#EndASUUStrike: Presidential Committee on IPPS, GIFMIS, and TSA and Matters Arising, By Prof. MK Othman

Ultimately, the government has eaten a humble pie and accepted to look into lapses, errors, and inadequacies of the Treasury Single Account (TSA), Government Integrated Financial Management Information System (GIFMIS), and Integrated Payroll and Personnel information system (IPPIS) after several months of protests, strike and 6-month of imposed starvation to members of ASUU and university-based unions. A Presidential Technical Committee was set up to ensure the review of the strengths, weaknesses, and challenges of these systems while advising the President on the best methods to improve them. At the inauguration, the government noted the detection of errors in IPPIS processes when NITDA subjected it to reviews. A clear confession of IPPIS imperfection.

Six or so years ago, I attended a stakeholders sensitization workshop on IPPIS, GIFMIS, and TSA at Bayero University Kano, many questions were raised and there were no satisfactory answers but stakeholders were employees of government had no option but to accept the policy. Even at that time, ASUU had already rejected the use of IPPIS as a platform for salary payments in the university, at least not for the academic staff. Then, the reason was not unconnected with the possible erosion of the university’s autonomy. For the university to function as a citadel of learning at par with other universities globally, it needs autonomy to act as a government within a government. Thus, the university has the legal power to make laws (Statutes) for direct Gazette without passing through the National or State Assembly provided such laws are not in conflict with constitutional provisions or extant Laws. The university has four organs: council, senate, congregation, and convocation; each having distinct power and functions designed to complement each other and optimize teamwork. The University Council is the highest decision and policymaking body with a quasi-legislative function, including the power to make laws (statutes). Council is the employer of all categories of university employees. The power of the Council includes governing, managing, regulate the finances, accounts, investment, property, business, and all affairs whatsoever of the university. As stated in the 2007 Universities Act, 2003 and 2007 “The Governing Council of the university shall be free in the discharge of its functions and exercise of its responsibilities for the good management, growth, and development of the university”. The Act further states “The Council of a university in the discharge of the functions shall ensure that disbursement of funds of the university complies with the approved budgetary ratio for personal cost, overhead cost, research and development, library development, and the balance in expenditure between academic vis-à-vis non-academic activities”. Again, the Act added “The power of the Council shall be exercised in the Law and Statutes of each University and to those extent establishment circulars that are inconsistent with the Laws and Statutes of the University shall not apply to the Universities” This means that the Act has insulated universities from unnecessary bureaucracies and directives in the disbursement of funds such as staff salary payments and allowances. The insulation is necessary otherwise, one day, a government functionary will direct a university to award a degree to someone who has never seen the four walls of the university. Why should IPPS be imposed on the university as a platform for salary payment?

Again, the use of a centralized payment system without due diligence and system customization has high risks of system failure, system manipulation by unscrupulous elements for their selfish ends, and many more. However, the promoters of these systems, notably, the consultants with the active connivance of top officers of the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning, and its agencies have always claimed that the systems have saved trillions of Naira. Where are those saved trillions of Naira? What have we done with the saved money, building roads, bridges, etc? these are questions, the Presidential Technical Committee should find out and furnish Nigerians with details.

After a few years of operating IPPIS, GIFMIS, and TSA, the problems have manifested with dire consequences for the nation. The first was the allegation made by ASUU in 2020 that some people were eating fat with the use of IPPIS as a salary payments platform. Of course, ASUU was ignored as braggadocio of “an enemy of progress”. As mentioned in this column a few weeks ago, 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.

The next was the 2020 Audit Report on the use of IPPIS and others, it was so revealing that Nigerians were waiting for the immediate suspension of the use of these platforms and see heads rolling in the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation. 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 usual, not much was heard in the report.

In May 2022, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) arrested the Chief Custodian of IPPIS, GIFMIS, and TSA, the Accountant General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris over allegations of money laundering and diversion of public funds using the payment platforms. Ahmed Idris was summarily suspended from office, detained and granted bail. On Friday, 22nd July 2022, EFCC arraigned Idris, and three others before Justice Adeyemi Ajayi of the Federal Capital Territory High Court, Abuja on charges of stealing and criminal breach of trust to the tune of N109.4 billion. The Court was told about how former AGF, Ahmed Idris, compromised the TSA, GIFMIS, and IPPIS and carted away billions of naira belonging to the Federal Government. 

While Ahmed Idris may presume to be innocent until the pronouncement of the Court after the due process but the lapses, inadequacies, or errors of these payment platforms became very obvious, which made the government action imperative, a right thing to be done. However, setting up a high-power Presidential Technical Committee composed of Cabinet Ministers and first-class CEOs is giving so much prominence to foreign-developed payment platforms (TSA, GIFMIS, and IPPIS). Why is the government not giving a homegrown solution; “University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS)” an opportunity to serve as a payment platform? From 2020 to date, UTAS, as a homegrown and hackproof payment system was subjected to a series of tests by NITDA in the presence of different stakeholders with highly commendable results, yet, the nation is shying away from using it, why? Perhaps, there is more to it than meets the eye. This is what the High-powered Technical Committee should find out and tell us as concerned Nigerians. When are we to expect the report of the Committee? Time will tell.

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