Agony of UNIZIK Staff Employed for Two Years Without Pay

Two years after securing employment at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, over 1,000 of such employees have yet to receive a dime as an emolument, despite consistently rendering services to the institution. David-Chyddy Eleke reports

Getting federal employment is the dream of many young and middle-aged persons in Nigeria. For many, it is a thing to go to church and offer thanksgiving to God. Of course, many actually do. The importance of gaining federal employment can be seen in cases where some already employed persons dump their employment in private establishments or state to move over to one in federal establishments when they see the opening.

They cannot be blamed for their choices because the benefits of working in a federal establishment are numerous, unlike private establishments, where the owners run as they deem fit, or state government-owned establishments, where the governors determine the pay.

Even when the federal government agrees to a stipulated wage, the governors complain of a shortage of funds. They refuse to implement the federal government’s agreement yet live large without recourse to the shortage of funds they complained of.

There are also cases where people who run private businesses have dumped them upon securing federal jobs. This is where Mama Somtoo, a former trader at the popular Eke Awka Market in the Anambra State capital, Awka falls. Mrs Agnes Eze (not her real name) was a trader at Eke Awka market and traded on provisions. In her line in the market, she was popularly known as Mama Somtoo, her first daughter’s name. She was a wholesaler of provisions and sundry goods. In 2020 when she learnt of the opening at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, she pressured her husband to help her gain employment in the institution.

Her husband pressed the right button, and Mama Somtoo got a job at the university. There are many unverified stories about how many people paid huge amounts of money to get employment. Upon securing employment, she immediately discontinued her business at Eke Awka market, sold off her goods, rented out her shop and resumed work as a federal civil servant in an ivory tower. Close to two years after she gained employment, Mama Somtoo is yet to receive any payment as remuneration for her new job.

She is one of over 1,000 staff of the institution, teaching and non-teaching staff, involved in the problem. This results from the non-capturing into the IPPIS (Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System) data bank. IPPIS is the platform under which university staff are paid their monthly pay.

Plight of affected staff

THISDAY spoke with a wide range of staff of UNIZIK, who are involved in the problem, and it was all lamentation. Though Mama Somtoo refused to speak to THISDAY on her plight, her friend who was with her during the interview jokingly told her: “Go and thank your God for your husband. By now, you would have been so broke that you won’t even find money to buy an eye pencil. You can imagine the plight of people who are the breadwinners of their family, and they found themselves in this condition.”

THISDAY learnt that Mrs Eze’s husband is a top politician and owns the building they live in, Awka, which has made her case easier. Other affected staff are not so lucky.​

“I left my interior decoration business to join the university in 2020, but because of the problem, I had to activate my contact and move into the field again,” stated another affected staff. “This Christmas, at least, I was able to put rice on my family’s table through decorations at events and other small jobs. I have been through hell these two years, but thank God for his mercies.”

Reason for non-capturing

There is a level of secrecy surrounding the non-capturing of the staff, to the extent that no one has admitted knowing why they have not been captured by IPPIS. There has yet to be an official statement from the federal government and the institution over why they have not captured the new staff. Not even the new staff know what is holding them back from being captured.

One of the staff said: “When we were employed in 2020, we were assured that the employment was genuine. Before some of us applied, we made extensive enquiries and found that the employment was approved by the federal government before the governing council of the institution decided to announce the vacancies. We have also been given staff number, which is usually generated from Abuja, and this showed that the employment is authentic. So, why we have not been captured for payment is what we do not know.”

A source within the institution, a senior staff, told THISDAY in confidence that it is suspected that the reason for the non-payment was because of shady deals by people feeding fat on emoluments that were not theirs because of the infiltration of universities’ payroll with fake names. The source said the insistence on using IPPIS as a payment module was able to wipe out fraudulent practices within the institutions in Nigeria, and persons who have been benefiting from the salaries of ghost workers were shut out immediately after IPPIS was activated.

“Since such people have lost that avenue of making illegal revenues, they had to quickly make arrangements for the employment of new staff, to fill in the names of the ghost names they were using previously to make money. I cannot tell you for sure that this was the case, but the tight-lip approach following this non-capturing of the new staff by IPPIS is just too much. There have been no official reasons why they have not been captured,” the source explained.

The source added, “I can also tell you that the vice-chancellor has been working hard to resolve the problem. He once attended ASUU meeting and declared some of the efforts he has been making to resolve this, but up till today, the matter has not been resolved. The problem predates the VC, but he is a man who likes to see everyone happy, and his level of sincerity is the reason ASUU in UNIZIK has not used this as a reason to commence another strike. According to him (VC), he recently involved a prominent figure in Anambra State to see how the federal government can resolve this, and people are happy with him.”

What is UNIZIK management saying?

Efforts to reach the management of Nnamdi Azikiwe University for a comment on what the institution is doing about the matter yielded no result. THISDAY reached the spokesperson for the university, Mrs Gladys Chika Ene, for an interview appointment, but she declined. She insisted that she had no information on the matter and would not like to comment on it. She added that the VC was not also ready to speak on the matter.

When THISDAY reached out to the Vice-Chancellor, Prof Charles Esimone, calls to his phone line did not go through. The Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Administration), Prof Joe Ikechebelu, who was also reached, insisted that he was not authorised to speak on the matter.​

He told THISDAY that he would only speak if the vice-chancellor mandated him to do so. He advised THISDAY to write to the vice-chancellor, requesting information on the matter. As of the time of filing this report, an e-mail sent to the vice-chancellor had not been responded to.

Senate wades in

Meanwhile, the Senate has waded into the matter, promising to resolve it once and for all. Senator Uche Ekwunife was said to have brought the plight of the workers to the floor of the Senate in December 2022. Ekwunife, who spoke in an interview on the matter, explained the reasons for weighing into the challenges faced by the staff, describing it as the height of insensitivity.

She said: “It is inhuman that someone will work for one month and won’t get paid let alone two years yet the person is transporting himself to work on daily basis. Even more painful is the fact that many of these staff have children and families to feed. I’m confident that with the backing of the National Assembly, the affected staff will soon have cause to smile. Once I return to Abuja, we will continue from where we stopped and ensure that the affected staff are remunerated in line with the terms of their employment.”

While speaking on the floor of the Senate on December 20, 2022, Ekwunife was quoted to have sued for the resolving of the non-capturing of the staff.​

“In 2019, the vice-chancellor after getting approval from the university governing council to recruit academic and non-academic staff graciously embarked on a recruitment exercise for the positions in the university,” Ekwunife told the senate. “However, at the end of the recruitment exercise, the recruited staff were directed to register and enroll into the IPPIS platform for staff monthly emoluments, but they have not been captured at the time of moving this motion.”

She expressed concern that the non-capturing of the recruited UNIZIK staff by IPPIS since 2020 has made life very difficult for the staff, their families, and their dependents. Ekwunife prayed the senate to direct the Accountant General of the Federation to immediately capture the recruited staff of UNIZIK by IPPIS for onward payment of their salaries and also to consider other recruited staff of universities across the country with similar situations. All senators unanimously adopted the motion.

Related Articles