By Johnson Eze
It is no longer news that the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has been on the offensive against the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation, (OAGF) over the introduction of the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS) – which is a computer-based automatic payment platform that enables Federal Government to determine the exact number of staff in its payroll at every given time for prompt disbursement of wages.
This is obvious as the academic union has seized every opportunity to either launch attack on OAGF or criticize the IPPIS. Of course, the false and malicious publication made by the Bauchi zone coordinator of ASUU against the AGF is still fresh in our memory. Newspapers and online platforms have also been featuring series of criticisms ASUU and its cohorts have been spearheading just as it boldly enlisted discontinuation of IPPIS as its major demand to end the incessant strike the body has always embarked upon on the premise that IPPIS has put Nigerian Universities in bad shape.
However, the animosity attained an ugly dimension recently, necessitating that ASUU is cautioned as to its immediate past President, Prof Biodun Ogunyemi, in a newspaper publication accused the OAGF of collecting bribe to pay salary through the platform. Being that the matter lacked all elements of truth, the Professor did not in anyway state the name of the person who collected the bribe, the amount involved, the date, place or time the bribe was given or even the person that actually gave it, this is considered insipid and false.
Consequently, most development watchers, civil society groups and media enthusiasts all waved off the allegation describing it as false and fabricated instrument of blackmail as according to some of them ‘he who alleges must prove’. To a civil society activist, Comrade Femi Oshinkoya the Executive Director of ‘Save Our Economy Initiative,(SOEI), “it is clear that ASUU has resorted to desperate measures to discredit the system so as to achieve its aim of dismantling IPPIS or at most exiting from it”.
Also reacting to ASUU false allegation, a civil rights activist, Tony Okpara said “just as it is easy to separate the wheat from the chaff, it doesn’t require much sense to decipher the truth here. People usually say there is no smoke without fire. I agree but in this case, the smoke is a false accusation of bribe taking and the fire generating the smoke is the selfish and unbridled appetite of ASUU to exit from IPPIS. I think they need to be reprimanded to learn to make demands with decorum and to desist from distracting the OAGF”. “They need to be careful the way they act. Are these the lecturers we entrust our children to teach?” He queried.
Come to think of it, is there anything wrong with IPPIS that ASUU has sworn to high heaven to remain antagonistic of it? The answer is emphatic no! Firstly, ASUU is not the only group of civil servants involved in the platform. In fact it is even among the last set of employees that the Federal Government decided to enlist in it. And as civil servant, what is good for the goose is good for the gander. Secondly, it is an age-long axiom that ‘he who pays the piper dictates the tune’. Federal Government in this instance is the employer and ASUU is the employee, it will be out of place and sheer arrogance for an employee to dictate for the employer the terms and process for paying salaries. Such situation is an incentive to run down organizations and must not be allowed.
One had expected that ASUU members should have been the developers or drivers of emerging technology like IPPIS, as all over the world, Universities are leaders of research and development that solve societal problems. But unfortunately, in Nigeria the reverse appears to be the case. The IPPIS that Bureau of Public Service Reforms (BPSR) has sourced to address corruption in salary payment, instead of being enabler of efficient resource management have been turned to item of perennial contention by ASUU.
Going down memory lane, one could recall that it was like a dream come true for Federal Government when it conceptualized IPPIS as it represented a formidable technical capacity to determine the exact number of personnel in Government payroll to enable proper budgeting and planning. Under the regime, Government has been able to successfully curb corruption in payment of staff salaries; eliminate ghost workers in Civil Service and enhance transparency, accountability and efficiency in public resource management of Ministries, Departments and Agencies,( MDAs ).
Consequently, there was heightened optimism for the present administration when the OAGF led by Mr Ahmed Idris FCNA in his wisdom in 2016 strengthened the IPPIS, automated the payroll and human resource database for the ICT driven project and expanded its coverage to all MDAs. The results have been uncountable successes and substantive deliverables as the government was able to save N60 billion in 2017, N103 billion in 2018; N80 billion in 2019 and almost the same in 2020. These are monies that ordinarily would have been frittered away paying ghost workers.
Expectedly, it is considered grotesque and indeed worrisome that ASUU now constitutes a cog in the wheel of progress of IPPIS and works to pull back the hand of the clock by agitating to be excluded from the technologically driven payment platform. Hence they want the country to return to the dark years of the locust when the economy was suffering from endless financial haemorrhage.
Sadly, what the anti-IPPIS campaign lecturers are projecting as their grouses are that their salaries are suffering from over deductions and in some cases excess remittances that end up depleting their salaries beyond measure. But the question is: Are there any of those third-party deductions and remittances that are unnecessary? Or do they wish to abdicate their financial liabilities? Where wrong deductions are made, it is expected that staff involved should simply write or consult the operators of IPPIS for remedy.
If it’s the reason for some minor deduction errors, it is instructive to note that the Automatic Teller Machine, ATM used in the banking business in spite of being introduced in the country for over 20 years, is still experiencing failed transactions where customers sometimes lose money. The same goes for the Global System of Mobile communication, GSM. But all these have not stopped us from using ATMs and GSM. What happens is that whenever issues arise customers take their complaints to the appropriate customer care unit.
The situation where ASUU is agitating to exit from the payment platform and establish its own for the flimsy reason that legitimate deductions were made on their members’ account is, to say the least, tantamount to a fraught attempt to throw away the baby with the bathwater. Like the ATM and GSM examples above, what ASUU should do is simply adapt to peaceful engagement with the IPPIS administrators and resolve whatever anomaly it detects from the system while maintaining fidelity with the process. By so doing both operator of the platform and the enrollee will grow in experience and as time goes on, the platform will stabilize.
Looking at first thing first, the fact that the IPPIS is domiciled in the OAGF is a perfect arrangement as the AGF is the head of the Federal Government accounting and Treasury services, responsible for general supervision and control of the accounts of all ministries and departments within the federation, and prepares the annual financial statements of account of the nation as may be required. Any other consideration of decentralizing it or allowing any group to operate their payment platform will jeopardize the whole essence of the project
Interestingly, the performance credentials of the Accountant General of the Federation have been that of an officer articulate, dedicated, focused, and proficient in his job. Under his watch, the nation’s public finance management domain has witnessed a quantum leap. Among the many areas he has left his mark is Treasury Single Account (TSA) which has resulted in improved revenue collection for the Federal Government, the International Public Sector Accounting Standard (IPSAS) which saw Nigeria transiting from cash basis reporting to accrual basis; the Open Treasury Portal that has taken transparency and accountability in government expenditure to a whole new level among so many others.
With this pedigree of achievements, there is no doubt that successful grooming and stabilization of the IPPIS into a payment platform every worker, ASUU inclusive, will be proud of, is certain. What is uppermost is the workers should exercise patience in resolving whatever complaints they have by peacefully engaging with the platform administrators. Rome was not built in a day but the building of Rome actually started in a day. IPPIS has fully started. Whatever challenge it has will surely be resolved for the benefit of both the Federal Government and its workers – a win-win situation so to say