UTAS Vs IPPIS: Integrity test and deception in salary payments

By Prof. M. K. Othman

Resourcefulness is the most God-given talent endowed to Nigerians at all times. The talent is majorly untapped and remains potential within the capabilities of individuals until challenged by circumstances to manifest. When such talent manifests, the nation does not recognise and accord support to optimize the talent for national advancement. This lack of recognition and support causes brain-drain of talents to other receptive climes where they excel.

For instance, in 2016, Nigerians distinguished themselves during the Howard University 2016 graduation ceremony by capturing the majority of the prizes. Out of the 96 graduates with PhD in Pharmacy, 43 of them were Nigerians. The total number of graduates represented 46 states of America and 35 countries across the globe. Yet, Nigerians collected 16 awards and left only 11 awards to graduates from 46 states in the USA and 34 other countries. Among the awardees was a 24-year-old Nigerian lady who received the Wall of Fame Award as one of the best students in over 20 years of academic endeavours and graduated with a Summa Cum Laude (first class). She was mentioned on the list of who is who within American Colleges and Universities.

There are several examples of Nigerians who excelled and are still excelling. Philip Emeagwali is another one, he won the 1989 prestigious Gordon Bell Prize ($10,000) for inventing the high-speed computer. Aliyu Jelani is another who designed the Chevy Volt, a car reputed to be an American Revolution and considered to be one of the apt concepts in the design line. After Jelani’s famous global recognition, we cajoled him back to Nigeria and made him Director-General of the National Automotive Design and Development Council (NADDC). Jelani as DG may be facing a herculean task to have the right environment and tools to perform. Certainly, such ideal conditions cannot exist in Nigeria. His lofty dreams may be difficult to achieve.

It is based on these premises, I find it irresistible to comment on the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS) and UTAS as electronic systems for personnel emolument to the university staff. Since 2015, Federal Government has been using IPPIS as a salary payment system to address over-bloated wage bills and issues of ghost workers. IPPIS is a foreign-developed system engineered by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank to “checkmate” corruption in civil service. ASUU has always been suspicious of World Bank and IMF policies as anti-people and thus, rejected IPPIS out rightly.

Two months ago, ASUU was fully vindicated by the Auditor-General of the Federation. The 2019/20 Audit report on the use of IPPIS and Government Integrated Financial Management Information System (GIFMIS) identified several flaws in the operation of the two payment platforms, which led to the loss of huge resources and put the integrity of staff data into question. The report identified financial irregularities amounting to over N4.394 billion on the IPPIS platform, in addition to the duplication of personnel data and irregular entry of data for workers. Additionally, the Federal Government spent over US$27.411 million, €8.490 million, and N6.518 billion between 2011 to 31 December 2020 (https://thenationonlineng.net/augf-picks-holes-in-ippis-operations/).

As the tradition of ASUU, when it opposes a system, it brings a better alternative, and thus, ASUU developed a homegrown solution tagged “University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS)”.

UTAS proves to be a better alternative. However, those benefiting from the shenanigan of IPPIS could not let go easily. Suddenly, National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), the Federal Government regulatory agency for Information Technology in Nigeria came alive to do an integrity test for UTAS. Was NITDA sleeping when IPPIS was imported and pushed through our throat, hook, line, and sinker?

NITDA was established in April 2001 to coordinate general IT development and regulation in the country. However, there is no evidence that IPPIS was subjected to the so-called integrity test when it was brought into the country. This is because we look down on our talents and innovativeness and prefer to accept foreign technologies as superior without due diligence. The apostles of IPPIS keep deceiving the government that so many billions of Naira were saved because of IPPIS while thousands of workers are groaning due to haphazard payments of their salaries. You deny some people their salaries and short-pay others, yet, you shout saving money. Among many examples, NECO claimed of having 246 members of staff who have not been paid since 2015 due to IPPIS irregularities. This is one example among others. IPPIS has proven to be a conduit for mutilating the wages of civil servants in Nigeria.

Nevertheless, UTAS was developed as a homegrown and hack-proof payment system to meet the peculiarities of the university system whose structure and function are different from the mainstream ministries. From 2020 to date, UTAS was subjected to a series of tests by NITDA in the presence of different stakeholders with highly commendable results. At the initial tests, the results ranged from 80 to 90% and even NITDA was impressed with the performance. However, after what seemed to be pressure from within and without, NITDA made a u-turn and said UTAS did not pass the integrity test. Of course, this was vehemently challenged by ASUU to an embarrassing point in NITDA’s leadership.

Thus, the FGN-ASUU conciliation meeting was held on Tuesday, 22nd February 2022, it was agreed that both NITDA and ASUU Technical teams should work together in re-assessing the UTAS in the presence of observers from the Federal Ministries of Finance, Education, Labour, and National Salary and Wages Commission. The reassessment of UTAS was done between 8th and 16th March 2022. UTAS was subjected to 698 cases that were tested before and after remediation. The overall results revealed that UTAS passed with 97.4% and 99.3% before and after remediation, respectively.

In all sincerity, ASUU deserves strong commendation for using its meagre resource to develop a viable solution to the perennial problems in the university system. Government should eat a humble pie and accept UTAS in the best interest of the university system in Nigeria. Certainly, nothing is perfect but with good intention, determination and focus, we can overcome our obstacles. Time will tell.

Prof Othman writes from NAERLS, ABU Zaria and can be reached via email: mkothman@gmail.com.

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