By Philip Adetiloye
What Nigeria needs to fight the problem of ghost workers and inflated salary payments in public service is transparency. Transparency cannot be achieved in any country that preaches transparency in a qualitative sense as it is done in Nigeria. Transparency is achieved through quantitative documentation in all progressive economies of the world. Nigerian Universities have always adopted the principle of quantitative transparency in staff recruitment and payroll of academic and non-academic staff since the inception of University education in Nigeria by publishing the University Handbook or Prospectus every year. The University Handbook contains the names and qualifications of every academic and non-academic staff in the Offices of the Vice-Chancellor, the Registrar, the Bursar, the Librarian, the Health Service, Colleges, Faculties, Departments and Directorates. The University Handbook also contains the courses that are offered in all Colleges and Faculty Departments. How then can a University insert names of ghost workers in any of the offices or departments in a University Yearbook that the staff in such University departments will not know? It is therefore, gross dishonesty for anyone to say that the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is resisting the integration of Universities in the federal government Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) because Universities have ghost workers on their payroll that IPPIS will stop their salary payments. Those canvassing for the inclusion of Universities in IPPIS need to give a better reason other than the existence of ghost workers in our Universities; otherwise the Federal government is being misled by those who insist on forcing IPPIS on Universities.
What any Ministry or agency of the Federal government that is mandated to hunt for ghost workers need to do is to collect the Annual Yearbook or Prospectus from the Registrars and the monthly payroll from the Bursars of the Universities and compare the names in the two documents. Such exercise will not take the numerous staff in the appropriate Federal Government Ministry or agency more than one month to cross check for differences. Failure of the relevant government Ministry or agency to do that will amount to ineptitude. The expected few differences arising from deaths, voluntary and mandatory retirements and new appointments that usually occur during each academic year after the printing of the Yearbook can be questioned and the Vice-Chancellors and Bursars can provide documentation for such disparity. Every federal Universityy in Nigeria prints a new Prospectus every academic year because of the minor variations in staff list from year to year and the need to incorporate modifications in some existing degree courses to the Curricula.
Federal Ministries and agencies of government in Nigeria must imbibe the culture of transparency that is already entrenched in the Nigerian University system in order to curb corruption rather than enforcing IPPIS on our Universities. The unfortunate situation is that various Federal governments in Nigeria had been creating different agencies to curb corruption based on the advice they get from their cronies, yet corruption has always been perpetrated in Federal Ministries and agencies in Nigeria through one form of abuse or the other.
If the Federal Ministries and agencies had sincerely imbibed the practice of transparency’; fraudulent practices in payment of salaries to ghost workers and in the awards and execution of government contracts will be easily detected and eliminated in government departments. The 7000 ghost workers claimed to have been detected through IPPIS in Federal Ministries by the advocates of IPPIS would not have been possible in a society that imbibes the culture of quantitative transparency.
In addition, government Ministries and agencies where awarded contracts are not completed or not executed at all will not experience such corrupt practices if they publish annual Yearbooks that list projects and the attached budgets for every Ministry and agency of government such that contract for the same project will not be awarded over and over again without being executed or not completed.
The Nigerian government must focus on improving the inadequate facilities in our Universities to create conducive learning environment and pay reasonable wages to academic and non-academic staff if government is truly committed to provision of quality education in our Universities. For instance, I have been engaged as a lecturer in the Nigeria Federal University system for forty years since I obtained my PhD in 1980. Yet my monthly gross salary is five hundred and three thousand naira (N503,000) which is equivalent to One thousand, three hundred and twenty four US dollars ($1,324) at the exchange rate of one dollar to 380 naira. My net pay is four hundred and thirty seven thousand naira (N437,000) which is equivalent to One thousand, one hundred and fifty US dollars ($1,150) per month. This is far less than the minimum wage of 1,500 to 2,000 US dollars paid in many developed countries of the world. What the Nigerian government is saying with the slave wages being paid is that it will be better for holders of Bachelors, Masters and PhD degrees as well as University Professors in Nigeria to go abroad and work in better managed economies than serve our country. The poor wages arising from poor prioritization of workers’ salaries is the reason why thousands of our graduates, professional experts and intellectuals migrate daily to better managed economies all over the world. The Federal government and our political leaders should be ashamed of the poor wages being paid to Nigerian workers in general and our University lecturers in particular given that a full Professor earns between 8,000 and 12,000 US dollars per month in well managed economies around the world. The monthly salary of a Professor in Universities abroad is almost the same salary that a Professor that has lectured for more than thirty years earns in one year in Nigerian Universities.
