It is no longer news that the government has insisted that the academic staff in Nigerian universities should enroll on its Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information Service (IPPIS) for the purpose of salary payments, and it is also no longer news that ASUU, one of the academic staff unions in the universities has declared total, comprehensive and indefinite strike in protest against this directive from the government.
As usual, many people were not bothered about ASUU declaring a strike as this has been its trademark over the years. Rather people are perturbed on the reason for this strike.
ASUU in most of its explanations has argued that IPPIS will erode university autonomy if its members are forced to join the platform and when this argument fell flat on its face, ASUU came up with a long list of purported peculiarities of the academics that IPPIS could not take care of.
Government responded that ASUU present those peculiarities which will be factored into the IPPIS operations. It was at this point that ASUU remembered the 2009 agreement, 2013 MOU, and which according to them, government has not implemented and ASUU has used all these to strengthen its fight against IPPIS.
ASUU claims that IPPIS is a mere distraction from the agreements that government is yet to honour. But we all know that IPPIS is the bone of contention; ASUU has merely resurrected earlier disputes to justify its strike over IPPIS.
It will be an understatement to say that our universities are underfunded, what with the dilapidated buildings, empty laboratories, unhygienic accommodation condition, poor library holdings and a host of other sorry details. All this makes it impossible for our universities to compare favourably with others in other parts of the world.
But this issue of underfunding is not peculiar to the universities as virtually all aspects of the nation have been groaning under improper funding for years. It will therefore need a holistic approach to put the nation on good footing. There is a need to advocate for the total overhauling of the method of financial allocation to all sectors of the economy.
ASUU, which somebody once described as the brain box of the country, should be at the forefront in advocating for the equitable funding of the entire infrastructure of the country within the available resources. And government too should check waste by looking at how to cut down expenses on political appointees at this material time in order to save money for infrastructural development across the nation.
Now back to the 2009 agreement. ASUU has tenaciously held on to this failed agreement in an attempt to justify its incessant strikes. By now, there must be up to six or more strikes that ASUU has embarked on in the last seven years or so in its efforts to make government fulfill this agreement.
Each time the union had suspended the strike after government had partially paid some amounts to the academics in earned academic allowance (EAA) without doing anything about other parts of the agreement that deal with infrastructural development.
In the next strike, ASUU will claim government’s insincerity as the reason for not releasing money for infrastructural development and then insert earned academic allowance as part of its demands and government will release funds again for EAA.
ASUU will suspend its strike once more while the major item on the strike notice was not attended to. With this scenario, ASUU knows that the 2009 agreement is defective but holds on to it as a way of getting the EAA paid.
A patriotic union would have discovered the lapses in such an agreement and thereafter demand for a review in order to move the university forward. Not ASUU.
The union ought to have compared the economic status of the country in 2009 when petrol sold for about $150 a barrel and now when it sells for less than $30 a barrel if it wants to be realistic about the insistence on 2009 agreement which in legal terms by now should be statute barred. But for ASUU, government is a continuum, no matter the error of the past.
One area that ASUU has showed itself to be irresponsible lies in its adamant refusal to let its members enroll for IPPIS which government and the generality of the people have taken to represent a good platform for detecting ghost workers on the payroll of MDAS and which, if what government has said is anything to go by, has helped to save millions of naira for the government.
In saying no to this, ASUU seems to be giving a tacit support to corruption. From what has been gathered, many university administrators pad up their payrolls with ghost workers at the expense of government. In many of the meetings that were held between ASUU and government, it is known that the latter made a lot of concessions to the union on this matter of IPPIS.
For instance, government agreed to integrate the yet to be developed ASUU’s UTAS with the IPPIS whenever it is ready, that all the peculiarities of the university set up will be incorporated into the IPPIS but that while waiting for UTAS to be ready, ASUU members should enrol in IPPIS. Rather than take government on its word, ASUU called an indefinite strike to show its disagreement with government over IPPIS.
The government should see this strike as a declaration of war by ASUU. Going by ASUU’s brinkmanship, no amount of dialogue can make it change its position on this strike that it has declared.
As I see it, the imbroglio cannot be settled by sack or lay-off but laying out rules of engagement that all parties, government and ASUU must abide by. Government should desist forthwith from signing unimplementable agreements with unions as the 2009 agreement has shown the implications of unworkable agreements.
ASUU’s lack of respect for constituted authority cannot be divorced from its experience with the military which at a time held sway in Nigeria. Because the military lacks social discipline, ASUU also imbibes such an attitude and this is to the extent it no longer cares if the universities were shut for months or years.
It is the carry-over of that season of anomie that we are seeing in a democratic system where the terms of engagement should be based on consultation, dialogue and lobbying to settle differences. Again, ASUU sees itself as the most educated group in the country, so much so that no suggestion or criticism, no matter how reasonable can make it change whatever decision it takes on any issue.
There is no doubt that IPPIS platform has some problems and I think this is where ASUU as an academic union ought to have come in to intervene positively to show its virility and concerns for the development of the country.
It ought to have come in to help perfect the platform so it (the platform) can become useful as government struggles to nip the cankerworm of corruption in our universities in the bud. On the contrary, ASUU would rather wait for the act to be perpetrated following which visitation panels will be constituted, and given mandates to unravel how such corruption took place.
One would have thought that ASUU will be more concerned with timely and accurate payment of its members’ salaries and allowances on a platform which will be devoid of any forms of discrepancies. ASUU can even go further to make sure that such a platform is introduced in states and local governments in the country to help in the fight against corruption.
Finally, government should not allow this intransigence and arrogance of ASUU to go unchecked. ASUU has claimed that its members are not government employees. This, even when their salaries are paid every month from consolidated account of the federation. The danger here is that once this kind of statement is allowed to go uncontradicted, even Association of Clerical Officers in the universities can come forward in future to make similar claims. Our universities indeed are in need of discipline.