The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has announced an indefinite strike at a time the nation is battling to contain the onslaught of the Coronavirus disease. Some stakeholders think the strike to protest the enforcement of the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS) on universities is unnecessary at this time.  However, other tertiary unions have complained about the haphazard implementation of the payroll system, KOFOWOROLA BELO-OSAGIE and DAMOLA KOLA-DARE report.

  • NASU, COEASU, others fault IPPIS
  • CONUA: we are not on strike

The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) began an indefinite strike on Monday to protest the implementation of the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS) and the non-implementation of the 2009 FGN-ASUU agreement.

The strike followed a warning strike that lasted two weeks – from March 9, 2020. It started on the deadline given by the Federal Government for all tertiary institutions across the country to close to check the spread of the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

ASUU President Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi said, while announcing the strike on Monday, that the union did not trust the government’s motive. It urged lecturers to enrol for the IPPIS while ASUU’s modification to the system (University Transparency and Accountability Solution) was being tested.

He said: “ASUU rejects the application of force on our members to join IPPIS, irrespective of the patriotic evidence shown by the union to offer a more credible alternative to IPPIS.

“The government has told ASUU that it now accepts the union’s proposal on UTAS with the given timelines for full development; one, software development, six months; two, alpha testing, three months; three, beta testing, six months; four, stable release, three months.

“However, the appeal of the government to encourage ASUU members enrol on IPPIS within the intervening period before the full development of UTAS was rejected as a booby trap.”

Lecturers who refused to enrol for IPPIS were not paid February salaries.  However, Ogunyemi said this would not deter the union from protesting against the IPPIS, which it claimed was fraught with issues that would erode on university autonomy, and concentrate corruption at the centre.

Issues with IPPIS implementation

Of all tertiary unions whose members are enrolled on IPPIS, ASUU was the only one that refused to enrol – though some of its members did.  Also, lecturers belonging to the Congress Of University Academics (CONUA), a splinter group of lecturers that emerged in some universities last year, are on IPPIS, as well as members of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) – the trade union of senior members of staff in universities, and the Non Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions (NASU), the group for junior workers. The Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union (COEASU) and the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP)  hare also signed up.

However, all the unions have expressed issues with the implementation of the IPPIS, including short payment of salaries or wrong deductions.

COEASU President Nuhu Ogirima said members were denied of their allowances, while some were not paid at all last month.

He said in a statement: “From the information available, it is quite evident that the peculiarities of the Colleges of Education subsector, which the stakeholders’ meetings with IPPIS office, prior to its implementation, harped on as the basis of rejection of the obnoxious pay platform, have not been reflected.

“For the avoidance of doubt, the February salary paid by FGN did not include the Peculiar Allowances of the staff of the subsector, especially the Peculiar Earned Academic Allowance (PEAA). Also not paid were staff on Sabbatical Leave. In addition, deductions were effected on all staff salary, indiscriminately, for the National Housing Fund (NHF), a voluntary scheme to which most staff did not subscribe. Whereas FGN deducted its own statutory deductions, the non-statutory deduction of staff necessary for their well-being, especially Staff Cooperative Society contributions, were not made. Sadly, pension and the imposed obnoxious tax deductions were effected on gross earning of staff, which included Non-taxable Allowances as against the basic salary on which such deductions ought to be effected. The union views this as a serious breach of trust and, therefore, considers Federal Government’s betrayal not acceptable.”

While workers did not get all due to them, the tertiary institutions also suffered loss as the IPPIS did not deduct monies meant to go to them from workers’ salaries.

To recover its money from workers that was not deducted by IPPIS, the University of Lagos (UNILAG) directed workers to make repayments on their own.

A notice on the institution’s website, detailed the steps they had to take to make refunds.

The notice stated: “In view of the implementation of payment of salaries through the IPPIS platform, the University Management hereby directs that all deductions due to the University should be paid using the following steps: Visit www.unilag.edu.ng; Select Staff Category; Fill in the required fields; Select staff refund as payment item; Generate RRR and pay in at any bank; Print out receipt; Write a letter to the Bursar detailing deduction and amount; Attach print-out of receipt generated.”

The website listed deductions from the workers’ salaries to include: Rent Upfront, Salary Advance, Solid Waste, Home Ownership Loan, Endowment, Electricity Bill, Electricity Prepaid, Rent On Quarters, Scholar’s Suite Rent, Unretired Advance, among others.

On its part, NASU has sought audience with the Director of IPPIS, Olufehinti Olusegun, over haphazard payments of its February salaries.

