By Prof. MK Othman
The popular view among stakeholders that IPPIS is killing the Nigerian University System is fait accompli. IPPIS stands for Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS). It is a payment platform of personnel emolument, which the Federal Government of Nigeria adopted over ten years ago to flush out ghost workers, enhance efficiency, and address the corrupt practices related to salary payments in the public sector. Have these three objectives been achieved – ghost workers removal from payrolls, efficiency enhancement, and blocking leakages? It has indeed achieved the opposite. The truth is those who were immensely corrupt are the same people at the center of IPPIS operation, a case of a thief hired to guard a property.
From inception to date, IPPIS has been paying workers’ salaries haphazardly, denying some people their salaries while short-paying others. For example, in 2015, NECO claimed to have 246 members of staff who were not paid their wages from the time they joined the platform due to IPPIS irregularities. It is one example among many. IPPIS has proven to be a conduit for mutilating civil servants’ wages in Nigeria. The 2020 Audit Report on the use of IPPIS made a scandalous presentation; it was so revealing that Nigerians were waiting for the immediate suspension of the IPPIS platform and see heads rolling in the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation. The report identified financial irregularities amounting to over N4.394 billion on the IPPIS platform, the duplication of personnel data, and irregular data entry for workers. Additionally, the Federal Government spent over US$27 million, €8.490 million, and N6.518 billion between 2011 and 31 December 2020 for using IPPIS, GIFMIS, and TSA. The owners of these payment platforms, with some unscrupulous workers in government, are daily smiling at the banks while workers are groaning due to the mutilation of their monthly pay.
Surprisingly, IPPIS is a cat with nine lives; it has survived all kinds of efforts to dislodge and emasculate it and has continued to cause havoc in the system with unrepairable damages while the government keeps mute. In 2019, ASUU pointed out the lapses, inadequacies, and deliberate errors of IPPIS and outrightly rejected it as a platform for salary payments to the Academic staff of the universities. The union was ignored as braggadocio of “an enemy of progress.” Still, the Federal Government set up a Presidential Technical Committee after acute insistence and presentation of an alternative payment system, UTAS (University Transparency and Accountability Solution). The Committee was to review the strengths, weaknesses, and challenges of IPPS, UTAS, and other platforms and advise the President on the best methods to improve them. More than one year after the Committee’s inauguration, nothing is heard from it. Most members of the Committee have since left government with the demise of Buhari’s regime.
In May 2022, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) arrested the Chief Custodian of IPPIS, GIFMIS, and TSA, the Accountant General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris, over allegations of money laundering and diversion of public funds using the payment platforms. Ahmed Idris was summarily suspended from office, detained, and granted bail, and since then, nothing much has been heard on over 100 billion Naira fraud – daylight pen-robbery. On Friday, 22 July 2022, EFCC arraigned Idris and three others before Justice Adeyemi Ajayi of the Federal Capital Territory High Court, Abuja, on charges of stealing and criminal breach of trust to N109.4 billion. The Court was told about how former AGF Ahmed Idris compromised the TSA, GIFMIS, and IPPIS and carted away billions of naira belonging to the Federal Government. The case is still ongoing. The other day, I saw a video clip showing a group of people honoring Idris at a ceremony for being “too generous and supportive.”
In May this year (2023), The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) was reported investigating to unravel a massive fraud syndicate that specializes in compromising IPPIS and inflating salaries of collaborators who work in the federal government’s Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). The fraud has possibly gone on for years and could run into 100s of billions of naira of losses to the government. The investigation findings are yet to see the light of the day. Another mystery of IPPIS – the more you look, the less you understand, abracadabra.
In July this year, a report indicated the Senate resolution to probe the allegation of bribery and corruption surrounding the payment of salaries to staff of Nigerian universities through the IPPIS. The Red Chamber resolved to hold interaction sessions with the ASUU National President, Chairman, Committee of Vice Chancellors, Head of Service, and others to unravel the allegation and possibly prosecute offenders. The Red Chamber is still working and may continue working on the matter until donkey years – abracadabra. In the same month of July 2023, the lower chamber, the House of Representatives, set up an Ad-hoc Committee to investigate the alleged mismanagement of the IPPIS in employment racketeering in ministries, departments, and agencies and even summoned the Accountant-General of the Federation and other officials. Like the Red Chamber, the investigation is still ongoing, if not an ending – a bottomless pit. Nigerians are still waiting to hear the outcome.
