By Jurbe Molwus
The ravaging COVID-19 pandemic has no doubt affected Nigeria and the whole world in many facets.
I sincerely hope that we are staying safe and abiding by the established guidelines in our various locations in order for it to be brought under control soon. Before COVID – 19, we had a life and are going to continue if we survive it.
Last month, I wrote about the lingering ASUU strike generally and later in a separate article raised some questions about the presidential directives that members of ASUU be paid their February and March withheld salaries.
This time around, I am going to focus on the operators/operations of IPPIS as it affects the University system, and the ghost workers syndrome.
The argument of those promoting IPPIS as a central payment platform for all federal government employees is that it will fight corruption by eliminating ghost workers and curbing all salary related corrupt practices.
That is why they insisted on capturing workers in the various ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) directly (in person) so that ghost workers would not be included on the payroll by corrupt chief executives and their cronies.
It will now be important for members of the public and all stakeholders who hold the opinion that ASUU is supporting corruption by refusing to be enrolled on IPPIS to restore their senses and ponder along.
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How comes the operators have been able to deploy IPPIS to pay Federal Universities Lecturers who have refused to enrol on the IPPIS platform their withheld salaries for February and March without capturing them physically?
Unless if they have illegally obtained the Lecturers’ BVNs from the CBN (which will be another legal matter altogether), it means that the IPPIS platform is not capable of checking corruption as claimed by its promoters.
It further means that the operators of IPPIS have all along been conniving with corrupt chief executives to add fictitious names on the payment platform and defraud the national treasury since it could be used to pay persons whose biometrics and other relevant credentials have not been legally captured.
It also means, that going round all federal universities allegedly to capture staff on the IPPIS platform by officials of the office of accountant general of the federation and the IPPIS consultants was just a deliberate ploy to spend (make) money from the government treasury needlessly for very personal interest.
No wonder, they have vehemently insisted on deploying the platform even in the universities where it contravenes the University autonomy laws.
Let us patiently turn to some of the other burning issues associated with IPPIS in the succeeding paragraphs.
The inadequacies of IPPIS in addressing University peculiarities as highlighted by ASUU are daily being justified since February 2020 when IPPIS was first used to pay those Federal Universities’ employees who “willingly” submitted themselves some with the aim of fighting ASUU whose members they perceive, draw from “multiple sources” (another issue entirely).
Well, by now, it is strongly established among Federal Universities’ workers that the issues associated with IPPIS, are so numerous and more dangerous to non ASUU members that even new peculiarities are being identified so far.
IPPIS has been used to pay salaries in various MDAs for some years now but the same and more avoidable problems are being faced each time it is implemented form one agency to another.
This is akin to an adult having teething problems since childhood without solution.
Now that the two months withheld salaries of ASUU members are being paid in a snail speed using IPPIS, one wonders what explanations the Accountant General of the federation would give for his failure to pay staff if some Universities their salaries almost one week after paying others. Perhaps, he will say the delay is due to “system failure” as usual.
Scientifically and rationally speaking, one reckons that the same issues should not be encountered more than once or twice in the application of any software that has been genuinely developed to solve certain problems such as addressing corruption in the management of payroll.
Otherwise, how can the Accountant General of the Federation explain the fact that IPPIS captured some people and paid them in February but they are omitted in the payment of March salaries?
Ideally, the software development process is supposed to have eliminated most of the avoidable issues before application.
Which is why ASUU has asked for sufficient time for its proposed alternative to IPPIS, the University Transparency Accountability Solution (UTAS) to be ready for application.
This stage would have been long passed, if government had accepted ASUU’s suggestion that a technical team comprising IPPIS operators and ASUU be raised to look into the concerns associated with the Universities’ autonomy law and peculiarities, more than 5years ago.
Based on the issues being reported from its application in the University system since February 2020, IPPIS is nothing but a simple spread sheet that does not have the dexterous capacity to compute senate format results talk less of addressing complex conditional commands associated with the payment of university workers’ salaries and allowances.
One of such vexing issues is the fact the IPPIS makes it mandatory for all workers to make national housing funds contributions.
Come to think of it, some colleagues have been able to build their personal houses mostly, using facilities from their cooperatives most of which are still being serviced.
So, tell me why you would force someone to whom housing is no longer an issue to save for housing without their consent?
Suffice it to state more clearly that, most of those who took loans from the cooperatives to complete their houses are still servicing such loans but IPPIS will NOT make and remit such deductions.
Another issue is the fact that IPPIS applies the same percentage of peculiar allowances to all staff regardless of the number of students one teaches.
How can IPPIS be designed to pay someone who taught 20 students 7% of their basic salaries and still pay someone who taught over 500 or thousands of students the same 7% as peculiar allowances?
This is outrightly against the ASUU/FGN 2009 agreement. Why would they not just employ more staff where and when necessary?
