The Nigerian government has reached an interim agreement with striking university lecturers to integrate the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) into the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS).
The IPPIS is the government’s accountability software that has been made compulsory for all public institutions, mainly for personnel payroll.
ASUU is opposed to the use of IPPIS for lecturers saying it does not consider some of the peculiar operations of universities. The lecturers’ union then developed its own UTAS which it wants the government to adopt for universities.
The Minister of Labour and Productivity, Chris Ngige, announced the agreement after a four-hour meeting between both parties.
Mr Ngige said the two parties will reconvene on Monday after the ASUU delegation deliberates with its National Executive Council (NEC).
“Both sides realised we are working for our country. ASUU already has the University Transparency and Account System. We had a preliminary agreement to accommodate the two systems. ASUU will have to get back to its members and agree on how to couple the two systems. We will continue the discussion after ASUU consults with its members and decision making authority, we will meet on Monday or Tuesday,” Mr Ngige said.
Before the meeting went into the technical session, Mr Ngige said the meeting was called because of the two-week warning strike declared by ASUU. He said the union erred by not properly informing the government of its decision to withdraw services as prescribed by the provisions of industrial relations.
Also speaking, the National President of ASUU, Biodun Ogunyemi, said the National Executive Committee of the union will review the conditions for the integration of UTAS into IPPIS.
However, both parties did not reveal the conditions to the media.
He said the issues discussed came from outstanding issues which had tended to be overshadowed by IPPIS.
“From the discussion we had, we have agreed that we will go and consult. We cannot pronounce on the proposals that came up until we consult with our members. We will leave it there for now.”
When asked if the strike would be suspended, the ASUU president said he could not make any pronouncement until he consulted with other members.
In a speech he made before the technical session began, Mr Ogunyemi told the minister that IPPIS was a distraction created by the government to divert the union from its actual agitation. According to him, the system would take Nigeria university system back for many years, adding that it had become a feature of governance in Nigeria to watch situation degenerate before looking for a solution.
“At the earlier meeting in the House of Representatives, it appeared that it is a feature of Nigeria governance style that until there is a fire somewhere, nobody will make an effort to avert the fire”.
“We recall that on February 7, 2019, we were here and we signed a Memorandum of Action, there were items that were outlined, rules were signed and time frame as attacked. We have written three letters in respect of those items while we acknowledged that some of them were activated even before we concluded the discussion then. But there were key areas over which we have been raising issues. We were thinking that we were going to trash those items that were outstanding until July 2019, when suddenly IPPIS was thrown at us,” he said.
“Let me state clearly that IPPIS for us was a distraction when it came because in 2013, it was first introduced to us and we engaged officers in charge then. By 2014 when we were almost coming to the point of providing an alternative, government side withdrew and for five years, we did not hear anything from IPPIS office until July 2019. Suddenly, it appears IPPIS has been made the major subject of university governance and staff unionism,” he said.
ASUU on Monday asked its members in federal universities across the country to begin two weeks warning strike in response to the government’s decision to stop the February salaries of lecturers who have not registered on the IPPIS platform.
Thursday’s meeting is the first by both parties since the strike commenced.
In the 19 years since Nigeria returned to civil rule under the Fourth Republic, university teachers in the country have embarked on strike 14 times that saw them stay away from work for about 40 months.
The last strike by the teachers was in November 2018.
ASUU has been locked in a protracted dispute with the Nigerian government over issues of poor funding of public universities. Every time the dispute boiled over to strike by the teachers, negotiations between the two parties always produced agreements.
However, the government’s failure to meet the teachers’ expectations within the context of the agreements have been a primary reason ASUU has been on strike almost every year since 1999.