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IN a development that suggested that there is no imminent end in sight to the industrial action that had grounded Nigerian public universities, the Federal Government has told members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities to leave the lecturing job for farming, if they are no longer interested in the teaching profession.
The Federal Government, which appears to have run out of patience with the university lecturers, noted that Nigeria has a greater need for farmers at the moment.
ASUU commenced its ongoing indefinite strike on March 23, largely to protest a Federal Government directive that academic staff in all Nigerian public universities must enrol on the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS).
President Muhammadu Buhari had directed that all ministries, departments and agencies of the Federal Government drawing their salary from the Consolidated Revenue Funds should enrol on the IPPIS platform by the end of October 2019.
The strike was still ongoing when the Federal Government shut universities and other educational institutions in the country in order to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease in the country.
The government has now approved the reopening of the educational institutions on October 12 but ASUU is bent on continuing the strike, saying, among other complaints, that its members are being owed, a claim that has been denied by the Federal Government.
Minister of State for Education, Emeka Nwajiuba, did not mince words in stating the Federal Government’s views on the protracted strike by ASUU when he appeared as a guest on ARISE NEWS Channel, a television station, on Monday.
The minister, who insisted that ASUU members cannot dictate how they should be paid by their employer – the government – advised that the lecturers are free to leave their jobs and take up other professions such as farming.
Nigeria was in need of more farmers, Nwajiuba observed.
The minister said, “ASUU is within its rights as a union of lecturers. We didn’t start a strike with ASUU on the basis of COVID-19.
“ASUU was already on strike way before COVID-19. Just before COVID-19 we shut down schools, they gave notice of an indefinite strike.
“We are not in any contention with them.
“Government is actually not holding anyone to ransom. It says this is how I want to pay and it has to be through IPPIS.
“You can leave the employment. You can opt out of it and say ‘I no longer want to teach’. You can find other professions. What we need now are probably more farmers.
“You cannot keep forcing your employer and tell him, ‘I will like you to pay me my money through my pillow. Or, I will like you to pay it through this mailbox’.
“ASUU has a lot of complaints and dissipation around it. That is legitimate but doesn’t mean you should force yourself on the man who has the money.”
Nigeria’s public university system, which has suffered disruptions over the years due to a series of strike actions, appears set for more problems.
Already, barely a week to the October 12 resumption date for all educational institutions in the country, two other university staff unions – the Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) and the Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Universities (SSANU) have begun a 14-day warning strike, also to protest against the adoption of the IPPIS in the universities.
Despite the complaints by the university workers concerning the IPPIS, the Federal Government says the scheme has helped to reduce corruption in the public sector.
In May 2020, the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation said the IPPIS had saved over N361 billion for the Federal Government “despite opposition and sabotage” from some quarters.
The Federal Government had also described ASUU’s opposition to the enrolment of its members on the IPPIS as an “open endorsement of corruption”.
Created in 2007, the IPPIS secretariat is a department under the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation responsible for payment of salaries and wages directly to government employees’ bank accounts with appropriate deductions and remittances of third-party payments such as taxes and health insurance.