While it is regrettable that IPPIS is messing up with workers’ salary payments, the damage inflicted on the university system is exterminating. IPPIS operators, with the nodding of the government, forcefully imposed IPPIS payment of salaries to academic staff of the universities in 2020. Earlier, the non-academic workers were cajoled into agreeing to enroll through biometric capturing. After that, the academics were forcefully enrolled through unauthorized retrieval of their biometric data from their various bank accounts that completed the IPPIS requirements to pay the university workers.
Implementing the IPPIS policy on federal universities in Nigeria has led to the disengagement of contract staff and denied recruitment of the needed workforce, violating the university’s autonomy. The university system is not only about the self-sufficiency of human resources but also about the cross-fertilization of academics from one university to another to maintain the universal nature of academic programs. That is why you hear of “sabbatical, visiting professor/scholar, external examiner, professor emeritus, external assessors, etc.” These are experts engaged on a part-time basis, which IPPIS does not recognize. After IPPIS’s imposition as a salary payment platform, it has stopped universities from recruiting their best students as replacements of retired academics or experts to handle new programs or disciplines, and it is just gradually killing the system. With the implementation of IPPIS, the universities are being treated like government ministries and agencies. For the university to function as a citadel of learning at par with other universities globally, it needs autonomy to act as a government within a government.
Before expounding on this legal angle, we must accept that today, the university system is pregnant with monstrous explosives capable of consuming our society. A situation where the highest-paid worker, a professor, is living from hand to mouth, thereby incapable of meeting his family’s basic needs due to poor pay, is grossly undesirable. This situation portends calamitous danger for the nation. How can society expect poverty-ridden, hungry, and malcontent teachers to teach, supervise, and research well? No thanks to the government’s footdragging in reviewing university workers’ salaries, which is aggravated by IPPIS salary mutilation and over deduction.
Let me at this point attention to this quote from Hajia Naja’atu Mohammed who addressed the students of great ABU Zaria recently. She said, “The easiest way to destroy a nation is to withdraw education.” I must add withdrawing or denying university education to the citizenry is tantamount to catastrophic and systematic annihilation of society. Conversely, revitalization of the university education is methodological treatment of societal ailments, just like the emphasis of university education in the song of Aminu Alan waka “idan ta gyaru, al’uma ta gyaru”. Education is not only a fundamental human right but a moral obligation to the leaders – democratically elected or autocratically anointed; otherwise, the consequences of ignorance would consume both the leaders and the led.
As mentioned earlier in this column, the nation’s economic, political, and developmental vibrancy depends on the intellectual capacity of its citizens, particularly the leadership. The falling standard of the university system produces half bake or uncooked graduates. Engineers who do not know how to engineer, lawyers who are ignorant of the laws, accountants who neither understand checks nor balances, and medical practitioners whose services often send their patients to graves rather than healing. Thus, the university system is designed to provide manpower development capable of solving the developmental challenges of a nation. So, why should we all watch as IPPIS steadily exterminates our university system? And what is the illegality of using IPPIS for the salary payment of university workers?
First, on 30th May 2023, the President of the National Industrial Court, Justice Benedict Kanyip, in a judgment of a case FGN Vs. ASUU stated, “I declare that the claimants acted in error to impose IPPIS on the defendant union (ASUU). The issue of which payment platform is to be used in paying the salaries or wages of staff of the Universities is one that is within the discretion of the individual Councils of the Universities in line with the autonomy granted them by the Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Amendment) Act 2003”. The learned judge is not unaware of the university’s legal status on the autonomy in line with International Standard.
Second, the university has a legal power to make laws (Statutes) for direct Gazette without passing through the National or State Assembly, provided such rules or laws are separate and are not in conflicts with constitutional provisions or extant Laws.
