The conflict between the striking Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Nigerian government continues as the lecturers’ union has accused the Nigerian government, particularly the National Information Technology and Development Agency (NITDA), of deliberately frustrating resolution efforts.
The Lagos Zone of ASUU, in a press statement issued on Tuesday, after a meeting held at the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), Ogun State, specifically accused NITDA of deliberately misinforming the public over the integrity of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) that it developed to replace the government’s Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS) as a payment platform.
ASUU said certain utterances by NITDA and some other unidentified government officials are parts of what it described as a deliberate plot to ensure the elongation of the strike.
The statement, which was signed by the chairman of ASUU in the zone, Adelaja Odukoya, an associate professor at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Akoka, added that its opposition to the appointment of the minister of communications and digital economy as a professor by a university is being used as a reason for vendetta.
But NITDA has said it would not engage the union in a war of words, saying its earlier statement issued on the matter suffices.
ASUU said NITDA is deliberately frustrating the process of replacing IPPIS with UTAS “by constantly misinforming the public.”
It accused the NITDA DG, Kashifu Inuwa, and Mr Pantami of politicising the process, saying the development is not unconnected to the union’s position on Mr Pantami’s professorship.
The statement reads in part; “We are aware that the position of the DG NITDA is not consistent with the enthusiasm of the technical team from the agency he superintends over and the DG is unduly politicising the entire process to the disadvantage of the country, possibly in the interest of the minister for communication and digital economy.
“Their dispositions amount to passing a vote of no confidence on the Nigerian intelligentsia and our union would not allow this to fly. Good enough, we are convinced that the technical team from NITDA, is quite abreast of the process and the responsibilities around their certified qualifications.”
ASUU, therefore, called on the public to call Mr Inuwa to order “on the point of integrity not to play politics and vendetta [Pantamize] with the future of Nigeria and that of our public universities as national treasures…”
“We are convinced that the DG of NITDA is only out to carry out the hatchet job of a minister whose professorial fraud was challenged by our union,” ASUU alleged.
ASUU had, while declaring its initial four-week strike on February 14, said the review of the processes that led to Isa Ibrahim, the minister of communications and digital economy’s appointment as a professor of Cybersecurity by the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO), were against the laid-down procedures within the university system.
The union’s president, Emmanuel Osodeke, said: ”ASUU NEC rejects in its entirety the purported appointment of Dr Isah Ali Ibrahim Pantami as a professor of cybersecurity.
“From the evidence available to us, Dr Pantami was not qualified, and the said appointment violated established procedure for appointment of professors in the university”.
The minister refused to comment on ASUU’s position as he said the matter is already in court.
ASUU said UTAS passed all the tests conducted on it by NITDA, saying rather than going ahead with the implementation, the government agency has continued to ‘misinform’ the public that UTAS failed some certain tests.
The union said it wondered how over 90 per cent total score amounts to failure as propagated by NITDA.
ASUU said it was agreed at a meeting with the minister of labour and employment that joint re-assessment tests between the technical teams of ASUU and NITDA be conducted and that these were conducted on between Tuesday March 8 and Friday 18, 2022.
The statement reads in part; “Present at the exercise were representatives of the Ministry of Education, National Universities Commission (NUC), Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Office of the Accountant General of the Federation, Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment and the National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission.
“The following were conducted (i) User Acceptance Test (ii) Vulnerability Assessment Test and (iii) Penetration Test. Expectedly, the assessment of all the 698 tests conducted was successful with an overall score of 99.3%. The few exceptions are five (5) cases requiring modifications.
“However, while the re-assessment tests were ongoing, the DG, NITDA released misleading information to the public from the discredited report of the first test that UTAS failed again, leaving out the result of the jointly conducted second test of 99.3%. Our Union then wonders how and where 99.3% test score would be adjudged as a failure.”
“No excuse not to approve UTAS”
Meanwhile, ASUU said the government has exhausted all its excuses not to deploy UTAS.
It said: “What has become very clear to our Union is that the unilateral cancellation of the meeting of Monday March 28th is a proof that NITDA has come to the final stop and admitted failure in all the orchestrated unpatriotic attempts to sabotage and discredit UTAS which an otherwise forward looking government would be finding ways of deploying beyond the Nigerian public universities for which it was designed.
“It can therefore not be over-emphasized that the Government has run out of reasons and lies not to accept, approve and adopt UTAS.”
ASUU said NITDA’S concern that when UTAS is approved, other sectors would make similar demands is out of NITDA’S mandate.
“First, this is an unnecessary diversion and totally unrelated to the brief and mandate given to NITDA on this matter.
“Second, UTAS is a product of the government’s challenge to our Union to develop an alternative platform better than IPPIS which accommodates the peculiarities of the Nigerian University system. We have delivered on this, it is just honourable for the government to salute our union and replace IPPIS with our better home-grown solution.”
In a terse response to PREMIUM TIMES’ request for response on the fresh allegation, NITDA’s head of corporate affairs and external relations, Hadiza Umar, said the agency still stands on its last statement.
She added that NITDA awaits ASUU to revert with the “much improved UTAS platform for another series of tests”.
According to the said statement released on March 28, NITDA said its interaction with ASUU has “positively impacted” the functionality of UTAS.
“There is no doubt that the exercise has positively impacted on the functionality and robustness of the UTAS platform. Furthermore, we believe that the interaction availed ASUU the opportunity to understand and appreciate NITDA’s commitment and level of professionalism exhibited in carrying out its responsibilities,” the statement reads in part.
It added: “Considering the challenge encountered, the assessment methodology had to be reviewed to facilitate daily remediation of critical issues as they occur. This, although not in NITDA’s Standard Operating Procedure for exercises such as this, was adopted. Consideration was made to the national importance attached to the exercise as well as the need to complete it in a reasonably shorter period of time.
“The attention of stakeholders and the general public is drawn to the need for the UTAS platform to be sufficiently robust with key functionalities implemented before being deployed to the production environment.”
NITDA said its assessment revealed that UTAS is limited, noting that there are critical functionalities that have “to be implemented, tested and passed before it can be considered to meet the agency’s due diligence requirements.”
“These areas of improvement have been fully documented and shared with the ASUU team for necessary action. It is expected that ASUU will improve on the areas identified, work on the security issues flagged and resubmit the Solution for further assessment,” NITDA added.
ASUU has been at loggerheads with the government over the renegotiation of the 2009 ASUU-FG agreement, and the deployment of UTAS to replace IPPIS in the university system.
Other demands by the union include the payment of earned academic allowances, proliferation of universities, funding for state-owned universities, and the release of white papers on the visitation panel to universities.
To press home its demands, ASUU embarked on an initial four-week strike on February 14, and has since extended it by eight weeks.
Meanwhile, on Monday, the labour and employment minister, Chris Ngige, who is serving as the conciliator between the government and the union, criticised both the ministry of education and the striking lecturers.
He berated ASUU for constantly invoking strikes whenever there’s a disagreement with the government.
He said: “The bosses in the federal ministry of education do not feel the strike. There are things that are above me. I am not the minister of education.
“I cannot go to the education minister and dictate to him how to run his place.”
Qosim Suleiman is a reporter at Premium Times in partnership with Report for the World, which matches local newsrooms with talented emerging journalists to report on under-covered issues around the globe.
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