The main concern of ASUU in the ongoing disagreement with the federal government is that IPPIS could hinder periodic recruitments and promotions and therefore, the smooth running of our Universities. If the federal government insists on integrating Universities on the IPPIS; the Vice Chancellors, Bursars and Registrars of the federal Universities can provide all the data needed for such integration without the involvement of ASUU. The deployment of the IPPIS architecture for University payroll can only be successfully implemented if the IPPIS has the flexibility that meets the peculiarities of our Universities. The payroll staff in the Bursary department of every federal University should have access to the IPPIS portal to upload and update information on staff appointments, promotions, and retirements without the undue delays and bureaucracy that characterize government Ministries and agencies in Nigeria, where salaries might not be paid until several days after the end of the month without any explanation or apology to Nigerian workers. The IPPIS portal subroutine should also accommodate short time appointments of adjunct and visiting lecturers due to the payroll variations already highlighted. In addition, the University payroll staffs are in the best position to ensure that salaries of staff are not underpaid or overpaid and that monthly deductions on health insurance, pension savings, union dues, cooperative contributions which vary from staff to staff are correctly deducted. Access of payroll staff of Universities to the IPPIS portal will also make it possible for them to print out the payment slip for every staff employed in the University at the end of every month. These features are obviously lacking in the IPPIS profile hence, its rejection as a payroll system for the Universities by ASUU. The proposal and development of an alternative platform of University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) which does not violate the Universities Miscellaneous Provision Acts and accommodate the peculiarities of the management of the University Systems by ASUU should be embraced and if possible integrated to improve the IPPIS platform as a way out of this quagmire. An over-centralized single payroll system in one federal office in Abuja for all public servants in the federal government service will fail woefully. Such IPPIS without an in-built network can also be abused since those who will operate it are still human beings. The IPPIS cannot be a one-stop solution to any problem because it is software that has no inbuilt intelligence of its own for detecting fraud. It is what you feed-in that it will bring out. So the IPPIS cannot replace the monitoring and evaluation functions of the University and Government audit departments.
If government cannot entrust the affairs of the University to the Vice Chancellors and members of the University Governing Councils appointed by the federal government and the Principal Officers appointed by the University Governing Councils, that presupposes that these highly placed Nigerians lack the competence and integrity to manage the payroll of Universities. Such opinion by government and government officials insults the sensibility of all well-meaning Nigerians. The Federal Ministry of Education and the National Universities Commission also regulate students to staff ratio and other requirements for the smooth running of our Universities. So one cannot understand why the federal government will allow the issue of IPPIS to derail the smooth running of our Universities.
Nigerians are tired of any government that spends years fighting corruption while their standard of living keeps declining day in day out due to poor wages, currency devaluations, high rates of inflation and poor prioritization of workers welfare. Nigerians were confronted with the same rhetoric of fighting corruption and building a strong economy by Babangida and Abacha governments for thirteen years during which Nigerian workers including University lecturers and Professors were paid slave wages that subjected us to severe poverty and dehumanization. The rest is now history.
It is only in a country like Nigeria where education, science and technology rank least in the priority of government that University lecturers can always be humiliated with poor wages and insulted by political opportunists. A country where the opinions of their intellectuals fall on deaf ears of government and their officials will find it difficult to progress and develop. In well managed economies; Universities are catalysts for human capital development, good governance, and technological innovations that accelerate industrialization, jobs and wealth creation, and national development.
Government and government agencies should not be seen as destroying the already low morale of students, their parents, their lecturers and professors and what is left of the battered tertiary education in Nigeria. Nigeria has too many problems already that government cannot afford to complicate matters further by making tertiary institution lecturers to go on strike.
The use of hunger to subdue lecturers by withholding salaries for months simply because ASUU is not satisfied with our emoluments and the conditions of our Universities is subhuman and therefore, uncivilized. This is more saddening, given the fact that government has consistently failed to honour and implement the agreements signed with ASUU at different times. The failure of government to listen to the concerns of ASUU about the inadequacies of the government IPPIS as it is presently designed and the consistent failure of government to honour agreements entered with ASUU precipitated the present strike by ASUU.
ASUU will not detract from the present struggle, if government prefers to substitute democratic reasoning and values with military fiat in addressing the problems facing Nigerian Universities and lecturers. The federal government should not allow the issue of IPPIS to derail the smooth running of our Universities.
Government must also honour and fulfill all agreements entered with the Staff Unions of Nigerian Universities and should as a matter of utmost urgency pay the outstanding salaries and allowances of University lecturers more so that, normal day-to-day activities had been affected by the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus. Failure to do so by government will amount to insensitivity.
The existing method of salary payment through Government Integrated Financial Management Information System (GIFMIS) should be allowed to operate until the payroll staff of the bursary department in our Universities get the hard and soft wares to the adoption of UTAS or integrate into the IPPIS and upload their payroll data.
The global spread of COVID-19 virus has exposed the vulnerability of Nigeria’s monolithic economy that depends largely on crude oil export. The global crash of crude oil price emphasizes the need for government to re-double efforts at reducing areas of waste and to diversify our economy. If the federal government could stop food importation and the wastage of our hard currencies to promote domestic food production; government might as well stop the penchant for foreign contractors that drain billions of dollars from our economy in the process of building infrastructures. Sixty years after independence, Nigeria should have developed our human capital; train and equip our engineers to build our infrastructures. Our Universities and Polytechnics need to be further strengthened. The abundant experts in our Universities must be actively involved by federal and state governments in various aspects of our national development as it is done in all developed countries of the world.
Professor Philip Omoniyi Adetiloye is of the Department of Plant Physiology and Crop Production, Federal University of Agriculture; Abeokuta, Ogun State, Nigeria