Emmanuel Onwubiko: IPPIS, ASUU and Academic Transparency
There is this legendary debate in the 100 level undergraduate philosophy class on the primacy of Egg and Chicken. The germane issue was the demand through academic research and rigorous mental exercise to uncover which of the two comes first between Chicken and Egg originally. Whereas some of us think that since Chickens are hatched from eggs, it makes a lot of sense to conclude hastily that the egg comes before chicken.
This conclusion became entangled in a cacophony of further and better inquiry as to how the egg itself could have emerged without the Chicken since it is universally known that for the Chicken to emerge frim the egg there has to be a process of fertilization which inevitably lead to the production of eggs from whence the chickens are hatched. But then, the end of this discussion snowballed into fresh debates regarding how the could have emerged without the egg. So the debate went round and round until we got tired. I seriously can’t place my hand on how we ended that intellectual exercise.
This elementary debate can be related to the long-standing relationship between the Federal governments and the Universities in Nigeria on the thorny issues of operational and funding autonomy vis-a-vis the all important duty of the Federal Government to build a system if governance that eradicate all traces of corruption and abuse of power as Constitutionally mandated in Section 15(5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria of 1999 as amended which says that “The State is OBLIGED to eradicate corrupt practices and abuse of Office”.
However there has been a longstanding debates between the Universities through their Union known as the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) on one hand and the Federal Government of Nigeria represented by the Federal Ministries of Education, Labour and Productivity and the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation. An item of debate is on the economic reform programme of the Government which started as far back as the then President Olusegun Obasanjo era under whose administration the then Federal Minister of Finance Professor Mrs Ngozi Okonjo Iweala who is a theocrat produced by the World Bank began the WORLD Bank assisted Economic Reforms that were aimed at fastracking the process of institutionalizing accountability and transparency in the administration of public finances.
These holistic giant strides done by the World bank in the area of financial reforms in Nigeria were spearheaded through a body known as the Bureau of Public Service Reforms based in the nation’s political capital.
Set up on 4th February 2004 as an independent and self accounting body.
The mission is to facilitate the reform of Nigeria’s public service, driven by national interest and efficient management of Resources and talents. The mandate is to initiate, coordinate and ensure full implementation of government reform policies and programmes.
Specifically, BPSR coordinate all World Bank Projects in all sectors of our Economy.
To start with, the whole idea of Reform is global and started properly in Nigeria in 1999 at the inception of Democratic government, before then, there was a clear mistrust by the international community to come to Nigeria to invest. World bank then started the idea of reform and it is beyond Treasury reform then.
Another point worth noting is that prior to now, we had the Federal Tenders Board, which was humongous and inefficient. New guidelines on Public Procurement abolished the Federal Tender’s Board.
There is no gainsaying the fact that the Presidential initiative on continuous Auditing (PICA) is involved with Personnel Cost while Efficiency Unit is to handle the running cost of Ministries .
These ground-breaking reforms are categorized into diverse segments such as IPPIS, GIFMIS, TSA, among others. GIFMIS stands for Government Integrated Financial Management Information System, and their code is known as GIFMIS Revenue Reference Number(GRR or GRRN). It is a ten digit code that helps the Government to identify, classify, interpret and account for all revenues it receives. Then another strategic component of the financial reform measures put in place in Nigeria with the guidance of the World Bank is the Integrated Payroll and Personnel INFORMATION System (IPPIS) which technically is an information communications Technology (ICT) project initiated by the Federal Government of Nigeria to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of payroll administration for its ministries, Departments and agencies(MDAs). And then we have the TSA which is the Treasury Single Account that is a financial system or policy in use in several countries all over the World.
There is no empirical doubts that the ERGP (Economic Reforms and Governance Project) is a World Bank Project and GIFMIS is part of the sub project under BPSR reforms.
The above are the summary of the policies that successive administrations have canvassed and implemented aimed at eradicating corruption associated with the administration of Public finance.
