As the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) yet again assails the nation with threats of industrial action, it must realise that its antics are becoming increasingly counter-productive and irrelevant.
The cause of ASUU’s latest grouse is the Federal Government’s directive that all employees in its establishments be enrolled in the Integrated Personnel Payment Information System (IPPIS) before the end of October 2019. The union has rejected inclusion in IPPIS since February 2014, arguing that the councils of federal universities were the direct employers of academic staff rather than the Federal Government, and that the system did not account for the peculiarities of universities. It also claimed that flaws had been detected when IPPIS was implemented in the healthcare sector.
Following the government’s threat that any employee who did not enroll on IPPIS by the October deadline would not be paid their salaries, ASUU has restated its strike warning. The union has directed its members not to fill the personnel verification forms which require the inclusion of IPPIS numbers and has taken its case to the Senate.
For a union exclusively comprised of academics, it is surprising that ASUU would actually dare to make patently pedestrian arguments the basis of its anti-IPPIS stance.
It is disingenuous of the union to claim that university councils are the direct employers of academics when it is common knowledge that all staff in federal universities are paid by the Federal Government. That is the reason why ASUU negotiates with government officials rather than university councils during its many disputes over salaries and conditions of service.
It is also the reason why the union has never pushed its vaunted claims to university autonomy to their logical conclusion by demanding that the Federal Government stop funding federal universities. Clearly, ASUU does not wish to pay the piper while reserving the right to dictate the tune.
Related to this is the ludicrous assertion that IPPIS cannot cater to the peculiar circumstances of university work, especially the consultancies, adjunct lectureships, sabbatical leave and external assessment that are a regular feature of academic life. Not only does this contradict the initial position that IPPIS undermines university autonomy, it arrogantly implies that federal universities are somehow more complicated to run than the ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) that are already on IPPIS, including the armed forces and research institutes.
ASUU’s claims that IPPIS lacks constitutional backing and is unsupported by any act of the National Assembly are similarly groundless. IPPIS is a policy enunciated by the Federal Government through its Ministry of Finance which is constitutionally empowered to formulate and implement such programmes because they fall within the remit of its legally-defined responsibilities. ASUU’s check-off dues do not have constitutional backing, either; that has not stopped the union from avidly collecting them.
In behaving with such petulance, ASUU is displaying itself at its very worst, showing itself to be obtuse, selfish, and stubbornly determined to get its own way, regardless of the cost to the rest of society. This is the same union which similarly claimed that the Treasury Single Account (TSA) policy could not work in universities, and advanced almost the same arguments of autonomy and peculiarity that it is pushing now.
While the implementation of IPPIS has not been perfect, its advantages cannot be doubted. In June, the Accountant-General of the Federation, Mr. Ahmed Idris, claimed that N273.8 billion had been saved in 2017 and 2018 as a result of IPPIS. At least 561 MDAs are on the system, with a total staff count of 755,422. Combined with TSA, the system has helped government to get a grip on the vexed issues of transparency and probity in payroll management.
The desperation with which ASUU is fighting against the implementation of IPPIS in federal universities has led to speculations that it is doing so because enrolling in the system would expose those academics who have multiple full-time jobs in several federal establishments. Regardless of the merits of such claims, it is surprising that a union which consistently claims to seek transparency and accountability in national life would be so loth to apply those same principles to itself.
ASUU’s antics are paradoxically turning it into an anti-democratic union – a hypocritical body which cannot hold itself to the standards it consistently advocates for others. Its usually loud voice was uncharacteristically muted when the BBC’s “Sex for Grades” documentary was broadcast last month. It has rarely spoken out against the many other abuses perpetrated by its members, especially plagiarism, the sale of handouts, age manipulation and certificate forgery. Its continual emphasis on salaries and benefits have conspired to create a public image for itself as a greedy cash-and-carry group, and its latest fulminations against IPPIS only serve to entrench this unflattering perception.
If ASUU truly wishes to live up to its own noble ideals, it must work with the Federal Government to implement a policy that can only enhance the transparency, accountability and integrity it so strenuously professes to be fighting for.