Abeni Aso-Oke

FGN-ASUU Face-off: IPPIS Suffocating the University System. By Prof. MK Othman

Abeni Aso-Oke

The popular view among stakeholders that IPPIS is killing the Nigerian University System is fait accompli. IPPIS stands for Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS). It is a payment platform of personnel emolument, which the Federal Government of Nigeria adopted over ten years ago to flush out ghost workers, enhance efficiency, and address the corrupt practices related to salary payments in the public sector. Have these three objectives been achieved – ghost workers removal from payrolls, efficiency enhancement, and blocking leakages? It has indeed achieved the opposite. The truth is those who were immensely corrupt are the same people at the center of IPPIS operation, a case of a thief hired to guard a property.
From inception to date, IPPIS has been paying workers’ salaries haphazardly, denying some people their salaries while short-paying others. For example, in 2015, NECO claimed to have 246 members of staff who were not paid their wages from the time they joined the platform due to IPPIS irregularities. It is one example among many. IPPIS has proven to be a conduit for mutilating civil servants’ wages in Nigeria. The 2020 Audit Report on the use of IPPIS made a scandalous presentation; it was so revealing that Nigerians were waiting for the immediate suspension of the IPPIS platform and see heads rolling in the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation. The report identified financial irregularities amounting to over N4.394 billion on the IPPIS platform, the duplication of personnel data, and irregular data entry for workers. Additionally, the Federal Government spent over US$27 million, €8.490 million, and N6.518 billion between 2011 and 31 December 2020 for using IPPIS, GIFMIS, and TSA. The owners of these payment platforms, with some unscrupulous workers in government, are daily smiling at the banks while workers are groaning due to the mutilation of their monthly pay.
Surprisingly, IPPIS is a cat with nine lives; it has survived all kinds of efforts to dislodge and emasculate it and has continued to cause havoc in the system with unrepairable damages while the government keeps mute. In 2019, ASUU pointed out the lapses, inadequacies, and deliberate errors of IPPIS and outrightly rejected it as a platform for salary payments to the Academic staff of the universities. The union was ignored as braggadocio of “an enemy of progress.” Still, the Federal Government set up a Presidential Technical Committee after acute insistence and presentation of an alternative payment system, UTAS (University Transparency and Accountability Solution). The Committee was to review the strengths, weaknesses, and challenges of IPPS, UTAS, and other platforms and advise the President on the best methods to improve them. More than one year after the Committee’s inauguration, nothing is heard from it. Most members of the Committee have since left government with the demise of Buhari’s regime.
In May 2022, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) arrested the Chief Custodian of IPPIS, GIFMIS, and TSA, the Accountant General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris, over allegations of money laundering and diversion of public funds using the payment platforms. Ahmed Idris was summarily suspended from office, detained, and granted bail, and since then, nothing much has been heard on over 100 billion Naira fraud – daylight pen-robbery. On Friday, 22 July 2022, EFCC arraigned Idris and three others before Justice Adeyemi Ajayi of the Federal Capital Territory High Court, Abuja, on charges of stealing and criminal breach of trust to N109.4 billion. The Court was told about how former AGF Ahmed Idris compromised the TSA, GIFMIS, and IPPIS and carted away billions of naira belonging to the Federal Government. The case is still ongoing. The other day, I saw a video clip showing a group of people honoring Idris at a ceremony for being “too generous and supportive.”
In May this year (2023), The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) was reported investigating to unravel a massive fraud syndicate that specializes in compromising IPPIS and inflating salaries of collaborators who work in the federal government’s Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). The fraud has possibly gone on for years and could run into 100s of billions of naira of losses to the government. The investigation findings are yet to see the light of the day. Another mystery of IPPIS – the more you look, the less you understand, abracadabra.
In July this year, a report indicated the Senate resolution to probe the allegation of bribery and corruption surrounding the payment of salaries to staff of Nigerian universities through the IPPIS. The Red Chamber resolved to hold interaction sessions with the ASUU National President, Chairman, Committee of Vice Chancellors, Head of Service, and others to unravel the allegation and possibly prosecute offenders. The Red Chamber is still working and may continue working on the matter until donkey years – abracadabra. In the same month of July 2023, the lower chamber, the House of Representatives, set up an Ad-hoc Committee to investigate the alleged mismanagement of the IPPIS in employment racketeering in ministries, departments, and agencies and even summoned the Accountant-General of the Federation and other officials. Like the Red Chamber, the investigation is still ongoing, if not an ending – a bottomless pit. Nigerians are still waiting to hear the outcome.
While it is regrettable that IPPIS is messing up with workers’ salary payments, the damage inflicted on the university system is exterminating. IPPIS operators, with the nodding of the government, forcefully imposed IPPIS payment of salaries to academic staff of the universities in 2020. Earlier, the non-academic workers were cajoled into agreeing to enroll through biometric capturing. After that, the academics were forcefully enrolled through unauthorized retrieval of their biometric data from their various bank accounts that completed the IPPIS requirements to pay the university workers.
Implementing the IPPIS policy on federal universities in Nigeria has led to the disengagement of contract staff and denied recruitment of the needed workforce, violating the university’s autonomy. The university system is not only about the self-sufficiency of human resources but also about the cross-fertilization of academics from one university to another to maintain the universal nature of academic programs. That is why you hear of “sabbatical, visiting professor/scholar, external examiner, professor emeritus, external assessors, etc.” These are experts engaged on a part-time basis, which IPPIS does not recognize. After IPPIS’s imposition as a salary payment platform, it has stopped universities from recruiting their best students as replacements of retired academics or experts to handle new programs or disciplines, and it is just gradually killing the system. With the implementation of IPPIS, the universities are being treated like government ministries and agencies. For the university to function as a citadel of learning at par with other universities globally, it needs autonomy to act as a government within a government.
Before expounding on this legal angle, we must accept that today, the university system is pregnant with monstrous explosives capable of consuming our society. A situation where the highest-paid worker, a professor, is living from hand to mouth, thereby incapable of meeting his family’s basic needs due to poor pay, is grossly undesirable. This situation portends calamitous danger for the nation. How can society expect poverty-ridden, hungry, and malcontent teachers to teach, supervise, and research well? No thanks to the government’s footdragging in reviewing university workers’ salaries, which is aggravated by IPPIS salary mutilation and over deduction. What is the illegality of IPPIS in the university system? To be continued next week.

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