Abeni Aso-Oke

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

Abeni Aso-Oke

I am resuming this piece with a quote from Hajia Naja’atu Mohammed who addressed the students of great ABU Zaria recently. She said, “The easiest way to destroy a nation is to withdraw education.” I must add withdrawing or denying university education to the citizenry is tantamount to catastrophic and systematic annihilation of society. Conversely, revitalization of the university education is methodological treatment of societal ailments, just like the emphasis of university education in the song of Aminu Alan waka “idan ta gyaru, al’uma ta gyaru”. Education is not only a fundamental human right but a moral obligation to the leaders – democratically elected or autocratically anointed; otherwise, the consequences of ignorance would consume both the leaders and the led.
As mentioned previously in this column, the nation’s economic, political, and developmental vibrancy depends on the intellectual capacity of its citizens, particularly the leadership. The falling standard of the university system produces half bake or uncooked graduates. Engineers who do not know how to engineer, lawyers who are ignorant of the laws, accountants who neither understand checks nor balances, and medical practitioners whose services often send their patients to graves rather than healing. Thus, the university system is designed to provide manpower development capable of solving the developmental challenges of a nation. So, why should we all watch as IPPIS steadily exterminates our university system? And what is the illegality of using IPPIS for the salary payment of university workers?
First, on 30th May 2023, the President of the National Industrial Court, Justice Benedict Kanyip, in a judgment of a case FGN Vs. ASUU stated, “I declare that the claimants acted in error to impose IPPIS on the defendant union (ASUU). The issue of which payment platform is to be used in paying the salaries or wages of staff of the Universities is one that is within the discretion of the individual Councils of the Universities in line with the autonomy granted them by the Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Amendment) Act 2003”. The learned judge is not unaware of the university’s legal status on the autonomy in line with International Standard.
Second, the university has a legal power to make laws (Statutes) for direct Gazette without passing through the National or State Assembly, provided such rules or laws are separate are not in conflicts with constitutional provisions or extant Laws. The university has four organs: Council, Senate, Congregation, and Convocation, each having distinct powers and functions designed to complement each other and optimize teamwork. The University Council is the highest decision and policymaking body with a quasi-legislative role, including the ability to make laws (statutes). The Council is the employer of all categories of university employees. The power of the Council includes governing, managing, and regulating finances, accounts, investment, property, business, and all affairs whatsoever of the university. As stated in the 2007 Universities Act, 2003 and 2007, “The Governing Council of the university shall be free in the discharge of its functions and exercise of its responsibilities for the good management, growth, and development of the university.” The Act further states, “The Council of a university in the discharge of the functions shall ensure that disbursement of funds of the university complies with the approved budgetary ratio for personal cost, overhead cost, research and development, library development, and the balance in expenditure between academic vis-à-vis non-academic activities.” Again, the Act added, “The power of the Council shall be exercised in the Law and Statutes of each University and to those extent establishment circulars that are inconsistent with the Laws and Statutes of the University shall not apply to the Universities” This means that the Act has insulated universities from unnecessary bureaucracies and directives in the disbursement of funds such as staff salary payments and allowances. Insulation is necessary. Otherwise, one day, a government functionary will direct a university to award a degree to someone who has never seen the four walls of the university. Why should IPPS be imposed on the university as a platform for salary payment?
ASUU and other university workers are not averse to using innovative technology like IPPIS to pay their salaries as long as such technology enhances efficiency, timeliness, and responsiveness and can adequately meet the peculiarity of the university system. Today, Nigerians use Banks Aps for fund transfers, electronic payments, and disbursements with ease and relative satisfaction. So, why should people kick against the use of IPPIS? IPPIS is rigidly designed to be unresponsive and untransparent, making the teeming beneficiaries to daily groan over their salary mutilation. In addition to this faulty design, the operators of IPPIS, with the active connivance of unscrupulous and corrupt civil servants, arrogate themselves to the power of employers. They clandestinely pay ghost workers, short-pay the actual workers, and sometimes offer illegal employment to unqualified personnel. Universities cannot find a way to replace their retired professors or engage the services of adjunct lecturers. Today, one can serve as an external examiner, assessor of professorial cadre, a visiting professor, and the like to another university with delayed payment or sometimes without due compensation for the services because of IPPIS application.
Today, public universities are facing tough times, no thanks to IPPIS application in Nigerian universities in addition to gross FGN negligence to education. The Guardian Newspaper, one of the most respected dailies, detailedly reported the deplorable conditions of public universities in the paper’s edition of 5th October 2023. It stated, “Public universities may be in for tough times as lecturers continue to leave the system in droves for greener pastures abroad, thereby jeopardizing the future of Nigeria’s tertiary education. If not checked, the looming crisis would not only lead to an acute shortage of teaching staff but also affect the quality of teaching in the institutions. About 50 percent of lecturers have resigned from the various universities, while others who are yet to leave are also warming up. Factors fuelling the exodus, according to the investigation, include the desire for better working conditions, career fulfillment, insecurity, poor salaries, inadequate funding, and non-payment of outstanding salaries of university teachers, which accumulated during the period of strike by ASUU, as well as the harsh economy, among others. Recent data showed that as much as 80 percent of the remaining workers are preparing to leave if the current situation persists.” What is the way forward?
Fortunately, an education administrator and a professor of law, Prof. Tahir Mamman, is today at the helm of affairs in the Nigerian educational sector as its Minister. He is capable of righting all the wrongs perpetrated previously and charting a course to a glorious future for education:

  1. FGN should suspend the use of IPPIS in universities and adopt a homegrown solution, “University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS).” As a homegrown and hackproof payment system, UTAS was subjected to a series of tests by NITDA in the presence of different stakeholders with highly commendable results.
  2. Direct the immediate payment of the withheld salary arrears of the university workers to raise hope, build confidence, and arrest the ongoing brain drain in the sector.
  3. Engage ASUU and other unions for genuine settlement of all disputes and find a lasting solution to decadence in the university system.
    May the God Almighty guide Nigerian leaders to address the challenges of education for a better tomorrow, amen.
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