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When President Muhammadu Buhari approved the payment of the two months withheld salaries of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) members in 43 federal universities, stakeholders applauded his magnanimity. They expected that the decision would calm tension in the Nigerian University System (NUS).

But that decision triggered another round of face-off between government and ASUU. The bone of contention is the mode of payment for the withheld February and March salaries.

Less than 24 hours after the directive, some branches of the union said their members were asked to fill a certain form and provide Bank Verification Number (BVN) before the withheld salaries would be credited to their accounts.

ASUU contended that the Federal Government did not require lecturers’ BVN to pay the withheld salaries. The leadership of the union asked its members not to provide BVN or fill any form.

While ASUU was expecting unconditional payment of the withheld salaries, government mandated vice-chancellors to demand from the affected lecturers their BVN and fill a form.

Government argued that its insistence on BVN would expose lecturers with multiple jobs. Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Education, Mr. Sonny Echono told The Education Report that the affected ASUU members were not asked to enrol on the IPPIS before being paid their February and March salaries.

He said the affected lecturers were only asked to provide their BVN to their VCs: “Truth is finally coming out. Why are they afraid of BVN? Because all payments to a single lecturer through multiple accounts with different universities will be linked and traced through BVN.

“Those working in three, four, or five universities and still claiming allowances for excess workload in their parent university will be exposed. This is the crux of the matter. It is about transparency and accountability period. Ask them about moonlighting by their members and draw your own conclusions.”

ASUU Lagos Zone Coordinator, Prof Olusiji Sowande, said it is the first time government is demanding for lecturers’ BVN after the rejection of IPPIS by the union: “Before what is required for payment by the bursary is our name, account number, bank and phone number and the salary is credited into our account.’’

He described BVN as an individual lecturer’s personnel number. He denied the allegation that lecturers have multiple jobs, making ASUU to oppose the use of IPPIS:

‘’There is a shortage of lecturers. We are entitled to go on sabbatical for one year, that is when we earn an additional salary. Adjunct lecturers are not paid salary but stipends and transportation allowance. If a lecturer chooses to do it within his/her university in another department/faculty, such a person will not be paid.

‘’Universities pay external accessors, moderators for the final exam and postgraduate students. We travel to interview Ph.D students. Sometimes universities go out of their way to pay Adjunct lecturers.’

“Our members are ready to go to any length to ensure that public university does not collapse. The union has a way of assisting members during this face-off.’’

Chairman of ASUU Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO) branch, Dr Christopher Echereobia, said before IPPIS, salaries were paid through GIFMIS (Government Integrated Financial Management System) whereby the bursary prepared salaries of staff and uploaded it to GIFMIS platform. The Central Bank of Nigeria then credited staff accounts through their individual banks:

‘’Getting involved in more than one pensionable job is a criminal offense. We have challenged the government to arrest and prosecute any of our members that are culpable. Up till now, the government has not arrested anybody rather her agents are busy blackmailing ASUU.

“Owing to the dearth of lecturers in some universities, some of our members engage in part-time and adjunct arrangements in such universities.

‘’Whenever government shows sincerity and seriousness to resolve the impasse. No sacrifice is too much to save the public university from imminent collapse. None of our members has submitted their BVN. I am sure that nobody will submit.’’

Coordinator, ASUU Ibadan Zone, Prof Ade Adejumo, said the government has been using the GIFMIS platform to pay members’ salaries and it captured all the peculiarities of the university system.

On the allegation of members with more than one job: “This claim is absurd and absolute bunkum. It is targeted at misinforming the public to give ASUU a bad name.

‘It is a very simple matter; let them publish the names of academics engaged in multiple jobs for the world to see. Sabbaticals, associateship, accumulated leaves, etc cannot be put into the box of multiple jobs.

‘’This is a patriotic struggle aimed at rescuing the university system from the clutches of those who have made up their minds to destroy public education in our country. We are ready to make the sacrifice for as long as they refuse to act right. Our union has internal mechanisms to handle the issue of palliatives in critical situations.’’

ASUU chairman, University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Dr Austen Sado, said: ‘’It is really a pity that our nation has been committed to a group of unserious individuals whose stock in trade is to deceive the people.

“The claim by the government that the use of BVN in the payment of salaries will expose ASUU members with multiple jobs clearly underscores the prevalence of ignorance among the so-called technocrats in governance.

