In another move to ensure that its proposed alternative payment platform the (University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) gain wider acceptability in the Nigerian Universities, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) last Monday, updated the end-users of the solution in the Federal Government’s-owned Universities’ Bursary Units on what the union termed “merits of its use” against the present Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS) being deployed for the institutions.
After the presentation at the NUC Auditorium, Abuja, the Acting Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission (NUC), Dr. Suleiman Raymond-Yusuf, recalled that all the stakeholders were aware of the issues surrounding the use of the proposed platform and even the current IPPIS in use. He recounted that the Committee of Vice-Chancellors (CVC) of Nigerian Universities and their Bursars, had earlier been invited for the interaction to see how the platform works.
While noting that it was their turn for the update, he urged them to ask the right questions where necessary without fear or favour on areas that they need deeper understanding of the operations of the ASUU’s projected alternative platform for the betterment of the NUS, stressing that they were the major stakeholders whose technical ability would be required to determine the effectiveness or otherwise of the UTAS.
He described the interaction with the end users as a very important one that would help signpost the possibility of ASUU leadership and the managers of the federal universities being on the same page on the issue.
He recalled that NUC had in 2019 hosted a meeting of all the university based unions, (ASUU, SSANU, NASU and NAAT) as well as the Vice-Chancellors with the Office of Accountant General of the Federation (OAGF) where they all received a presentation from the latter on IPPIS.
He noted that ASUU however went back to develop its own alternative solution which had been projected as home-grown largely because it came from the academic community in Nigeria. He stated that it was not for him to begin to ask the question why UTAS or to begin to demand that it be placed side by side with the IPPIS, but according to him, what was important was that since the universities were to use same, it had to critically study the platform and take the right steps that would be of interest to the country in general.
He explained that the contending issue between the federal government and ASUU on IPPIS and UTAS as a payment platform was about ideological differences, where the IPPIS is projected as a foreign and neo-colonial liberal policy, while the union sees its own as home-grown which it also describes as ‘devoid of manipulation by external forces’.
He said that NUC was only interested in collecting their views which must be expressed boldly and clearly so as to help the Commission to develop a template that would contextualize such views to the appropriate quarters.
In a goodwill message, the Director-General, Nigeria Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Inuwa Kashifu Abdullahi, Represented by the Director, Information Technology and Resource Infrastructure, Dr. Vincent Olatunji, disclosed that the agency was a public service institution established by Act 2007 as the ICT policy implementing arm of the Federal Ministry of Communication of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It had sole responsibility of developing programmes that caters for the running of ICT related activities in the country.
In carrying out this function, it had to develop, regulate and provide advisory services on information technology practice in Nigeria. The developmental role is carried out in the area of ICT infrastructure and training. According to him, most agencies had received training and development from the agency and that NITDA had engaged the universities on this in the area of digitization of thesis and provision of computer infrastructure in collaboration with the NUC and Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund).
On the UTAS, the DG said its development would be history in the making when the nation succeeded in deploying the solution as an asset rich with local content. He informed the Bursary Personnel to look critically into the UTAS, saying that when they are not involved in the process of its development, you would not know how to use/ deploy it.
He reiterated the expectations of stakeholders for the end users to generate a robust discussion that would lead to informed decisions by government.
In his remarks, the ASUU President, Prof. Emmanuel Victor Osedeke noted with appreciation the joy of over 45,000 members of the union to the support of the NUC Acting Executive Secretary towards availing it the opportunity to update the Bursary Personnel on the contents and operations of the UTAS.
He said the presentation marked the last level of presentations which began with the Federal Ministry of Education (FME) and its officials, the Senate President and the entire Leadership as well as the OAGF along with Nigerian Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) and the Office of the National Security Adviser (NSA), CVC and Bursars of the universities.
He expressed delight that the presentation was being shown to the most critical stakeholders, the Bursary Personnel of the Nigerian universities, who would be the end-users. He noted that ASUU was pleased to contribute towards technology innovation in the country especially on the quest of government to embrace local content in the management of its space through UTAS.
According to him, ASUU recognizes strongly that Nigeria should not be left behind in the global quest for a knowledge economy driven by technology.
In his words, “It is a reality in today’s world that all human activities including university operations and governance are dependent on technology deployment.
“One way of demonstrating the capacity of Nigerian scholars are that they contribute meaningfully to this global challenge which is done here through the development of UTAS.
“The journey to UTAS is not a smooth one, the immediate challenge came from the federal government of Nigeria, with the introduction of the IPPIS, which ASUU rejected as unsuitable for the Nigerian universities”, he said.
He also disclosed that the benefit derivable from UTAS was that it guaranteed national security and that the platform adapted the provisions of the Establishment Acts, University Laws and the Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act of 1993 and its various amendments (of 2003 and 2012).
The Principal issue he said that negated IPPIS was the Autonomy Law of universities that vest the management of university personnel and their finances to their Governing Councils. This, he said, contradicted the civil service system where all the staff were under the OHCSF.
He noted that sometime in 2018, the federal government agreed with ASUU that the union should come up with its own projected alternative platform in order to enable it undergo integrity test, which he claimed it consented to and went into the development of the software.
He lamented that the process was aborted mid-way by the OAGF, which came up with a circular to coerce its members to enroll in the IPPIS platform. Despite this setback, he stated that the union swung into action and had now come up with the alternative software.
He pointed out that ASUU believed strongly in a research and development (R&D) policy dominated by a quest for local content other than one manipulated by foreign vested interests.
He said the union identify with the Triple Helix approach to the management of the university based on University-Government-Industry linkages. He said for Nigeria to experience genuine and sustainable development in all aspects of its National life, all effort must be made to stop it from being guarded by neo-liberalists seeking their own selfish ends.
He also claimed that ASUU‘s agitations since 1992 had been based on national interests, beginning with its demand for the triple helix approach to funding education and up to the present need to embrace UTAS by the government.
He expressed appreciation to all the members of the union’s technical team for the development of the alternative platform.
The technical team of ASUU led by Kabiru Ahmed, was on hand to do a demonstration on the workings of the UTAS.
Thereafter the universities Bursary Personnel were broken into seven different study groups to undergo a hands-on training on the deployment of the platform on all series of financial transactions in the university system.
The Deputy Executive Secretary, Administration, Mr. Chris Maiyaki and the Director, Executive Secretary’s Office, Mr. John Mairafi Ahmadu, were other members of the NUC Management team at the meeting.