IPPIS saga: FG turning vice-chancellors to ‘errand boys’, says ASUU

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Tunde Ajaja and Peter Dada

The Academic Staff Union of Universities has said the current model being used by the Federal Government to run federal universities has turned vice-chancellors of the institutions to errand boys.

ASUU President, Prof Biodun Ogunyemi, noted that a situation whereby vice-chancellors were constrained to go to Abuja over issues pertaining to funding, recruitment and running of the institutions was a mockery of the peculiarity of universities and the autonomy they should enjoy.

Ogunyemi, in an interview with one of our correspondents on Friday night, explained that the Federal Government’s insistence that all its agencies and institutions must be on the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System was an attempt to return universities to the civil service. He stressed that the union was against the move.

President Muhammadu Buhari had during the presentation of the 2020 budget proposal to the joint session of the National Assembly in Abuja directed that any Federal Government worker not captured on the IPPIS platform by October 31 would no longer receive salary. He said it was part of government’s efforts to manage personnel costs in line with the fight against corruption.

The President said, “Accordingly, I have directed the stoppage of the salary of any Federal Government staff member not captured on the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System platform by the end of October 2019. All agencies must receive approvals before embarking on any fresh recruitment and any contraventions of these directives shall attract severe sanctions.”

While ASUU kicked against the directive, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, said on Thursday that no government agency must resist being enrolled on the IPPIS platform.

Speaking at the budget defence organised by the Senate Committee on Finance in Abuja, she described ASUU’s opposition as misplaced, noting that the staff working with the Accountant General of the Federation had been on the field trying to capture the last batch of Federal Government staff into the IPPIS.

But, in an interview with Sunday PUNCH on Friday, Ogunyemi said the government needed to allow the governing councils to manage the affairs of their universities instead of trying to run the universities like the civil service.

Speaking on the directive by the President that all agencies must receive approvals before embarking on any fresh recruitment, the union chief stated, “Universities are peculiar; the senate has the overall power over admission, examination, certification and so on, while the issue of discipline, financing, personnel and so on are handled by the governing council.

“The government has the resources to monitor what comes in and goes out of the university system (account) and there could also be a mechanism in place such that anytime there is recruitment and there is an addition to the salary, there would be an alert in Abuja.

“Why do you want vice-chancellors to queue at the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation to beg to get new staff? It is ridiculous. They have turned our vice-chancellors to errand boys. Now, Assistant Directors can summon a vice-chancellor by a telephone call to Abuja, and some of the people doing these things were undergraduates when these VCs became professors.

“We cannot allow that to continue; we are denigrating the system and suddenly we would find that the rest of the world has left us behind. It took a long time for us to detach universities from the civil service, in terms of employment and salaries. What IPPIS wants to do is to take us back to the civil service, to which universities do not belong.

“They should tell us any part of the world where universities are part of the civil service. We should allow our institutions to run according to their laws and that is our argument.”

On ASUU’s decision to reject the IPPIS, Ogunyemi said the law governing institutions had given the governing council power over personnel and finances, but that “government now use the council membership for political patronage”.

He said if government accused the union of trying to support corruption for opposing the IPPIS, government should show what it had done with the cases of corruption that the union raised and were documented with government’s visitation panels.

“If councils had been held accountable, we would not be talking of corruption in the universities, because by law, the governing councils are the employers of academics but because of government’s patronage.”

He added, “Another reason we are against it (IPPIS) is that ASUU has been engaging government since 1992 on what our universities should look like and make them globally competitive and we have been saying that to achieve all those goals, we must have a university that is fully empowered, creative and would position itself to provide solutions to problems of the country. That cannot happen where universities would have to be going to Abuja to table their issues.

“Though vice-chancellors will not tell you this; our experience has shown that each time they went to Abuja to ask for permission to recruit staff, you would be surprised that the people in those agencies would be making additional requests and that is how the staff list and the payroll that they said has been rising get bloated.”

When asked what the union would do since the Federal Government had insisted it would go ahead, Ogunyemi said they would review their strategy.

He added, “A few weeks ago, authorities of the Nigerian Law School visited the AGF and the AGF told them that they should be contributing to the federation account. Law School is a professional training institution that is not meant to generate funds, but that is the kind of thing we are seeing.

“Eventually, they might want universities that they are not funding to also be contributing something to federation account. If they could say that about law school, what stops them from saying it about universities? We are seeing a lot of signals that we need to nip in the bud. So, on your question, we will review the situation and take the appropriate decision. We are monitoring the development.”

…union asks EFCC to investigate IPPIS operation

Meanwhile, the Academic Staff Union of Universities, Akure Zone, has called on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to investigate the operation of the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System by the Ministries, Departments and Agencies of the Federal Government.

The Office of the Accountant General of the Federation recently issued a statement on the outcome of the interactions between ASUU and other unions on government’s intention to migrate ASUU members to the IPPIS, a plan the academic union rejected.

In an interview with journalists on Friday at the Federal University of Technology Akure, the Coordinator of ASUU, Akure Zone, Prof Olufayo Olu-Olu, described the OAGF’s statement as misleading, uncharitable and blackmail against the union, while urging the EFCC to investigate the system.

The ASUU coordinator, who alleged that the Buhari administration’s intention on the IPPIS policy was to commercialise education, vowed that the union would resist the move, declaring that the policy was not acceptable to the union.

He said, “To the general public, kindly disregard the blackmail and innuendoes, the ill-fated statement aimed at painting our membership as corrupt amongst other things.”

He said the OAGF that did not proffer “intellectual and constructive responses” to the observations of the union on the proposed policy rushed to the press to malign the union members.

He maintained that as a union of members with integrity, ASUU had resolved to educate the public on the true position of the policy.

He added, “It is reckless of the OAGF to accuse the union of promoting corruption by opposing IPPIS. Despite our cry of gross maladministration and mismanagement of funds by certain public office holders, the OAGF has not been heard to make any indictment.

“Our resolve as always is to stand against all enemies – foreign and domestic – of our ivory towers and ensure the illumination of our dear country by protecting the threatened future of our children and those coming after them.”

“The Autonomy Act is sacrosanct and cannot be replaced by a policy, more so that we have argued and pointed out severally that universities are not MDAs and this fact is enshrined in the Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2003 Section 2A as amended.”

The Punch

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