Ahmed Idris, Accountant General of the Federation
Ahmed Idris, Accountant General of the Federation

One Scheme Too Troubling: How IPPIS Soon Became a War, By Ezekiel Kayode

NEWS DIGEST – Between ASUU and the federal government are fourteen strikes since 1999. All of which have revolved around university autonomy, university funding and fair wages.

Fourteen times, the federal government has played hard ball, and ASUU, the unrelenting cruiserweight, in what has cumulated to three years and five months of academic inaction.

ASUU recent battle royal with the federal government is steamed out of a “scam” the government calls the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System —a system the union also say bears “monumental flaws.”

“It creates more problems that it resolves to buttress,” said ASUU president Biodun Ogunyemi, when interviewed by the Premium Times in 2019.

It is indeed these monumental flaws that irked the union and nudged it to take a patriotic action—according to ASUU— against its deployment in federal universities when it was revisited.

ASUU had been at loggerheads with the present government over IPPIS since 2019. But the battle line was first drawn five years ago. And the birth of what ASUU called a threat to national security, was some years further back.

In the years prior to 2007, the federal government raised questions about the true size of its workforce and alarmed that several persons had warmed their names into multiple government parastatals. These “ghost workers”, dead or alive, were denying the government of several billions of naira.

To correct these ills, the government, in 2007, raced to pilot what it called the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System in six ministries and in 11 other ministries, by the end of 2009. The government anticipated all 585 government MDAs to enrol into the system by the end of 2014.

By February 2020, the government had identified 70,000 ghost workers through the IPPIS scheme, according to Hajiya Ahmed, Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning.

But ASUU feared that IPPIS will not only “localise the operations and perspectives” of Nigerian universities, but will also fail to accommodate the peculiarities of academics if implemented back in 2014. It was for this reason that the union duly rejected the system with “informed arguments.”

Then came the years of truce —62 months of which there were 5 Christmas and Eid al Fitr, shots of insurgency and unending battle with Boko Haram, and economic recession in 2016— before the battle of interest resurrected again in 2019.

It started in June, when the federal government revisited its intention to capture federal staffs on IPPIS. President Muhammadu Buhari would later order the stoppage of salaries of staffs who refuse to be captured by the end of October.

At that point, ASUU realised a war was in sight and receded to its corners to effect defence protocols.

One of the early responses was to convince the government to consider the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS), an alternative the union had designed at a cost of #2 million.

“We have proposed to government to give us opportunity to present our alternative to IPPIS but they have not responded,” Prof Biodun Ogunyemi told THISDAY in November 2019.

When the ASUU conceived that the government stood not to be persuaded on any alternative, it resorted to take cover in the federal government’s failed promises.

A week after the union commenced the indefinite strike, Prof Biodun Ogunyemi said: “We have outlined issues that are outstanding from our 2019 agreement, including the revitalization of universities….”

Even as ASUU and the federal government continue to move their pieces across the chess board, we cannot afford to shy away from one pertinent truth.

The truth: The government had expected to rattle ASUU’s resolve in threatening to withhold their salaries. So, it chose force over persuasion. But the union’s resolve against IPPIS thickened, instead of enrolling in the system for the fear of withheld salaries. And that was the beginning of war.

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