By Friday Olokor, Adelani Adepegba, Okechukwu Nnodim and Grace Edema
There were indications on Sunday that the Federal Government might adopt any payment platform developed in universities as an alternative to the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System.
The spokesman for the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Charles Akpan, who gave this indication in an interview with The PUNCH, however, gave conditions for adopting any payment platform apart from the IPPIS.
According to him, the platform must be capable of eliminating ghost workers’ syndrome and other forms of corruption in payment of salaries.
Akpan stated this as opposition to the IPPIS grew on Sunday when unions including the Academic Staff Union of Universities, the Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Universities, the Non-Academic Staff Union and the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria said it was only suitable for the civil service.
Recall that ASUU had on March 23, begun an indefinite strike over the government’s insistence on the IPPIS, among other reasons.
Other university unions, which initially supported the payment system, backed out on the grounds that it contained many irregularities.
As an alternative to the IPPIS, ASUU had presented its University Transparency and Accountability Solution to the Federal Government. UTAS is currently being tested by the National Information Technology Development Agency, while SSANU and NASU have proposed the University General and Peculiar Personnel and Payroll System.
The President of ASUU, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, in an interview with The PUNCH, restated the union’s opposition to the IPPIS, saying the system would localise the university system if adopted.
He stated, “With the IPPIS, lecturers cannot move freely across campuses; across countries. It is a system that will not allow you to employ people from outside the country, people who are not on pensionable appointments because the IPPIS focuses only on people with pensionable appointments. Contract staff who are needed in scarce areas are shut out. Our colleagues in the Diaspora who could come and give international flavour and enrich our programmes are shut out. If you have a system that will not allow you to fit into global practices, that system cannot fit into a university.”
He explained further that the IPPIS would erode the autonomy of the university system which was established by an Act in 2003.
Ogunyemi added, “The IPPIS was designed for the civil service, which has a uniform approach to payroll. In the civil service, they have to take permission from the head of civil service before they can employ. That is not possible in university education because a university operates a flexible payroll system by the virtue that lecturers can come for short employment and sabbaticals.”
In the same vein, the newly elected vice president of SSANU, Mr Abdulsobur Salam, explained that the union initially thought the IPPIS would solve some problems in the university system, but it later found out that it added more problems.
He stated, “At the outset, we did not oppose the IPPIS because we have had issues of corruption in the university system which we thought the IPPIS would solve. Government made a request that we should key into the IPPIS and they demonstrated to us that the IPPIS had captured everything on salaries.
“But we have witnessed a lot of irregularities; salaries are not paid, the salary of a cleaner given to a registrar and outright non-payment of staff salaries when staff have been working for 10 months. It is against this background we are now having a second thought. The IPPIS has created a lot of problems than it has resolved.”
Efforts to speak to the National General Secretary, Mr Peter Adeyemi, NASU, proved abortive as he did not to pick calls to his mobile phone nor replied an SMS sent to him.
However, the Chairman of the University of Lagos’ NASU, Mr Kehinde Ajibade explained that the union found out a lot of irregularities in the IPPIS.
These, he said, included arbitrary deductions, high taxation, high pension rate and delay in payments.
Ajibade stated, “What the Federal Government promised us as university workers is contrary to what we are experiencing now. It’s like the Federal Government deceived us to join the IPPIS. Our salaries were being paid on a platform before we migrated to the IPPIS. Unfortunately, when we got to the IPPIS, we discovered it was a scam. It was full of inconsistencies and irregularities that we are still battling with now.
“That is the reason we are opposing the IPPIS . Some of these irregularities are high taxation, non-remittance of some of the deductions and cooperative issues. We have submitted our list for payment. It is either it is delayed or we have to send an emissary to their office before they release our money. All these make it difficult for us. We embarked on a two-week warning strike and the Federal Government invited our leaders. Our national bodies proposed another platform as ASUU did. The government accepted our new platform and said they would look into it. That’s where we are now.
On his part, the General Secretary of PENGASSAN, Lumumba Okugbawa, in an interview with one of our correspondents, said, “We are opposed to the IPPIS for the same reason that ASUU is opposed to it.
“Everything that you think is good must be tested. Now if you test it and there are issues with it, of course, you won’t accept it. So there are issues with the IPPIS. It is not a perfect document.”
“For oil workers, we are also not just the regular civil servants and so all the issues about the system must be cleared before we can accept it.
“Another thing is that if you apply the IPPIS, for instance, some of your allowances as oil workers will not be paid.”
We are encouraging research, we will adopt any platform better than IPPIS – FG
On Sunday, the spokesman for the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Akpan, said the Federal Government would settle for the best payment platform in universities
He explained that the government wished to save money and would adopt any platform that could help in achieving its goal.
He said, “The aim of the IPPIS is to monitor government finances and salaries of workers and also to eliminate ghost workers’ syndrome. The government is looking to save money and remove corruption from the system.
“So, if an organisation comes up and says it have something that could help you to achieve this purpose, I’m sure government would surely consider it. So, all options are still open to the government.”
Akpan noted that the government would settle for any payment platform that is better than the IPPIS, adding that it was encouraging research and development in the tertiary institutions in the country.
Asked if the government had taken a position on the UTAS developed by ASUU, Akpan stated, “What government has done so far is to evaluate that of ASUU which is going through integrity test.
“But for the ones of NASU and SSANU, they said they just informed the government about it without presenting anything. They are working on their own. What the minister said is that if anyone had what the government could use, the government would always adopt it.
“The government is looking for the very best; if there is something that is better than IPPIS, the government would definitely fall back on it. Government is encouraging research and development in the academia.”
In a related development, a statement on Sunday by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige’s Media Office, titled, ‘SSANU extols labour minister.’ quoted SSANU as saying it would reconsider its position if the IPPIS was updated to accommodate the peculiarities captured by the UGPPPS.
The immediate past President of SSANU, Samson Ugwoke, said this on Saturday while presenting his successor, Mohammed Ibrahim, to Ngige.
In response to Ugwoke, the minister said the Federal Government would look into the payment system as demanded by SSANU.
He, however, pointed out that any of such systems must have “ a handshake with the IPPIS and other payment systems in use by the Federal Government.”
According to the statement, Ugwoke commended Ngige for “his understanding of various challenges facing Nigerian workers operating under different unions, the patience and transparency with which you mediate, reawaken hope in us that government is committed to the welfare of workers.”
Meanwhile, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education, Sonny Echono, said only one issue remained to be resolved between the government and ASUU.
Echono who stated this in Abuja on Saturday during the professional examination for teachers, said, “The government is working very closely. We are very concerned and the President is very concerned about this protracted (ASUU) strike which, to so many of us, is unnecessary. We believe there are other ways of getting things done.
“There’s a shared acceptance of so many of the issues and we are at a point that very quickly and soon, it (the strike) will be resolved. There’s only one issue in contention.” ,,