The ongoing strike action embarked on by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in demanding for among other issues exclusion of its members from the Integrated Personnel Payroll and Information System (IPPIS) is increasingly akin to the 19th century labor unrest of the Irish National Union of Vinters, Grocers and Allied Trades Assistants against Downey’s pub of which notoriety is presumed the longest in history. It began March 1939 and ended in November 1953, after a period of 14 years.
But one remarkable thing about the Irish industrial action is that when it was eventually evaluated on the basis of its benefits for both parties, it was found to have achieved nothing specific as the demand of re-instating a staff of the Downey’s Pub, which underlie the strike action, was never complied with at last. On the other hand, the pub owner did not lose much as he later sold the place and moved on with his life.
These are lessons for ASUU to learn to resolve to call off the strike action in the interest of academia. It needs, first and foremost, to appreciate the damage its incessant strike actions has so far inflicted on the integrity of the lecturers and on the Nigerian University system itself. It is doubtless enormous. Against this reality, it behooves on it therefore to instigate a process for eventual repairs by calling off the strike action, which we consider as first step towards any negotiation move between it and government.
The nation’s Ivory Tower is their own home or niche carved out for them by fate. They shouldn’t destroy it and expect to retain their honor or lead a comfortably happy life, for like fish and water, the quality and standard of these esteemed institutions should be seen to stick together with university lecturers through thick and thin.
Almost certainly, most of the demands center around money and money. There is no gain saying that money is central but isn’t everything. Value and insight should be the central focus. The strike action will and cannot get them fulfilled, though a legitimate instrument to press for better condition of service in any country. It is seldom the ultimate than propriety cultivated within the context of the economic reality.
When the lecturers recognize this scenario and attempt to be more disposed to voice of reason by going back to class, whether or not their demand has been met, government will by no means fail to cede to their demand. Again, industrial strike by any organized labour or trade union enjoys universal legitimacy as a weapon against oppression by employers of labour, but how ill-advised it will seem when its application does not take cognizance of the existing reality in the country.
Another point is the question of rationality of contending issues. How can ASUU add as one of its demands the termination of the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation, OAGF-operated IPPIS. Does it make any argument? One doubts if it does; and on this basis one will like to discountenance with the idea behind the call to discontinue with OAGF and attempt to see the call as ill-advised.
With all modesty, there is no place in the world where employee dictates for the employer the way to run his organizations. In this case, the Federal Government, which owns universities, is the employer and the ASSU is its employee. It is strange and inexplicable that the University lecturers want to be calling the shots. Come to think of it, some of these lecturers are technically moonlighting and thus cannot be said to be completely loyal to their employer.
Back to the AGF operated IPPIS; the program is a computer-based automatic payment platform. It enables government to determine exact numbers of staff in its payroll for prompt and actual wage payment. The system’s usefulness is seen in its capacity to provide for proper planning of payment.
When the question of the IPPIS was conceptualized as a means to streamline government salary payment, it was dream come true that government has a system that determines a number of personnel in its payroll. In this regime, government, for the first time, is fighting corruption in its salary payment.
There is currently an air of transparency and accountability as well as efficiency in resource management of the Ministry, Department and Agencies (MDAs) of government. Until recently the syndrome of ghost workers was a recurring one in the Federal Civil Service. But through government determination to weed them off the phenomenal has become a thing of the past, least talk of today.
It thus is worrisome that ASUU has gone on rampage against operation of the payment platform. In fact, ASUU has even developed their own payment platform which they called University Transparency and Accountability Solution, UTAS. It is agitating for it to be used to replace IPPIS even when the UTAS has failed integrity test conducted by National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA). NITDA is the regulatory body for software and information technology sector.
But beyond the question of UTAS failing the integrity test, is it proper for employees, through a labor union, to arrogate to themselves the management role of salary payment? ASUU should begin to recognize and respect the authorities that exists in the governance and ownership structure of universities and by so doing instill the much-expected discipline in the system. This is by returning to classroom immediately as various authorities have advised them. Their grievances have been noted and discussion is on-going. As earlier observed in several instances, conflicts, fights and wars most often do not solve problems. It is friendly discussion and mutual respect that is the secret.
Unlike the Irish National Union that cared little about the consequences and ultimately went on a 14-year strike, ASUU, being a body of intellectuals, should rethink and call of the strike action. It is an evil wind that blows none any good. Good name they say is better than silver or gold. The strike means that ASUU has expressed its grievances and interestingly enough government has responded by meeting and negotiating with it. The best it could do at this juncture is call off the strike action while negotiation continues. There should be a limit to every endeavor no matter how good or justified.
Again, ASUU should by now be on the search for alternative conflict resolution mechanism. Returning to work and engaging the FG in continuous and intensive negotiation in a friendly atmosphere, I think will be more persuasive in achieving lecturers demands. Like Jim Rohn, the prolific American Author, great motivational speaker and an advocate of self-discipline in achieving one’s ambition at home and business once stated “You don’t get paid for the hour. You get paid for the value you bring to the hour.” The earlier ASUU explores this option the better for it as a stitch in time saves nine.
Eze is the publisher of Instant Africa News Magazine (print & online) and writes from Abuja