There were indications on Tuesday that the Federal Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities’ resumed negotiation over the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System had again hit a brick wall.
The PUNCH on Tuesday gathered that the Federal Government had again rejected a model, the University Transparency and Accountability Solution, proposed by ASUU as an alternative to the IPPIS.
The Federal Ministry of Education’s Deputy Director of Press, Mr Ben Goong, in an interview with one of our correspondents, confirmed that the government had started negotiations with ASUU.
He said, “We have opened talks. Whether this matter will be laid to rest does not rest with one party. It does not rest with the ministry or the Federal Government alone. It is only when the two parties agree that the matter can be resolved.”
The Federal Government had last year directed its employees, including university lecturers, to register for the IPPIS, which is a centralised payment system introduced to check fraud.
But ASUU directed its members to shun the directive on the grounds that it negated the principle of university autonomy.
The government threatened not to pay January salaries of lecturers, who failed to register for the IPPIS, but it later backed down on the threat and paid all lecturers including those who failed to register for the IPPIS.
As an alternative to the IPPIS, ASUU had developed the UTAS, which it presented to the Federal Government last year.
But a top official in the office of the Accountant General of the Federation, confided in one of our correspondents that accepting the proposal put forward by ASUU would erode the gains so far made under the IPPIS initiative.
He said that it was too late for the government to start considering ASUU’s proposal because the union’s concerns had already been addressed by the IPPIS.
The official said just like the government did for personnel of the military and other paramilitary agencies, the IPPIS was good enough to accommodate all genuine concerns and peculiarities in universities.
He added that between 2017 and 2019, about N361bn was saved from government payroll through the IPPIS implementation.
He said, “We have captured over 71 per cent and the remaining 29 per cent is not only ASUU members that make up that balance.
“There are some of these university workers that are on study leave outside the country and some of them are on leave of absence.
“The IPPIS is not targeted at ASUU, between 2017 and 2019, the government has saved over N361bn. So any reasonable government will not throw such things into the dustbin.
When asked why the salaries of ASUU members not on the IPPIS were paid in January, the official said that approval for salary stoppage was being awaited from the Minister of Finance, Mrs Zainab Ahmed.
Talks with ASUU’ll succeed if union cooperates, says FG
The Ministry of Education’s Deputy Director of Press, Goong, on his part, explained the government’s position.
He said, “The government is saying that we want to pay our lecturers and university workers directly; that is the summary of the IPPIS. Then, ASUU which is an employee of the government is saying, No, pass our salaries through the university managements. So, whatever the negotiations between the government and ASUU are, the bottom line is that this is an evolutionary stage in the payment system.”
The ASUU National President, Prof Biodun Ogunyemi, could not be reached for comment as calls put across were not replied to.
Ogunyemi had, however, said last week that ASUU could not rule out a strike action as five areas in the 2019 Memorandum of Action which the Federal Government signed with the union had not been implemented.
He had noted that while the IPPIS issue had not also been addressed, the non-implementation of the 2019 MoA was a fundamental matter, and IPPIS was “just a distraction.”
But the former chairman of ASUU, UI, Prof. Deji Omole, while reacting, said the success of the meeting being facilitated by the Federal Government between the union and the federal Ministry of Education did not depend on ASUU.
Describing the Federal Government as the aggressor in the contract, Omole said, “It is government that has always failed. We have our record. We have never reneged on any agreement reached with the Federal Government.
The newly elected Chairman of ASUU in the university, Prof. Ayo Akinwole, while speaking on the issue shortly after being elected unopposed by the congress on Tuesday, said, “Our union’s position remains unchanged. We have offered a credible alternative to government and it is left to it to harmonise it with the IPPIS platform. We are not cowards and cannot allow this government to destroy public education.