The current administration in line with tradition and precedence, identified all of these reform policies as tangential to the achievements of the overall goal of purifying the central administration of resources so as to maximise the benefits for the public good.
The decision to continue with these economic measures have been met with stiff resistance from some quarters.
However, our area of focus is the discord between the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) on the desirability or otherwise of the IPPIS in the payments of salaries of University teachers.
The Central argument of the lecturers is that since the academia is autonomous therefore it is unlawful for the central government to now include the Universities in the larger implementation of the newly introduced payment system which as the underlying on me five says is to ensure transparency and accountability in the disbursements of public funds to institutions of the central government.
The Universities are centrally accredited by the Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC). The federal government owned the Federal Universities and indeed the President is the official visitor to these universities. The fund used to pay the salaries and wages of the University workers under the auspices of the central government is drawn from the public fund.
The argument against the implementation of the Integrated Payroll and Personnel INFORMATION System (IPPIS) is therefore disconcerting and pedestrian.
The Academic Staff Union of Universities can not be seen arguing about irrelevancy when the issue being debated is supported by the Nigerian constitution as aforementioned. Indeed the law based fight against corruption and abuse of Office is a central thematic rationale for the existence of constitutional democracy as it were. Besides, the Federal Universities are centrally owned by the Nigerian Government and appointments into the Governing Councils are centrally coordinated and the approving authority is the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria who has included these fundamental and far reaching economic reforms and mainstreamed their observance into his governance blueprints.
From research I found out that the IPPIS Secretariat is a Department under the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation responsible for payment of salaries and wages directly to Government employee’s bank account with appropriate deductions and remittances of 3rd party payments such as; Federal Inland Revenue Service, State Boards of Internal Revenue, National Health Insurance Scheme, National Housing Fund, Pension Fund Administrator, Cooperative Societies, Trade Unions Dues, Association Dues and Bank Loans.
This is their mandates in their own words: “We are committed to efficient and effective service delivery. Our main aim is to pay accurately and on time within statutory and contractual regulations. We aim to provide a payroll service that is customer focused and that utilises technology wherever possible.
There are 459 MDAS on IPPIS Platform as at 31st June, 2017. The department is responsible for processing and payment of salary to over Three hundred thousand (300,000) Federal Government Employees across the 459 MDAs. IPPIS aim is to enrol into the platform, all Federal Government MDAs that draws personnel cost fund from the Consolidated Revenue Fund.
Since inception of the IPPIS project in April 2007, the department have saved the Federal Government of Nigeria billions of Naira by eliminating thousands of ghost workers.”
IPPIS Department is responsible for:
• Management of FGN employees records
• Payment of Salary and Wages to FGN employees
• Deductions of taxes and other third party payments
• Remittance of payroll deductions to third party
• Enrolment of employees into IPPIS database
Specifically, the mission of IPPIS is to pay FGN employees on-time and accurately within statutory and contractual obligations
IPPIS Vision is to have a centralised payroll system that meet the needs of FGN employees and helps the Government to plan and manage payroll budget by ensuring proper control.
Even as we are made aware of the aforementioned, another plank of the debate against the continuation or implementation of the IPPIS in the Federal University system as canvassed by the Academic Staff Union of Universities is that the scheme has been hijacked by some forces bent on perpetuating fraud.
The Academic Staff Union of University (ASUU) described the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) as a “tunnel created to siphon government resources.”
In a statement recently in Akure, the ASUU branch chairman, Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA), Dr. Olayinka Awopetu, claimed IPPIS was “a weapon of fraud and corruption.”
For me as a Nigerian Civil Rights Advocacy expert, I think this criticism of Academic Staff Union of Universities can be likened to attempting to throw the baby with the bathwater. The allegation of some human errors which they are alleging are not substantial enough to override the primary objective for which the IPPIS was set up. In fact, the reason for asking the University workers to come on board and support the implementation is basically because of the need for all hands to be in deck to be able to trace some or all of these imperfections and human errors so as to try to fix the missing links and to make the implementation better and much more transparent and accountable going forward.
