The recent standoff between Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Federal Government (FG) on IPPIS is worthy of serious attention as it is at the verge of unsettling the nascent industrial peace being enjoyed in the country’s ivory towers. For one thing, FG says she wants to curb corruption and then opted to pay all salaries from one point. I am in full support of any measure that will curb corruption to the barest minimum as it affects everyone negatively.
But in the case of universities, the option to have one pay point appears to be a direct expression of distrust by FG on the Governing Council which they appoint majority of the members. This appears also to mean a loss of confidence in the Vice Chancellors, a position which every worthy scholar aims to attain. There is a sharp contradiction here. Vice-Chancellors were recently made electoral umpires in the recent elections but they have suddenly appeared to be corrupt to the extent that they can no longer be trusted with personnel costs. Over the years, ASUU has been onto one negotiation or the other with FG and in each case when an agreement is reached and signed, it rubs off well on the universities even when the implementation is not full. One of such is the establishment of TETFUND which has proven to be a key to funding of research, establishment of infrastructure and more in the universities and other tertiary institutions.
But come to think of it, Government has another watchdog that they are reluctant to unleash designed specifically for the Universities: The Visitation Panel. But it also appears that FG has no trust in anyone or group that they may appoint as visitation panels. So only IPPIS is correct and corruption-free! This IPPIS appears as one-stop solution or a magic wand that will solve all problems of corruption in Nigeria.
Now ASUU says their autonomy is violated, that the running of universities is unique. The big shots in Abuja does not appear to agree. Please let me clarify a few issues and ask questions, hoping to get some answers from whoever has one.
Universities are centers where knowledge is made and freely dispensed. In developed countries governments and corporate bodies rely solely on universities, (not contractors like IPPIS) to provide solutions to any problem that can be imagined including corruption. I stand to be corrected but I am not aware of any funding for research in this country aimed at curbing corruption in Nigeria. The best quality of knowledge is made when scholars interact with others in different universities to share ideas. That is the trick that makes most western universities stand out. It is sorely out of interactions between scholars in USA and students from China that made technology transfer to China very easy. Nigeria appears not to have any plan for herself along those lines. As a young PhD holder, I had the privilege to be invited to participate on fully-funded research in USA for a study on fault-tolerant operation of multi-phase dual-winding machines in shipboards and aerial vehicles. The colleagues up there felt that having done a thesis on such a subject, I will be in a position to contribute the new methods developed. Four other visits were to follow successively in other universities in Europe and Japan in the form of fellowships. The ideas gained from those interactions cannot be quantified. I will not bother you with my personal experiences but Nigerian universities can attract colleagues from other universities for teaching and collaborative research too. Now how does IPPIS plan to capture their payments on their platform?
I know the quantity of work that goes on as regards payment of salaries by the bursaries in different universities in ensuring that salary variations of staff (which changes every month) are verified and captured. Sometimes, bursary departments postpone some of such variations if they are many and schedule them for subsequent months. Now can anyone explain how a centralized system based in Abuja can collate and manage these variations for up to 40 universities?
The duties of academic staff in universities are for teaching and research. The non-academic staff perform very vital duties to support this. Apart from research, each academic staff is expected to give
lectures, quizzes and then examinations and then submit results in a timely manner. Now in an academic department in any Nigerian university, the hierarchy is Head of Department, Dean/Provost and then Vice-Chancellor. How does IPPIS hope to sanction a staff that fails to perform these minute duties in a timely fashion? After all, salaries will come from Abuja. Or do we expect a situation where a Vice-Chancellor will have to collate on monthly basis, the activities of each staff and report to IPPIS for their kind consideration and necessary action?
Visiting, adjunct and part-time appointments are made usually on yearly basis solely on need. For example as the VC of FUT Minna pointed out a few days ago during their Foundation day ceremonies, teaching of some courses offered by specialist departments that do not exist in universities have to be contracted out. Let me explain this further. Consider a situation in which a course on Engineering Law has to be taught to students of Faculty of Engineering and a PhD holder in law is needed to do this is and the university has no Faculty of Law. It is cheaper for the university to engage this PhD holder on adjunct or part-time basis, paying him/her a fraction of his salary instead of having to set up a Faculty of Law. The university cannot hire such a person full-time even if he/she is willing as there is no base department where he/she can build a career. Hundreds of this kind of situation exists in each university and changes every year. How does IPPIS hope to handle this?
Suppose a staff at the University of Lagos is underpaid. He will have to abandon all his duties, travel to Abuja on his own funds, risking his life, stay on a hotel, seek attention the following day at IPPIS office, and if he is successful, spends same day again in Abuja and then return the following day. Does IPPIS have schedule officers in the universities who will handle and attend to these kind of complaints? If yes, then let IPPIS come, set up offices in all the universities and replace bursary.
We all know that most new programs mounted in different universities have very low level manpower. Now how does such a department meet the NUC BMASS requirement in terms of staffing if they do not hire visiting/adjunct/part-time staff from other universities? Many of such programs especially their postgraduate programs will have to be closed once the accreditation team arrives.
We also have another case worth mentioning. The case of staff on study leave with pay. Such staff usually spend between six months and four years doing either bench work leading to their completion of their degrees in their base universities, postdoctoral fellowships or acquiring foreign degrees. At all times, a university has at least 100 academic staff on such leaves. How does IPPIS wish to capture and monitor their return or otherwise from their places of study to render the services for which they were sent out to train and then continue or discontinue their salaries?
I can go on and on. This central payment system will only create another crisis added to the already existing ones, disturb the universities calendar, send students home, create unease in families and as usual do no one any good.
Let no one ask me why Nigerian academics are not winning Nobel Laurates or making inventions in recent times. The last time I checked, Nobel Laurates are rewards designed in USA. What is Nigerian version of such a laurate? How does Nigeria encourage and reward excellence? Is there a little recognition for any outstanding research? Does FG believe that any solution can come from any University? The real question is: Why is it that Nigerians excel in academics outside Nigeria?
All we read is that hundreds of billions of Naira has been saved from IPPIS yet, I am not aware of anyone under trial or in detention for embezzling any part of this huge fund prior to IPPIS?
Why did most academics refuse to enroll? The enrolment was not designed to capture any peculiarity, yet the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF) office kept saying that they will capture all
peculiarities. They did not say when or how they will do that. During the enrolment, no academic staff was asked to provide appointment letter(s) for headship, deanship, sabbatical or visiting/adjunct/part-time in another university. It was clear that there is no intention to capture any peculiarity. Then where is the trust? It is not easy to deceive academic staff, they have had a lot of unfulfilled promises, and so it is not easy for them to accept any promise.
The continued insistence by the office of AGF on this IPPIS implementation against the glaring inconsistencies above appears to support the recent report by Transparency International that Nigeria is really advanced in corruption. There is no further proof than that if the entire retinue of administrative and supervisory structures of universities cannot be trusted with mere personnel costs. I am personally ashamed of this situation.
FG paid heavily for IPPIS, ASUU developed UTAS at no cost to the FG and it is more inclusive if implemented. If the President really has advisers, this is the time for them to listen attentively to the voice of reason. Universities are unique and for them to perform optimally, they must be allowed their autonomy as that is the international best practice.
Engr. Prof. Emeka S. Obe is the Associate Dean, Faculty of Engineering University of Nigeria, Nsukka and Editor-in-Chief, Nigerian Journal of Technology