Still on IPPIS palaver

WHEN, last week, at a press briefing to mark the 36th convocation of the University of Ilorin, the Vice Chancellor, Professor Sulyman Age Abdulkareem, revealed that he was being paid the salary of a university graduate assistant due to persistent glitches in the implementation of the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information (IPPIS), it was a reminder that the controversy sparked by the new payment platform was yet to be resolved.

Last year, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), at the time under the leadership of Professor of Education, Biodun Ogunyemi, had embarked on a strike that went on for nine long months, in part to force the government to reconsider its stance on the implementation of the new digital payment plan. While the Federal Government, through the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation (OAGF), insisted that IPPIS was necessary in order to make the payment of university staff salaries more efficient and transparent, ASUU argued that IPPIS was nothing of the sort, but was on the contrary a symbol of the Federal Government’s years-long systematic violation of university autonomy, even as it was going to make corruption more pronounced in the running of the business of recruiting and managing staff of the universities.

Instead of IPPIS, the union of Nigerian academics created and offered an alternative University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS). The Unilorin VC’s complaint is typical of the numerous glitches that have accompanied the Federal Government’s error-ridden rollout of the IPPIS. For instance, in several universities, many lecturers are being owed salary arrears of between 14 and 16 months, undercutting the assurance that IPPIS would make the payment of salaries and other emoluments efficient and transparent. Not only that, university workers are finding out that being paid this month offers no guarantee that they will be paid the following month.

The new ASUU President, Professor Emmanuel Osodeke, who succeeded Ogunyemi back in May 2021, has rightly condemned the staggered manner in which salaries are being paid and the ensuing uncertainty: “These are the issues that are still outstanding; some being paid what is referred to as amputated salary, which means you don’t know what you will be paid next month…In June, a number of lecturers in Nigerian universities received different salaries. Some were paid double salaries; some were alleged to have been paid double salaries when only one month was paid.” Worse still, there are unconfirmed allegations that some officials of the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation have been engaging in so-called “bribe for salaries,” taking advantage of the unreasonable requirement that the professors and university staff show up physically in Abuja to be “captured” before they can be paid their legitimate entitlements.

Considering the foregoing, ASUU is right to wonder whether IPPIS is all that it was cracked up to be, and to remind Nigerians of the doubts that its members have entertained all along regarding the practicality and efficiency of the payment platform. The Federal Government, therefore, has a responsibility not to allow this issue to descend into yet another reason for the disruption of the university system through an avoidable strike. There is ample evidence to show that the IPPIS is not working as advertised by the government, as even vice-chancellors who are not the best of friends with ASUU and its positions on many issues are on record complaining about the unnecessary hiccups attendant on its processes.

Perhaps this is the time for the government to have a rethink on its plan to force the payment system down the throats of the universities. It is also significant that the IPPIS system smacks of too much centralisation in this age that is defined more by decentralisation. The government, if it is truly concerned about eliminating corruption and ensuring transparency in the running of the universities and not just interested in imposing its procured system on them, has a lot of alternative ways to monitor what is going on in the universities, especially through its appointed Councils and the use of technology. It can direct that all the processes of recruitment and payment of salaries and emoluments be automated and made subject to transparent running and checking by appropriate authorities. This way, the universities would be saved the agonies of the glitches accompanying the running of the IPPIS. This would also put to rest the disagreements on this divisive system.

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