Nigerians must have breathed a sigh of relief following the report that significant progress has been made at the meeting of the Federal Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) held on Friday 20th November, 2020.
According to media reports, the Federal Government has acceded to many of the demands from ASUU, notable among them being the possibility of using some other platform and not Integrated Personnel Payroll and Information System (IPPIS) for payment of Universities staff salaries and allowances. That it also offered N65billion to settle the payment of earned allowances and revitalisation of the federal universities.
It was further reported that the Federal Government agreed to pay ASUU the accrued salary arrears of its members from February to June, 2020 using old salary payment platform, the Government Integrated Financial Management Information System (GIFMIS). Both parties also agreed that the Federal Ministry of Education and Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment would jointly reconsider the policy of the Federal Government on “No Work, No Pay” in order to facilitate payment of the withheld salaries.
From the foregoing, it is very clear that only the Federal Government, as a constituted authority, determines policy direction and takes decisions on the conditions of service of staff of the Federal Universities. No single person in Government is vested with those powers and authorities either by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria or by the presidential powers of delegation of authority. Even the Federal Government committee assigned to discuss with ASUU over the demands of the Union can only make recommendations to the Federal Government for further consideration and approval or otherwise.
The vast majority of members of ASUU demonstrated great sense of maturity and patriotism as they remained calm and patient while the negotiations last. However, few lecturers exhibited some level of misconceptions about government bureaucracy, judging from their comments. They erroneously think that individual public officers could and indeed do take decisions arbitrarily on behalf of the Federal Government.
A good case in point was the report on accusations by one Professor Lawan Abubakar of ASUU, Bauchi branch, against the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF). According to a social media report credited to solacebase.com (www.solacebase.com) dated 19th November, 2020, Prof. Abubakar singled out the person of Alhaji Ahmed Idris, the current AGF for vilification in connection with the protracted negotiations between the Federal Government and ASUU. Of course, I am not yet aware whether the said Prof. Abubakar has confirmed or disowned the report linked to him.
It is reported that Prof. Abubakar’s accusations included that the Accountant General insisted on the enrolment of University staff on IPPIS only because he will gain N16,000 per each lecturer so enrolled. He further alleged that Alhaji Idris owns multi billion Naira Gezawa Commodity Market and Exchange. He also recently bought Sokoto Hotel in Kano which he demolished to build a mall.
Under normal circumstances, one will find it extremely difficult to believe that such wild allegations could emanate from a University Professor. Scholars are known for research, analysis, making references to their sources of information and for deductive reasoning, particularly on issues worthy of their attention and public comments.
If the report is confirmed, one will wonder how an academic who rose to the status of Professor can stoop so low as to engage in spreading unsubstantiated accusations against another person. Take for instance the allegation that the Accountant General of the Federation receives financial benefit to the tune of N16,000 on the enrolment of each staff into IPPIS. This clearly potrays misunderstanding of IPPIS adminstration.
It will be helpful, at this point, to know that IPPIS is an Information Communication Technology (ICT) driven programme initiated by the Federal Government of Nigeria to improve the storage of personnel records and administration of payroll for Federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).
It is a world bank initiative anchored by the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning. It was introduced in 2006 by the Federal Government being part of the then Reform Programmes. For ease of implementation and administration the Federal Government, through the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation (OHCSF) created a Department in the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation (OAGF) specifically to be responsible for the management of financial aspect of IPPIS.
Implementation of IPPIS took off with selected federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) in 2007. Since then the exercise has been progressing to include other federal MDAs in a gradual process.
The IPPIS department in OAGF operates strictly in accordance with extant rules, regulations and government directives. The staff of the department are professional civil servants drawn from across the country. They are not employees of the AGF. Moreover, the Federal Government does not release cash to the OAGF for payment of salaries and wages of the staff of federal MDAs captured under the IPPIS. Salary payments and other financial transactions are carried out electronically.
On the alleged acquisition of properties worth billions of Naira citing Gezawa Commodity Market and Exchange, and Sokoto Hotel, while I am not holding a brief for the Accountant General on the matter, I believe that as a high ranking civil servant who steadily progressed to the peak of his career in the service, Alh. Idris ought to be very conversant with the public service rules, financial regulations and such other guidelines provided for the official and personal conduct of serving federal public officers.
Meanwhile, a quick google search reveals that from available materials on its website, Gezawa Commodity Market and Exchange is a limited liability company registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission of Nigeria. This, therefore, does not require spurious allegations aimed at damaging the image of any person over ownership of the property. The records of ownership, value, etc of the company could easily be cross checked with the Commission.
Any interested person can equally follow the procedures laid down by the Kano state government for tracing ownership of landed properties through relevant establishments such as the state Ministries/Agencies responsible for lands, housing and urban development. His findings would have availed him access to proof of ownership of the property (by Ahmed Idris, if his claims were correct), date of purchase, actual cost and even the approved building plan and architectural designs for the said proposed mall.
These are simple and harmless steps I expected one to have taken in order to obtain his facts and evidences before he went to the press.
Having said all these, I wish to opine that perhaps lecturers were unhappy their salary was stopped for months, and some of them thought it was the AGF who took the decision of his own volition. It is pertinent to point out that the AGF could not have decided on his own to stop salaries of University staff, or be responsible for the prolonged negotiations between the Federal Government and ASUU and he alone cannot resolve the present impasse.
Although OAGF is critical to payment of salaries for federal public service staff, the status of the office in the overall government structure is that of an extra-ministerial department under the general supervision of the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning. The AGF reports to and is answerable to the Honourable Minister.
It is also important to realise that Accountant General of the Federation, whoever the person holding the portfolio may be, do take orders from and carryout directives issued by his/her superiors in the conduct of official duties. There is no basis or justification whatsoever to single out the present Accountant General for blame on the protracted negotiations between the Federal Government and ASUU.
Besides, the yet to be substantiated allegations against Alhaji Ahmed Idris have no connection with the issues under discussion between the Federal Government and ASUU. Thus, the allegations were obviously being personal on issues that are entirely official. Most importantly, the allegations, even if proved right, could not help the struggle of ASUU or advance its cause.
In conclusion, I would like to draw attention to the fact that industrial dispute between the Federal Government and ASUU has always been addressed through civil service procedure. It is, therefore, advisable the academic staff of universities and other tertiary institutions, especially those staff who are inclined to active unionism, should endeavour to learn to some extent the practical aspects of mainstream civil service system. This will help them to have better perception of public administration and government business.
It will be helpful to bear in mind that civil service or bureaucracy always works in accordance with rules and regulations. Hierarchical order is also greatly respected. Individual officers do not arbitrarily take decisions. Every officer works only within the confines of his/her schedule of duties and in line with the assigned functions of the office one occupies.
On a final note, I urge civil servants and all public officers to endeavour to be upright, to uphold professionalism and other core ethical values of the Service. There is no benefit to be derived from making disparaging comments on public officers and bureaucracy in the absence of reliable information or proof. We must think and act positively to make Nigeria a better place.