‘’It clearly demonstrates the fixated position of these individuals who have sold the lie to Nigerians that IPPIS was the solution to corruption in payroll management. Recall that the government had claimed that with the introduction of BVN to which multiple accounts are tied, the challenge of ghost workers in the system would be dealt with.

“Already, lecturers’ accounts are linked to the BVN. Any double payment of salary will be easily detected no matter how the names are manipulated. BVN is an individual specific identification code and cannot be altered. It has never been a requirement for payment of lecturers’ salaries.

‘’Why won’t the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation (OAGF), permanent secretary and their likes be courageous enough to admit that the only intention for requesting for BVN is to surreptitiously enrol academics into the IPPIS to ingratiate their unquenchable appetite primitive acquisition.

“At least, that will present them as honourable people. The OAGF should tell Nigerians how it smuggled BVN into the presidential approval for the payment of withheld salaries.

‘’In any case, if OAGF and the ministry are convinced that the application of hunger as a weapon of war against academics would force them to enrol on IPPIS, they should wake up from their slumber.

“Withholding salaries even at this time of COVID-19 cannot force academics to swallow their poisonous bait. Our members are convinced that we are doing a patriotic duty to the nation by holding the government responsible for funding education. It is a responsibility that cannot be shirked even in the midst of hunger.’’

ASUU University of Lagos, the first branch to raise the alarm of government intention, revealed that the government has not been using BVN to pay lecturers salaries, its chairman, Dr Dele Ashiru said: ‘’That is why we find this demand for BVN very strange and sinister.’’

On the multiple job allegation: “This is most unfortunate and reckless especially coming from the officer who superintends over the education ministry. Everyone one knows that keeping two full-time jobs is a criminal offence. Why can’t the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Education fish out such lecturers and sanction them according to extant regulations. It is unfortunate that such a reckless assertion is coming from the Ministry of Education.

‘’Our members are convinced that this is one struggle that is really worth it. We are prepared to make the necessary sacrifices in the interest of the Nigerian public university system. Our union is making necessary arrangements to cushion the effects of the lockdown occasioned by the global pandemic on our members.’’

Echono spoke more to our correspondent: ‘’I am sure you know what BVN is and you have one. What has it got to do with the type of payment or excluding some? Sabbatical is double salary for one year meaning two schools only. External supervision, jury, paper presentation, etc are remunerated at the point of rendering the service (usually once a year) in form of allowance or honorarium and not monthly salary.

‘’They (ASUU) should explain adjunct lecturers in detail. Federal Government can only publish if we know all those on the payroll including the number of repetitions which IPPIS will reveal. BVN will also link accounts and show the monthly payrol even if you have different accounts for different universities. That is why they are equating BVN with IPPIS.

‘’If you believe that providing your BVN will automatically exclude some payments due to you, there is nothing I can do to help. They are not privy to the content of Mr President’s approval so they should not speculate on it.

“This matter will be resolved one way or the other and the process is ongoing. We are dealing with COVID-19 now and all schools are closed so the education sector has more pressing challenges right now.’’

Despite ASUU’s opposition, government gave vice-chancellors of the 43 federal universities Tuesday, April 28, 2020, deadline to submit the BVN of lecturers for the payment of the withheld salaries.

A memo to the Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission (NUC) dated April 22, 2020, from the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation (OAGF), directed the VCs that the completed copy must reach the OAGF on or before Tuesday, April 28, to ensure the payment of the withheld salaries.

The one-page memo signed by the Director of IPPIS, O. J. Olufehinti, said the decision to ask for the lectures’ BVN was based on the presidential directive to pay the February and March salaries for personnel in federal universities enrolled on IPPIS:

“I am directed to please request your assistance in getting the 43 federal universities to forward their nominal roll details of the affected personnel to us. The completed format in soft copy should reach the OAGF on or before Tuesday, April 28, 2020, to enable us to effect the salary payment accordingly.”

The memo stated that the details required from ASUU members are date of birth, date of first appointment, grade level and step, salary structure, bank number, account number, BVN, phone number, email address, PFA name and PIN.

In its circular to the VCs of federal universities, the NUC acknowledged receipt of the OAGF memo and urged the VCs to take appropriate action to submit the lecturers’ BVN.

The NUC memo dated April 23, 2020, signed by Mr. Christopher Maiyaki, a director in the office of the executive secretary, said: “There is some degree of urgency attached to the submission deadline of Tuesday, April 28, 2020.”

Source: https://www.sunnewsonline.com/war-of-words/

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