•Strike averted as lecturers receive December salaries
Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has proposed the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) as an alternative to the government’s centralised payroll system of Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS), over which it is at war with the federal government to enrol in it.
The union has also expressed its readiness for dialogue with the federal government to discuss how to resolve the dispute between both parties on the implementation of IPPIS in universities.
ASUU President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, told THISDAY that the union spent almost N2 million to develop the UTAS.
Ogunyemi confirmed that from the union’s findings most lecturers have received their December salaries, indicating that the federal government may have stayed action on its initial threat not to pay lecturers who refused to enroll into IPPIS.
The union had threatened to embark on strike in January if the government implemented the threat.
Speaking on the prospect for reconciliation, Ogunyemi said ASUU expected to meet with the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, early next year, following his promise that he would summon a meeting as soon as he came back from a foreign trip.
The ASUU president said since the status quo had been maintained, the issue of embarking on strike did not arise any longer, adding that the union will continue to push for government’s consideration of the alternative software solution it has developed for payment of university workers’ salaries.
“The process we have started with our University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS), which is our alternative to IPPIS, will continue and hope that government will listen to us and allow us to present it because we feel that is the way to go. It is not as if we are happy to go on strike at all cost but it is only when our members are pushed to the wall that they react.
“We don’t start an action without a reason, now since the statu squo remains we hope the process of engagement will continue,” he said.
Giving more insight into the UTAS salary payment system, Ogunyemi said apart from factoring in the peculiarities of the university system, another major difference between IPPIS and UTAS was that the latter is less cumbersome to implement.
According to him, registration does not require lecturers to travel to Abuja to register or some officials from the Accountant General’s office to visit individual university to get workers enrolled.
He identified one of the unique features of UTAS as its similarity to that of commercial banks in the country whereby a person can simply open account at any of its branches and is automatically registered at its headquarters.
“If you want to update your records at the banks with your BVN, you don’t have to visit the headquarters or have the officials from the headquarters come down to the branch,” he added.
Ogunyemi said the essence of the union’s desire for such unique payment system wad to enable the universities to do their academic business without recourse to the Accountant General’s Office.
On whether the union has made any attempt to engage the government to resolve the issue, Ogunyemi said apart from the promise by the National Assembly to intervene in the matter, ASUU had met with Adamu earlier this month and he promised to schedule a formal engagement as soon as he came back from a foreign trip.
The ASUU president, however, said he was very confident that some kind of engagement would start early in the new year to address their concerns.
Speaking on the possible actions to be taken against members who defied the union’s directive and registered with IPPIS, Ogunyemi said that ASUU was still monitoring the situation.
He said the issue of disciplinary measure was not something that the union would rush into.
“We don’t rush at sanctioning our members when they do something wrong. There are processes to be followed – the first is to actually ascertain those who are involved. As I said before there are two categories of people affected in this case.
“First are those who willfully rebelled against the union because they had some issues with the union. They include those we have sanctioned in the past and we thought that they would explore the opportunity of an appeal. Rather than doing that, some of them decided to move overboard to frontally attack the union and to recruit others to see if they can form a rebel group,” he stated.
Ogunyemi identified the second group as ASUU members who may have been forced by circumstances to register with IPPIS because they were due to retire from service.
Ogunyemi said the second group who like the first set were very few in number, registered with IPPIS in fear that not doing so might jeopardise their retirement benefits.
According to Ogunyemi, most of the lecturers who registered with IPPIS have since realised their mistakes and have retraced their steps.
He also said in the University of Ilorin, which was regarded as the hotbed of rebellion against ASUU, the lecturers had reconciled with the union.
“There is nothing like breakaway group, the number of those involved are insignificant and even at most them have retraced their steps and came back. But we are still engaging others to make them see reason rejoin the union,” he added.