In the union’s letter to the Director, signed by the General Secretary, Prince Peter Adeyemi, it said: “We wish to express our disappointment over the haphazard payment of the February 2020 salary to NASU members in the federal universities and inter-university centres, the federal polytechnics and federal colleges of education on the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS) platform.

“We observed with shock that in an attempt to save money for the Federal Government, your office decided to shortchange our members by haphazard nature of the implementation.  This no doubt has made our Union a laughing stock and subject of mockery and ridicule by those who opposed IPPIS implementation ab-initio.”

If unsatisfied with the outcome of the meeting, the Union noted it would go on a seven-day warning strike from March 30, 2020.  However, with the lockdown over COVID-19, it is unclear whether the said meeting with IPPIS would hold.

However, CONUA sees the challenges facing IPPIS as teething problems.

“These are human errors and the IPPIS office is attending to them,” CONUA Publicity Secretary Dr. Nwoke said.

Is timing of strike insensitive?

Some parents, students and other stakeholders think the timing of the ASUU strike may be insensitive considering that the country was faced with a bigger challenge – fighting the COVID-19.

Deputy National President, National Parent Teacher Association of Nigeria (NAPTAN), Chief Adeolu Ogunbanjo, said timing was inappropriate.

“This is not a time ASUU should be agitating because of IPPIS and other things. There is a global emergency because of the Coronavirus threatening to shut down the globe. It is rather unfortunate that the union is doing this to Nigerian students and particularly parents. It shows they are selfish, callous and insensitive to the plight of Nigerians,” he said.

On his part, President, National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), Comrade Danielson Akpan, said ASUU was doing a disservice to the nation at a critical time, urging the union to show patriotism.

Akpan said: “It is quite unfortunate and embarrassing that ASUU has embarked on an indefinite strike at this time. This is a great disservice to nationhood. They are just chasing shadows because campuses have closed before now. Their action shows they are insensitive because the whole world is almost shutting down and people are looking for solutions to stem the tide of the Coronavirus. As a union, what should be their preoccupation is to mobilise medical students and lecturers to proffer solutions to curb COVID-19 and not going on strike indefinitely.”

The splinter group, CONUA, also said the strike was insensitive.  A statement by its National Coordinator, Dr. ‘Niyi Sunmonu, and Nwoke, noted that it was a betrayal of national trust.

The group said: “The Congress of University Academics (CONUA) acknowledges that this is the time when Nigerian academics should be working on overdrive to find solutions to the problems of Covid-19 or at least reduce its virulence. CONUA  therefore regards it as utterly insensitive, irresponsible and a betrayal of national trust for any academic union to go on strike at this time, especially when another union (NMA), that had been on strike called off the strike in order to respond to the dreadful corona virus disease. ASUU’s strike will aggravate the country’s problems and deepen national anxiety. Consequently, CONUA strongly dissociates itself from the decision of the ASUU to embark on a nationwide strike in these national and global trying times.”

However, Chairman, University of Lagos Parents Forum, Babatunde Majekodunmi, believes the time was perfect for ASUU to make their grievances known.

He noted that since students were now at home, ASUU could fight for its rights because the students would not be affected.

“This is a perfect time and opportunity for ASUU to make their grievances known by going on strike. They are using this period to fight for their rights so that government can fulfill promises made to them. Since the students have been ordered to stay at home because of Coronavirus, the indefinite strike will not affect them,” Majekodunmi said.

Responding to the allegations of ASUU’s lack of patriotism, Ogunyemi said the union’s discussions with the Federal Government pre-dated COVID-19. He added that ASUU members would volunteer services to the government to fight the virus in this pressing time.

He said: “The timing of ASUU’s action has little or nothing to do with the outbreak of COVID-19 in Nigeria. The action actually started two weeks earlier. If government had satisfactorily addressed the issues, there would have been no need for the full blown strike action. Our members have resolved to work as volunteers during the strike period to support government efforts in the prevention and control of the spread of the global pandemic. Already, we are mass-producing IEC (information, education and communication) materials which will be used by our members across the country in discharging this community service. We’ve also told our colleagues who are medics and paramedics that the ongoing strike does not affect their professional services because the nation is undergoing a state of emergency. All these attest to the fact that ASUU fully identifies with the mood of the nation and indeed the globe. However, if the salaries and allowances of our members are not paid on account of IPPIS which we have good reasons to reject, and if a number of items on the Memorandum of Action the Federal Government signed with us in February 2019 are not acted upon, it would be wrong to blame ASUU for going on strike at any time.”

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