***SSANU warns against preferential treatment to any union
***Vows to resist FG recognizing UTAS for payment
By Johnbosco Agbakwuru – Abuja
Another round of crisis appears to be looming in the nation’s universities over the sharing formula of the just-approved N40 billion Earned Allowances for the university-based unions.
Recall that at the meeting between the Federal Government delegation led by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige and the leadership of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, on Friday, the Minister announced that the Earned Allowances has been increased to N40 billion to be shared by the four university-based unions.
But the Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Universities, SSANU, has warned the government to ensure that the money passed through the Universities Councils which have the template of sharing formula.
SSANU also warned government to be wary of any group or union that would present any payment platform apart from the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System, IPPIS, which is the one recognized by government to curb corruption within the system.
President of SSANU, Comrade Mohammed Haruna Ibrahim, who addressed journalists, weekend, said SSANU would resist introduction of any payment platform aside IPPIS except the one being conceived by the Joint Action Committee, JAC, comprising SSANU and the Non-Academic Staff Union, NASU.
Comrade Ibrahim said Government has no business in sharing money to unions as universities were established through statute of law and each university has a governing council which is the employer of all workers and the highest policy making body of each university.
He said the university administration through the registry and bursary units have the responsibility of knowing who should earn what and advised government to channel whatever amount they are giving properly through the Councils.
According to him, “The issue of Earned Allowances is a product of Collective Bargaining from the 2009 Agreement of the Federal Government with SSANU and has been in contention since the agreement was signed.
“Ideally, the Allowances should have been embedded into the salaries and implemented immediately but for Government’s procrastination. The implication was a heavy accumulation of arrears of the Earned Allowances, where repayment became a big burden.
“After five years, 2014, the first tranche of Earned Allowances was paid. In line with the Acts of the Universities, the money was paid through the Councils of the Universities.
“Given the fact that Earned Allowances are not a largesse, bonanza or freebie, the Managements through the Registrars and Bursars, being custodian of all personnel and payroll records, were available to guide the Councils in the disbursement of the funds to eligible and deserving staff who had earned the allowances.
“By 2017 however, when the second tranche was paid, N23 Billion was released on a directive from the Federal Ministry of Education which allocated its disbursement in clear breach of the laws, 89% in favour of ASUU, leaving only 11% to the three Non-Teaching Unions.
“It took the strident intervention of the Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment, before a supplementary (though inadequate) amount of N8 Billion was released to cater for the shortfall granted to the Non-Teaching Unions
“Despite our protest over the surreptitious release of 2017, another release of N25 Billion was made via a memo from the Federal Ministry of Education dated 18th June, 2019, wherein it was expressly stated that ASUU be allocated 80% of the funds while the other three unions of NAAT, NASU and SSANU be allocated 20%.
“Till date, we keep raising concerns about the implications of these irregular disbursements and “sharing” of funds by the Federal Ministry of Education because it erodes the autonomy of the Universities since the payments were not done through the Councils of the Universities as required by law.
“Similarly, the allocation formula which did not abide by any known or justifiable accounting practice, was done without the inputs of the Registries and Bursaries of the Universities who are custodians of personnel and payment records.
“Lastly, the Audit Reports of previous disbursements had not been released and as such, the N25 Billion released was not the outcome of any Audit Report.
“As a consequence of the above scenario, we had witnessed a disproportionate backlog of arrears in payments of Earned Allowances, compared with ASUU, which we had demanded for correction.
“Following a fourteen-day ultimatum, we had embarked on a five-day warning strike between Monday, 19th and Friday, 23rd August, 2019, to drive home our demands for the release of a minimum of N30 Billion being part payment of Earned Allowances being owed members of NASU and SSANU between 2011 and 2015.
“While the Government had begun discussions for the payment of arrears of Earned Allowances, the leaders of the Unions (SSANU and NASU) were being pressured by members to embark on a full-blown indefinite strike.
“That strike would have commenced at the inception of the COVID 19 pandemic but for appeals that a strike during a pandemic would have been the height of insensitivity.
“Our considered position was that the global health crises had thrown up serious challenges which a strike by SSANU and NASU would not help.
“Consequently, with the easing up of the pandemic, discussions had resumed with Government albeit at a slow pace, culminating in a Memorandum of Understanding last month, where it was agreed that another tranche would be released to all Universities for the payment of Earned Allowances to all deserving staff, academic and non-teaching.
