The warning strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) may escalate as the federal government has rejected the union’s demand for 18 months to develop its alternative payment application, the University Transparency and Accountability System (UTAS), as its preferred mode for the payment of salaries of academic staff, THISDAY’s investigation has revealed.
It was, however, gathered that the negotiation between the two parties will continue today in Abuja.
ASUU had rejected the federal government’s Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (PPIS), leading to the suspension of the payment of their salaries by the federal government.
Before the federal government directed the closure of tertiary institutions and unity colleges over the outbreak of COVID-19, the union had embarked on a two-week warning strike over the refusal of government to pay those that did not enroll on the payment platform.
THISDAY gathered that when the federal government’s negotiating team asked ASUU team to present the union’s alternative payment platform, which the union had claimed it developed at a cost of N2 million, the union requested for 18 months to develop the UTAS platform.
ASUU’s request for extension of time was canvassed at a recent meeting with the federal government negotiating’s team led by Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, in Abuja.
ASUU President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, was quoted by a member of the government’s negotiating team at the closed-door talks, as having told the meeting that the software for UTAS is yet to be fully developed and that if given 18 months, it will be able to develop and perfect the payment platform.
THISDAY gathered that although the government side was shocked by the revelation that ASUU was not yet ready with UTAS despite its claim of having developed a home-grown and better alternative to IPPIS, the team agreed that ASUU should go and put up a position paper that will respond to all the issues in dispute.
A member of the ASUU team, who confided in THISDAY, said the union in its written submission gave a breakdown of how it plans to develop the salary payment platform.
The union explained that developing the payment application software would take six months, the alpha testing of the equipment will take three months, while what the union called Beta will take six months and the rounding off of the system is to take three months.
The source said the union solicited the support and understanding of government to use the 18 months extension of time to develop its own software, which will be error-proof.
THISDAY, however, gathered from a top member of the federal government’s team that the government rejected the ASUU’s request.
The government official said: “The government team is disappointed that the leadership of the union could mislead its members all this while that it has UTAS ready as an alternative to IPPIS. The union told its members that it had developed home-grown solution that is better than IPPIS. This claim made some of us to make commitment to President Muhammadu Buhari that if ASUU’s solution is home-grown, it will be beneficial to Nigeria and should be given a chance. It is unfortunate that when they were asked to present the solution, they told us that it is not yet ready.
“ASUU has apparently misled its members. By requesting for 18 months, the union is simply telling government to shut down, which is unacceptable. It is an attempt to frustrate the genuine government’s policy aimed at engendering transparency and accountability in the universities.”
He added that the president was initially disposed to give ASUU an opportunity to present the UTAS and had intended to give it a trial because it is an indigenous effort, but the government was shocked to learn that UTAS is not yet ready.
THISDAY gathered that the federal government’s team has suggested a middle-ground approach.
The government’s team, it was learnt, has suggested that while the government waits for the 18 months for the development of the UTAS, ASUU should in the interim enroll on the IPPIS starting from the middle of March.
Ngige was also said to have promised the union that special arrangements will be made to pay the February salaries of those who have not registered with IPPIS.
Ogunyemi did not respond to phone calls and text messages sent to him on the issue yesterday.