Vanguard, one of the respected mainstream national newspapers has provided a great deal of resolutions that have taken care of the fears and anxieties of the Academic Staff Union of Universities regarding the desirability and functionality of the IPPIS with specific reference to bringing the payment of salaries and emolument under the system.
In a recent editorial, the newspaper wrote thus: “The Integrated Payment and Personnel Information System, IPPIS, the Bank Verification Number, BVN, and the Treasury Single Account, TSA, were technology-based instruments to fight corruption and money laundering at source and sanitise government spending. In January 2020 Buhari directed that any Federal Government employee who refuses to register with the IPPIS should no longer be paid.”
Vanguard recalls that this was the cause of the strike that the Academic Union of the Nigerian Universities, ASUU, embarked upon before the coronavirus pandemic shutdowns began in March.
It said: “We still stand by the Federal Government in insisting that all personnel on its payroll must be on that scheme because of our conviction that it is easier and cheaper to nip corruption at source than to chase after thieves after they have taken the people’s money for their own use. Apparently, the university lecturers are not the only ones seeking to torpedo the system. The Federal Government has received several hints from within the armed forces about efforts being made by senior military officers to pull the military out of the scheme, which so far has been resisted.”
Importantly, it must be said that the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation, OAGF, penultimate week raised alarm over alleged attempts by unnamed individuals to sabotage the IPPIS by capitalising on the delayed payment of the military’s April salary.
The OAGF disclosed that IPPIS has saved the Federal Government N361bn ($1bn), which is money that would have been pocketed by corrupt civil servants”.
This writer agrees holistically with the views expressed by this national paper and to add that the debate by ASUU looks like that aforementioned debate on the primacy between Egg and the chicken.
If ASUU says they will not accept the payment system because of the underlying issue of autonomy which I have debunked earlier and also secondly because of the imperfections in the system and at the same time the Academia ought to be amongst the frontlines of the crusades against corruption and abuse of Office, it therefore follows that the entire debate should be resolved in favour of what best serve the public good which basically is the necessity and the imperative of mainstreaming a system of administration of public finance that captures the strategic goal of promotion of the principles and practices of transparency and accountability.
IPPIS therefore stands POLES apart as the best way to manage the public resources transparently. The Nigerian Government should also create the enabling environment to allow for an open process of monitoring of the implementation stages of the IPPIS with a view to eradicating to the bearest minimum the cases of corruption.
I call on the Academic Staff Union of Universities to partner actively with the Federal government of Nigeria to work out seamless ways of ensuring that salaries are not paid to ghost workers. IPPIS is a global platform that advanced economies have since adopted to check financial malpractice.
I quote from a recent write up done by a University teacher in which he says and I think I am saying the same although not absolutely the same since unlike me he is an insider and he states that: “I write this piece to expose, as an insider, (I’m not an insider but with extensive sources within the university system) the realities of Academics in Nigeria towards rescuing the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) from the asphyxiation of ASUU and redirect ASUU to the path of patriotism.”
“ASUU should be humble enough to accept that we are not paid for certificates acquired, but we are paid to do our job of teaching, impactful research and community services within and outside the university with utmost professionalism and integrity and without fear or favour. If we say the truth, every Nigerian graduate has one or more lecturers that taught him/her that he/she wondered, and is still wondering, how the lecturer got thus far, even to the peak. I mean Professors! Maybe I am one of those lecturers, but it is high time we said the truth. Besides, many of the excellent students could not come into academics because we are guilty of what we accuse FGN – nepotism and tribalism” (Prof. Godspower Ekuobase, PhD, MCPN. Professor of Services Computing Department of Computer Science University of Benin, Benin City Edo State, Nigeria).[NewsNaira]
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