sake of the students and future of the country. He said that the government should welcome ASUU’s ongoing innovation of a robust system of human resource management and compensation, as well as the UTAS, under the supervision of IPPIS. “I believe that measure will address peculiarities of universities and end inappropriate recruitment.” he said. But a student of ATBU, Bauchi told NAN on condition of anonymity that government as the sole financier of universities had the right to ensure that public funds were accounted for. “The IPPIS has been implemented in government agencies and the policy has helped to save billions of naira. “The Federal Government should use the ASUU rejection of IPPIS as a starting point to the dismantling of the unworkable system of managing tertiary education in Nigeria. “No employee should be able to dictate to their employer the payment system the employer should use. “ASUU goes on strike when they want salary increased, when government wants to implement IPPIS, and for every flimsy selfish reason. ASUU cares only for themselves,” the student fumed.
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