More worrisome is the fact that hardly is any Federal University employee aware of his/her legitimate earning today because they get alerts of different amounts every month: no thanks to IPPIS, its promoters and operators.
That is to say, the worst form of corruption perpetrated by IPPIS is the lack of issuance of payslips since its implementation, indicating, there is something they are hiding.
They want to impoverish University workers by creating confusion and stifling all welfare arrangements from individual workers’ salaries.
In fact, one wonders why any sane and progressive minded person(s) would insist on using something that has evidentially failed and has elicited persistent outcry from those who suffer the consequences of its inadequacies.
Obviously, they do not care about the plights of the workers so long as they get the benefits that accrue to them from the use of IPPIS.
By now, they should be telling us how many ghost workers they have identified in the Federal Universities (using a University by University distribution table), and how much they have saved in the Universities through the application of IPPIS.
Or, is IPPIS being operated by ghost workers or robots who would not be able to respond? Which system really harbours the much talked about ghost workers?
IPPIS or Universities? The answer to this question can be found in the next paragraph.
Another eloquent source of concern is the fact that there are indicting reports from the office of the Auditor General of the Federation on the operations of IPPIS, ranging from lack of audit trail to lack of adequate security control measures thereby making it open to untraceable manipulations.
For instance, one of the reports revealed that 152 officers on IPPIS did not have personnel files in their MDAs, while N193m was paid to unidentified persons.
I wonder if those who think and say ASUU is supporting corruption by rejecting IPPIS are aware of these and the issues associated with the application of IPPIS in the University system.
Despite these damning reports, the operators of IPPIS have insisted on going ahead with it instead of addressing the audit queries.
The loud silence of the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF) over the queries and public outcry, leaves so much to be desired.
He should have by now, been able to provide satisfactory answers to the queries otherwise, he should resign honourably if integrity is anything to go by.
Of course, what do you expect when he has been rewarded with a reappointment (by a government of “integrity”) even after the first audit report that indicted his office?
He will certainly have more energy to go on with the AGENDA to emasculate the University system and silence ASUU forever, the consequences of which can better be imagined.
Unfortunately, what is the level of consciousness, awareness and stance of the greatest beneficiaries (parents/guardians and students) of ASUU’s struggles?
Moreover, I would like to draw attention to the response of the office of the AGF to ASUU’s query about the exemption of some federal government agencies from IPPIS.
The AGF in December, 2019 claimed that NDIC, FIRS, NNPC, CBN etc. are exempted because they are revenue generating agencies and do not draw from the consolidated federation account.
This claim is very fluid, ridiculous and untenable and one expects that all discerning minds would not accept it.
The fact that they are revenue generating agencies does not guarantee they will be free from: ghost workers, payroll manipulations and other salary related corrupt practices.
Therefore, if IPPIS is genuinely being deployed to fight corruption, then they should not be exempted unless if there is another justifiable reason.
Or, is the AGF saying that such infractions are allowed in those agencies simply because they generate revenue? Be that as it may, that is not the core of ASUU’s argument.
Hence, the point must be made unambiguously, that ASUU is not asking to be exempted from any application that is genuinely targeted at fighting corruption in the University system.
However, there are established laws and procedures for curbing corruption and sharp practices in the Universities.
Therefore, what ASUU is advocating is that the fight against corruption should be done in line with the Universities autonomy law rather than by imposing an application that is alien and grossly incapable of achieving the goal.
In the light of the forgoing, it is hereby recommended that those who operate and superintend over IPPIS should listen to the voice of reason, take the path of honour and humility to suspend its application in the University system pending amicable resolution of issues with ASUU.
They should also remember that, before them, some people occupied their offices, hence, they will not be there forever.
Moreover, for as many of them that passed through the University, they should be careful not to destroy or starve the “womb” that bore them.
If not for ASUU’s struggles, some of those fighting ASUU today using their various offices, would not have smelled University education in Nigeria talk less of acquiring it.
They should try to rethink because even in the midst of the COVID – 19 pandemic, the weapon of hunger deliberately deployed against ASUU members is not effective so far, as it has always not been.
Or could IPPIS be a means of centralising corruption rather than fighting it and must be implemented by all means by its beneficiaries?
We are aware of all the desperate attempts by the office of the AGF at assuring Federal Universities’ employees who have enrolled, that the numerous issues associated with IPPIS will be adequately addressed.
I dare to ask, did they not assure ASUU together with our “gullible” sister Unions, that the peculiar issues had been addressed even before they agreed to be captured?
So, where are the issues emanating from? Were they only painting an ugly object to look good for us to accept?
Finally, as far as ASUU’s stance on IPPIS is concerned, the following African proverb is apt: “no matter how beautiful and well-crafted a coffin might look, it will not make anyone wish for death”.
Jurbe Joseph Molwus (PhD) is of the Department of Building, University of Jos.