The university has four organs: Council, Senate, Congregation, and Convocation, each having distinct powers and functions designed to complement each other and optimize teamwork.
The University Council is the highest decision and policymaking body with a quasi-legislative role, including the ability to make laws (statutes). The Council is the employer of all categories of university employees. The power of the Council includes governing, managing, and regulating finances, accounts, investment, property, business, and all affairs whatsoever of the university. As stated in the 2007 Universities Act, 2003 and 2007, “The Governing Council of the university shall be free in the discharge of its functions and exercise of its responsibilities for the good management, growth, and development of the university.” The Act further states, “The Council of a university in the discharge of the functions shall ensure that disbursement of funds of the university complies with the approved budgetary ratio for personal cost, overhead cost, research and development, library development, and the balance in expenditure between academic vis-à-vis non-academic activities.” Again, the Act added, “The power of the Council shall be exercised in the Law and Statutes of each University and to those extent establishment circulars that are inconsistent with the Laws and Statutes of the University shall not apply to the Universities” This means that the Act has insulated universities from unnecessary bureaucracies and directives in the disbursement of funds such as staff salary payments and allowances. Insulation is necessary. Otherwise, one day, a government functionary will direct a university to award a degree to someone who has never seen the four walls of the university.
Why should IPPS be imposed on the university as a platform for salary payment?
ASUU and other university workers are not averse to using innovative technology like IPPIS to pay their salaries as long as such technology enhances efficiency, timeliness, and responsiveness and can adequately meet the peculiarity of the university system. Today, Nigerians use Banks Aps for fund transfers, electronic payments, and disbursements with ease and relative satisfaction.
So, why should people kick against the use of IPPIS? IPPIS is rigidly designed to be unresponsive and untransparent, making the teeming beneficiaries to daily groan over their salary mutilation. In addition to this faulty design, the operators of IPPIS, with the active connivance of unscrupulous and corrupt civil servants, arrogate themselves to the power of employers. They clandestinely pay ghost workers, short-pay the actual workers, and sometimes offer illegal employment to unqualified personnel. Universities cannot find a way to replace their retired professors or engage the services of adjunct lecturers. Today, one can serve as an external examiner, assessor of professorial cadre, a visiting professor, and the like to another university with delayed payment or sometimes without due compensation for the services because of IPPIS application.
Today, public universities are facing tough times, no thanks to IPPIS application in Nigerian universities in addition to gross FGN negligence to education. The Guardian Newspaper, one of the most respected dailies, detailedly reported the deplorable conditions of public universities in the paper’s edition of 5th October 2023. It stated, “Public universities may be in for tough times as lecturers continue to leave the system in droves for greener pastures abroad, thereby jeopardizing the future of Nigeria’s tertiary education. If not checked, the looming crisis would not only lead to an acute shortage of teaching staff but also affect the quality of teaching in the institutions. About 50 percent of lecturers have resigned from the various universities, while others who are yet to leave are also warming up. Factors fuelling the exodus, according to the investigation, include the desire for better working conditions, career fulfillment, insecurity, poor salaries, inadequate funding, and non-payment of outstanding salaries of university teachers, which accumulated during the period of strike by ASUU, as well as the harsh economy, among others. Recent data showed that as much as 80 percent of the remaining workers are preparing to leave if the current situation persists.”
What is the way forward?
Fortunately, an education administrator and a professor of law, Prof. Tahir Mamman, is today at the helm of affairs in the Nigerian educational sector as its Minister. He is capable of righting all the wrongs perpetrated previously and charting a course to a glorious future for education:
1. FGN should suspend the use of IPPIS in universities and adopt a homegrown solution, “University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS).” As a homegrown and hackproof payment system, UTAS was subjected to a series of tests by NITDA in the presence of different stakeholders with highly commendable results.
2. Direct the immediate payment of the withheld salary arrears of the university workers to raise hope, build confidence, and arrest the ongoing brain drain in the sector.
3. Engage ASUU and other unions for genuine settlement of all disputes and find a lasting solution to decadence in the university system.
May the God Almighty guide Nigerian leaders to address the challenges of education for a better tomorrow, amen.