IPPIS tango: Oloyede to the rescue?

By Bolanle Bolawole

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It is important to stress that none of the two extremes i.e. that of the Federal Government or ASUU is the best for University autonomy or will advance University autonomy. The militarization of ASUU has derided it of putting up sound, logical and coherent opposition to the IPPIS as far as the university system is concerned… It is also not right that for every issue, ASUU must threaten to embark on strike action…On the other hand, I am of the view that, eventually, the enrolment of Universities in particular and other tertiary institutions into IPPIS will be counter-productive and injurious to national development… – Prof. Is-haq Oloyede. 

It was on social media that I first came across snippets of the opinion of Prof. Is-haq Oloyede, JAMB’s Registrar, on the raging controversy between the Federal Government and the leadership of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) on the FG’s new initiative called the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS). The FG’s claim is that it is introducing IPPIS to fight run-away corruption, fish out ghost workers and plug leaking holes deliberately bored into Government’s coffers by its unscrupulous workers. ASUU, however, argues that IPPIS runs counter to the university autonomy it took it decades to achieve; that it will destroy the university system and, yet, would not have fought corruption in any meaningful way.

Both ASUU and the FG are sticking to their guns. While the FG is proceeding with the scheme to varying degrees of successes and failures in ASUU strongholds, the union on the other hand is mobilising its members, first to boycott IPPIS and, later, for strike action. Academic staff are just one of the many stakeholders in the University system. The non-teaching staff belong to different unions and do not take orders from ASUU. It is seldom that both see eye-to-eye. Besides, University autonomy, which ASUU is concerned about, is generally seen as affecting ASUU members more than the non-academic staff. In some of the campuses ASUU has split into factions; there is now the Congress of University Academics (CONUA), which opposes anything ASUU stands for; meaning that it may support IPPIS. A house divided against itself…

And just like University education or certificate has become mere meal ticket, so also do many academics these days see themselves as just doing a job to earn daily bread. To hell with any highfalutin ideas and ideals about the Ivory Tower or the symbiotic relationship between Town and Gown for national development; not to talk of the place of ideology in advancing human development! And I remember the gibberish of a one-time ultra-conservative, even reactionary, students’ union parliamentarian at Ife – Fasogbon (Where are you?) or so was his name, a law student. He stood on same side of the ideological divide with Idigbe.

“Ideology; that killed Che Guevara in Bolivia; ideology that killed Allende in Chile; ideology; that killed Lumumba in Congo”, ad nauseam! It was a debate at the Students’ Representative Council, which usually held at the dining hall of Adekunle Fajuyi, where I was Hall chairman in 1981/82. Remi, a progressive (God bless his soul), was Mr. Speaker at the time.

The forces against ASUU are formidable. The FG jubilates for having broken the solidarity of the Ivory Tower. I was at Ife a couple of weeks ago and saw how the non-teaching staff were falling over one another to register. The stampede and commotion was massive. The FG’s joker is “No IPPIS, no pay”! Therefore, in some universities, ASUU members are clandestinely registering. Like biblical Nicodemus, they distance themselves from IPPIS and chant solidarity songs with ASUU in the day time but return secretely to hobnob with IPPIS! Such shenanigans!

We must expect that the University authorities – Council, Management, etc – will side with the FG. Who pays the piper dictates the tune is the Credo here. Only die-hard, dyed-in-the-wool ASUU irredentists will stand with their union. How many these are will be seen in the days and months to come when push becomes shoving. University autonomy means absolutely nothing to academics who see their job as mere meal ticket.

Students and their parents will certainly not be happy about another disruption of an already disrupted academic calendar. Apart from a few institutions such as the University of Ilorin where the academic calendar runs perfectly, others are doing catching-up. Their best efforts will be frustrated if another strike attends IPPIS. 

Oloyede’s quote above on ASUU’s incessant strike actions is instructive. But why is the FG also insistent on taking the wrong step even where superior argument exists – again, such as Oloyede’s quoted above – that IPPIS is not as sacrosanct as it has been made to appear; that it will do more harm than good to the University system; and that there are better options that will benefit all while staving off crisis?

Oloyede did not say so in his paper under review but it is common knowledge that our leaders have little or no stakes in our educational system. Their children school abroad. Those who are magnanimous enough to retain their wards here put them in expensive private institutions immune to ASUU strikes. Moreover, a FG neck-deep in indebtedness and sinking into insolvency when you consider its frightening income to debt servicing ratio thinks of nothing else but how to raise more funds (VAT increase; all manner of taxes on prostrate citizens in an economy already comatose) so as to technically keep its head above the waters. But it only postpones Doom’s Day if it does not radically restructure – and quickly, too!

Incidentally, Oloyede’s antecedents did not suggest him as the person to appear to take the side of ASUU on IPPIS. At the University of Ilorin when he was the vice-chancellor, Oloyede and ASUU were mortal foes. ASUU members who went on strike were sacked by Oloyede. The matter dragged for years and ended up at the Supreme Court. ASUU won in the end but the victory, for many of their sacked members, was pyrrhic. Lives had been lost, families had suffered. Things were never going to be the same again for many.

Oloyede might have had his way but the price he paid was also steep. He earned the opprobrium of an ultra-conservative and reactionary element. When you consider his religion and puritanical bent, he was also labelled religious fundamentalist. Therefore, I was one of those who squirmed when he was named the JAMB Registrar. Surprisingly, however, Oloyede has used JAMB to burnish his image in a way that will surprise even his inveterate ASUU foes. His performance at JAMB has won him accolade and applause. If he is named for an Oscar or even a Nobel, few will object. I have twice attended the JAMB policy meeting (2018 and 2019) held at the Bola Babalakin auditorium, Gbongan, Osun State, and had marvelled at the democratic and even-handed way Oloyede handled proceedings. I dare to say you could not have had a better democrat presiding – and I mean every word! The JAMB Registrar is also jovial and down-to-earth.

Oloyede left the legacy of consistent academic calendar at Ilorin. Suddenly, that catapulted Ilorin, a second generation University, to the University of Choice for many parents and students, and first-generation universities now have a catching-up to do on Ilorin. His views on IPPIS, which he made at the 2019 Conference of Nigeria Federal Universities held on the 21st November at the Kanem Suites Limited, Abuja, should be carefully considered by warring FG and ASUU. Titled “University Autonomy Act and Stakeholders’ Responsibility”, Oloyede’s well-tempered advice should not be allowed to go unheeded.

Not only did he apportion blames firmly, squarely and across board, he also proffered solutions which will protect university autonomy while suggesting ways the FG could achieve its own objectives of weeding out ghost workers, fighting corruption and ensuring accountability without destroying university autonomy. Except there is more to IPPIS than we have been told publicly, ASUU and FG should march to the negotiation table and consider Oloyede’s proffered solutions! Oloyede has seen it all – an academic, a professor, an ex-VC and now “Government man”, so to say. He was forthright and blunt; not minding whose ox is gored. I will not be surprised if he is adjudged to have stepped on powerful toes on this issue. But such is the heavy burden that public-spirited and conscionable patriots must carry if they are to be truthful to their conscience as well as fulfil their sacred duty to humanity.            

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