By Fortune Archibong
Nigeria is at it again, as another gate of corruption has opened to the chagrin of Nigerians. This time, the gate is attached to one Ahmed Idris, thus throwing up the coinage “Idrisgate”, and in real terms, the corruption story and prosecution of the immediate-past accountant-general of the federation, Ahmed Idris. He was a onetime preacher of financial sanity, probity and uprightness against the only credible opposition to the Nigerian polity, the university staff unions as well as the Nigerian university system he branded as the cesspool of corruption. Thisnecessitated the introduction of a payroll system known as IPPIS, an acronym for the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System. 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 account with appropriate deductions and remittance of third party payments such as the Federal Inland Revenue Service, State Boards of Internal Revenue, among others.
Whereas IPPIS was the concept introduced by a former finance minister, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, to checkmate mega Nigerian establishments such as the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and other bogus firms; whose payrolls were considered outrageous,especially as their workers earned and still earns beyond the pay packet and bracket of the Nigerian Civil Service. The President Goodluck Jonathan’s regime where Dr Okonjo-Iweala served could not fully implement it until the President MuhammaduBuhari administration; in fact, while there was need to still test run the workability of IPPIS in Nigeria, and especially some sensitive ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) in the country but the suspended accountant-general of the federation appeared to have developed special interest in the university system by insisting on the roll out of IPPIS despite the outcry of the various unions in federal universities. Their opposition to it bordered on the peculiarities of the university autonomy and other strategic features which would reduce vice chancellors into errand boys and beggars to the Office of Accountant-General. In the IPPIS regime, vice chancellors could no longer have a say on the quality of staff employed in the university and helpless on the quality of employees sent to report to university from “Abuja”. Also, it is said that a school of thought in the accountant-general’s office had vowed to reduce university workers to mere federal civil servants with “nothing attached”, notwithstanding the special nature of Nigerian universities as the haven of national manpower development. IPPIS was the ready tool to deal with federal universities from February 2020 as it has almost taken over some critical payroll services of Nigerian federal universities and started a regime of arbitrary deductions, miscalculation of staff emoluments to the extent where a professor’s salary was squashed to N36,000.00 and a clerical officer earning almost N700,000.00 and other infractions owingto the shortcomings of IPPIS. So many staff members have written several letters to “Abuja” for refund, reversal and even restore some infractions but to no avail.
The regime of fragmented salaries and allowances is what ledthe teaching staff members to develop a software known as the University Transparency Accountability System (UTAS) and the non-teaching staff to also develop their payment platform known as University Peculiar Payroll Payment System (U3PS) – thus throwing the Nigerian University System into a contest of which payment platform to be adopted for the payment of salaries. In the midst of this melee of platforms, the Office of Accountant-General of the Federation remained indifferent and insisted on the use of IPPIS until discerning minds became suspicious of the accountant-general and his insistence on IPPIS in a secular and intellectually discerning Nigerian University System. The accountant general’s office appeared to have resisted every opportunity for sound reasoning by allegedly conniving with the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) to frustrate the testing and workability of UTAS and U3PS payment platforms developed by the teaching and non-teaching staff of Nigerian universities. Meanwhile, the payment platform issue was among the key issues of contention by the university unions which led to the closure of federal universities for several months now, leaving several undergraduates, youths to roam and block Nigerian roads in protest over the continued strike by ASUU and other federal university staff unions.
The suspended accountant general had lived, operated in denials, pouring invectives on ASUU and other unions as the cause of the closure of federal universities he has wittingly caused. The first salvo shot at him was that of Professor LawanAbubakar, the coordinator, Bauchi zone of ASUU last year,when he questioned where the suspended accountant general bought Sokoto Hotel in Kano at the sum of N500 million, paid cash down and the multi-billion investment in the GezawaCommodity Market and Exchange, in addition to several choice property in Abuja, Kano, Kaduna, Dubai, USA, the United Kingdom and other places traced to Ahmed Idris, the “Super” accountant general of the federation. It was disappointedly discovered that Ahmed Idris made about N16,000 from each federal university’s staff, especially lecturers paid from the IPPIS platform, and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) discovered a whooping N80 billion stolen by him. In the spirit and obsession for ill-gotten wealth, he is said to have married a 16-year old girl to round his financial profligacy with sodomy.
The cries and anguish of university staff unions, helpless students appear to have caught up with the humiliated accountant-general of the federation. Whereas, he was supposed to have retired from service upon the completion of his service years about three years ago, the powers that be introduced a strange reason to further his stay in office as “political”. The world is watching if the tenure of the acting Accountant General of the federation, Anemekwe Nwabuoku from South Eastern Nigeria who would clock-60 in October 2022 would be confirmed and extended politically as his suspended predecessor from northern Nigeria!
ASUU and other University Unions are now vindicated and the “troubler” of federal universities, Ahmed Idris akin to the biblical Achan who troubled Israel has been caught up with karma. The revelation would not have happened at a better time than now when the Federal Government through the chief of staff to the President, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, star religious leaders such as the sultan of Sokoto and president, Christian Association of Nigeria, Nigeria Labour Congress, Trade Union Congress, the reformed permanent secretary, Federal Ministry of Education, David Adejo, who displayed the courage to openly eulogise the payment platform – U3PS developed by the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU); have waded into the industrial crisis in the Nigerian ivory towers for an enduring solution. Real efforts noted above to resolve the industrial dispute between federal universities’ unions and the Federal Government actually happened upon the resignation of the minister of state, Federal Ministry of Education, EmekaNwajiuba, to contest for the presidency on the platform of the All Progressives Congress upon the payment of N100 million for expression of interest and nomination forms.
Archibong is of the Nigerian Guild of Editors