The raging battle between the federal government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) over the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) undoubtedly has led to a rift between ASUU and the government.
DAVID AGABI, spoke with Dr John Edok, Chairman ASUU, University of Calabar branch, on the contentious issues.
What is the position of ASUU in the University of Calabar in respect of the IPPIS?
The position of ASUU in the University of Calabar is the same position of National Executive Council-NEC ASUU, when ASUU NEC adopted a resolution that we are rejecting IPPIS, this same resolution was cascaded to all other branches, and University of Calabar branch is no exception. It was robustly discussed in the NEC congress meeting and congressmen and women overwhelmingly reaffirmed that decision. On the 25th and 27th of the month of November, I called two congresses and in both meetings, the decision of ASUU NEC was reaffirmed. So, the position of the University of Calabar as it is on the position of NEC on IPPIS, is of total rejection.
What will you say considering some of the ASUU members that have become jittery, having heard some lecturers in Obafemi Awolowo University, University of Port Harcourt, Ahmadu Bello University among others, who have gone ahead and registered?
There is what I may call an insignificant minority in everything you do in life. You do not glorify certain actions, you do not magnify certain steps that certain people take. Some may feel that that is a threat, some may feel that our members are getting jittery, and I say no, we are not jittery; our resolve is firm, and it is no to IPPIS.
What would you do if some members surreptitiously go ahead and get registered?
Oh yes, first of all, membership of ASUU is not compulsory. That is what some people have not come to terms with. Membership of ASUU is voluntary. Before you join ASUU, you will fill a form at the bursary authorizing the institution to be deducting check-up dues as a member of the lecturers union and sign. Thus, the day you don’t want it, you fill a form and write to bursary to stop and they will obey it. We have our internal mechanism of addressing foundations of the resolutions of the union whether at the branch or the NEC level.
One will only wonder what ASUU is going to do after the Federal Government’s directive pegged October 1 as deadline for any unregistered ASUU member not to receive salary, what will you do in this regard?
Are we not in December? Does it not show to you that we are winning? I have received my October salary, and just this week I got my November salary, and I know I will get my December salary. So how do you look at that directive that said anybody who is not on IPPIS would not be receiving salary from the month of October? I am not on IPPIS and I have gotten(sic) it. And nobody in this university is on IPPIS and they have received their salaries. And for the records, it is now that they are even capturing the non academic staff. So would you take such directive serious?
Some will begin to think that this seems like a lone fight, having seen NASU, SSANU and NAAC embrace the IPPIS?
Have ASUU usually solicited assistance while embarking on any struggle? I hardly heard of any struggle that ASUU has gone to another union asking them to join in sympathy strike, like Nigeria Labour Congress-NLC, Nigerian Union of Teachers-NUT, NASU or any other? We have never solicited assistance while carrying out industrial actions that we consider appropriate to drive home a point. It’s not a lone fight, it is a fight by a group of erudite scholars mainly putting their hands, will and souls together o make a point for the good and generality of the Nigerian society, for the good of the educational system of the country and for the good of the students and the university worker.
How will you answer to the question of Billions of naira been recovered as a result of the initiation of the IPPIS?
I will answer the question by saying we want to assist the government by recovering more money than they have recovered. They can apply IPPIS to other MDAs, they should not violate the laws of the land, they should leave ASUU with its autonomy that the university cherishes and protects so much. We have offered to help, we have a pool of experts and a pool of resources, we have told the government that we can help, they should bring another platform that will check what they are saying, but they cannot centralize the payment of universities in Nigeria. It’s a violation of the university autonomy law.
Talking about university autonomy, university workers are employees that draw salary from the federal government and the president being the visitor to the university that also appoints the governing Council, doesn’t he have the power to take certain decisions?
As soon as the governing council of the university is inaugurated it becomes autonomous. Let me illustrate. As soon as the president appoints the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), it ends there. The mere fact that the president appointed him does not makes the CJN answerable to the president. The mere fact that the president appoints the chairman and members of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) does not makes them answerable to the president. After the appointment, it ends there. That is what you should know about the university autonomy.
Going forward, what do you intend to do as the chairman of ASUU, University of Calabar branch?
We have set up a task force and I am the chairman of the monitoring team of the task force, to ascertain the level of compliance. “You and I can just take a stroll to the IPPIS centre here in the university and you will see for yourself that staff that are registering. There are our non teaching comrades whom the leadership of their respective unions have approved, but ASUU said no ‘we will not do it.’ So this rumour that some ASUU members are secretly registering is not true. Our members are complying with the resolution of the union to desist from that monster called IPPIS; we are not a party to that fraud, illegality, and insensibility.
When you call the initiative fraud, the federal government is saying they want to sanitise the system particularly on the issue of ghost workers and making universities more proficient?
I have told you that we are ready to help the federal government to sanitize the system. All these contracts that they’ve been giving to build theatres and all that, will they be paying through IPPIS? That is where the fraud is. They should begin from there, and we will assist the federal government to fight fraud and to fight corruption.
What exactly is the contention between ASUU and the federal government?
It is very simple, that IPPIS and its operations, its ‘modus operandi’ , its workings, is uncongenial with the idiosyncratic nature of the university and that IPPIS is a violation of the university’s Miscellaneous Amendment Act 2003 which grants autonomy to university governing councils to superintend over the affairs of respective universities in administration, disbursement of fund, and others. So we are saying either you review this Act first before you can even bring in IPPIS. Unfortunately some of our staff that have being enrolled in the IPPIS, we know the challenges and problems they have been facing. And now the good news is that we are not only rejecting IPPIS, we have said to government that we can help with a software that can fight this problem of corruption and ghost workers they are talking about, yet preserving the university autonomy and the peculiarities of the university.