“Permit me to note that this disbursement of another tranche to all deserving staff is in itself an injustice to the non-teaching unions given the partiality experience in previous tranches which had led to disproportionate backlog of arrears compared to our academic counterparts.
“We are however not unaware of the prevailing industrial unrest in the University system and if allowing them a share out of the N30 Billion promised by Government to end the industrial action is the sacrifice we can make, we would be willing to do so.
“If however, we discover any attempt to allocate the disbursement through the Ministry of Education or any other Government office and not through the Councils as prescribed by law, we shall resist such attempt with all arsenals available.
“We have had enough of illegalities, injustices and disproportionate disbursements of Earned Allowances and wish to state that enough is enough. Government must either do right and treat all unions equitably or be ready to face another round of industrial unrest in the University system.
“We are ready to take Government head-on if an unjust disbursement of Earned Allowances is contemplated.
“The government should be ready to face the full wrath of SSANU and the outcome may be an eye-opener for those who have always underestimated SSANU and assume that the welfare of the non-teaching unions can be treated with levity at the expense of other categories of staff. I wish to tell people who think that way that they may be in for a shocker!”
On IPPIS, he said that the decision of the leadership of SSANU and the Joint Action Committee of NASU and SSANU to enrol its members into the IPPIS was well-intended and for national interests, in the face of the pervasive personnel and payroll indiscretions and infractions observed in the Nigerian University system.
He said, “SSANU had been at the vanguard of demanding accountability, probity and transparency in the Nigerian University system and as a consequence, it was only proper that we embraced any measure or action that would stem the tide of corruption in the system.
“In accepting that our members keyed in, however, the conditionality of ensuring that the IPPIS platform caters for the peculiarities of salary payments in the university system was well expressed and it was as a result of this that the IPPIS could not take off immediately as the developers needed to upgrade the platform to be able to accommodate those peculiarities as expressed by the University based unions.
“It was only following a demonstration and presentation to the Union leaderships, of having met those requirements of suitability for the Universities, that we directed our members to key into the IPPIS.
“Alas, while the Government had demonstrated and assured of satisfying our requirements, the actual implementation showed that those queries and demands of the peculiarities of the University system had not been effected.
“From January this year, so many anomalies have been witnessed in the salaries of our members, from underpayments to overpayments and multiple payments among others.
“Series of letters had been written to the relevant government offices expressing our displeasure and seeking correction of these anomalies which had never been witnessed in the University system prior to the introduction of IPPIS.
“After a few months and observing that the trend of anomalies continued unabated, we were left with no choice but to demand a total stoppage of the IPPIS and a revert to the old payment platform under GIFMIS, or the adoption of a payment platform that would serve the same anti-corruption purposes as IPPIS while taking care of the peculiarities of salary payments in the University system and that was how the University General and Peculiar Payroll and Personnel System (UG3PS) was conceived.
“The UG3PS is a multitenant platform that authorizes each institution to manage the processing of their payroll autonomously while the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation approves the payroll for payment and has features that allow flexibility in computing allowances and deductions while also robust to handle transfer of service, sabbatical leave, visiting and other peculiarities of the University system.
“While this briefing is not to unveil the UG3PS as that would be done under the auspices of JAC, I wish to express our support for the work done so far on the platform and that the present leadership of SSANU has keyed into the Joint Action Committee of NASU and SSANU to ensure this project is actualized.
“Let me state that the IPPIS has thrown a challenge to our members and it is in that spirit that the UG3PS was conceived. We stand with the conviction that IPPIS or any alternative being suggested by any group either within or outside the system, cannot be as efficient as that being presented by the two Non-Teaching Staff Unions members of whose primary functions include personnel issues and salary payments.
“Without prejudice to anybody, we say categorically that no group in the University system understands the intricacies, challenges and manoeuvrings of salary payments as much as SSANU and NASU and as such, we shall resist any payment platform not designed by our members because it would simply be a case of adding more confusion to the already existing anarchy.
“We shall reject most vehemently any attempt to impose a negotiated alternative salary payment platform which does not have our input and seek to use this medium to warn the Federal Government to take heed as there may be fire on the mountain if such decision is taken.
“SSANU shall no longer sit by and allow Government to continue to mistreat its members in a bid to satisfy other interests in the University system.
“The statements, the body language and signals from some Government officials have been quite disconcerting and it is important that we strongly advise that government should not attempt to please one group in the University system, to displease the others.
“The consequences could be disastrous. A word is enough for the wise!”