By A/Prof Aliyu Barau
One of the skills of the academic and researcher is to draw out meanings from things, persons and events of interest. Thus, scholars explain things from behind theories, philosophies and sometimes through experimentation. Academics often zoom in and out on small things for details and deeper analysis. A good example is the doctorate degree which is the highest academic qualification and yet it takes little aspects of knowledge and blows them out and wide. In the light of this, I single out a leading character deepening the current ASUU/Federal Government faceoff – the Accountant General of the Federation – namely, Mr Ahmed Idris but whom I call Amadu Mai Kanti because I used to shop in a supermarket (Al-Ikhlas) located at Mandawari in the ancient Kano City which he is allegedly the owner. Every Ahmed is Amadu in Hausaland. Kanti (originally from canteen) is anything between a grocery shop to a supermarket and ‘Mai’ means one that owns something. Presently, the said supermarket has closed its doors to customers like myself as it undergoes massive expansion through gentrification of the nearby buildings. It is now emerging as the biggest building for any supermarket in our ancient city. Congratulations Mr. Accountant General.
From Amadu Mai Kanti’s utterances, body language, antics and tactics, he appears to be a man in a haste to throw stones from behind the unholy Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) glass house. Perhaps, Amadu Mai Kanti is poised to give a final blow to the ASUU albatross. Can he? What nourishes his energy is the empty promise to save billions of Naira for the government through the IPPIS. He has already mentioned some figures. That is good if it is true. From what I know, the statutory function of the Accountant General of the Federation is to, among others, keep receipts of government financial transactions, disburse government funds, supervise financial matters in government agencies, manage government investments and investigate frauds, loss of funds and assets as well as to formulate accounting policies. Hence, I am not an ignoramus of the duties and responsibilities of this officer and the office.
What I am most worried about is Amadu Mai Kanti’s haste to dwarf industrial peace and harmony across the landscapes of the Nigerian tertiary institutions. I must emphasise that, no person in his/her right senses, will oppose any meaningful fight against corruption even if it involves a dime. But, the way and manner Amadu Mai Kanti operates IPPIS is out of touch with reality, rationality, and transparency. If there is an allegation of corruption in any public institution and financial transactions, the powers of the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF) are not absolute. AGFs are not corruption proof and neither are they right always. Hence, the wisdom of our laws has limited their powers by balancing them through the statutory functions of the Court, EFCC, ICPC, Police, or even the Office of the Auditor General. These institutions can equally investigate comprehensively and prosecute the culprits. In the matters of the IPPIS, the current AGF acts carelessly and blindly, I think he is risking it all.
As a student of Ali Mazrui, I recognize that the best way to understand people in position of leadership in Africa and elsewhere is by trying to understand their styles of leadership when given responsibilities. Hence, in an attempt to understand Mallam Amadu Mai Kanti’s unjustifiable imposition and misuse of IPPIS on ASUU and others, I deployed a literati kaleidoscope to enable me see the colours and hues of his characters, mannerism, and leadership style. For every failure of the IPPIS in tertiary institutions, Amadu Mai Kati must take full responsibility. At least, Shakespeare says ‘uneasy lies the head that wears the crown’. Mallam Amadu Mai Kanti is basking in the toxic sunshine of the Covid-19. The pandemic offers him the leverage to seduce the government into believing his gospel of saving funds and to illegally smuggle ASUU into IPPIS without following the due process. Let’s assume IPPIS is good for all, but how good is it if it ends up creating more headache for the government and employees alike? The contradictions that define Amadu Mai Kanti are not unknown as we know them in some negative characters such as Robin Hood (British Literature), Edward Armstead (American Literature) and partly Okonkwo (African Literature).
For many years now, administration after administration, the Federal Government has stabilized the regularity of payment of salaries for the staff of tertiary institutions in the country. Unfortunately, the current Accountant General is veering off from this cause by orchestrating series of provocative knocks against the ASUU members. I absolutely believe there is no reason whatsoever for ASUU to oppose the IPPIS if it does not negate the principles and traditions of operating universities locally and globally. What baffles me most about Mallam Amadu Mai Kanti is the way he unashamedly jettisons trust, cherishes and upholds deception. It is absolutely disturbing that Amadu Mai Kanti does not understand the concept of one good turn deserving another. He is very economical with the truth and transparency in this case. While the ASUU has chosen not to enroll into the IPPIS, other unions in the university obliged in trust or ignorance. Deplorably, the compliant unions were the first to weep profusely as IPPIS humiliates them badly. In the world of finance and morality, trust matters. Alan Greenspan, the former head of the United States Federal Reserve mentioned in his autobiography – The Age of Turbulence – that one of the richest Americans ever – J.P Morgan’s word was his bond. Mr Greenspan’s autobiography further reinforces ASUU’s argument against the IPPIS in many respects. For sure, IPPIS lacks what Greenspan listed – flexibility, resilience, openness, dynamism, and self-correcting features – as symbols of every winning project. I believe IPPIS is a failed project at least in the context of the Nigerian higher education sector. The system ignores the idiosyncrasies of the university system including its trade union system that dwells on negotiations and renegotiations with the government to arrive at industrial harmony. You need definitely not a narcissistic, shallow, simplistic and superficial mind to understand this.
Principally and in principle, ASUU is diametrically opposed to IPPIS for a number of reasons that border on the welfare and the rights and privileges of its members. As a whole, the tussle is nested in matters such as sabbatical leave, visiting lectureship, contract staff, outsourcing of cleaners, permanent staff recruitment, tax deductions etc. For a sensible administrator and accountant, these are all simple things to handle without jeopardizing industrial harmony across campuses. What I learn from watching wild animals on land or screen is their calculated sense of targeting and isolation of targets from the crowd. The main problem of Amadu Mai Kanti is lack of critical thinking and strait-jacket mentality. A good and sensible accountant would understand that IPPIS is only meant to be a guiding template. Doubtlessly, Mallam Amadu is completely ignorant of the university system as he and his cohorts do not even understand the university system. For instance, unlike the conventional civil servants, university promotion especially that of high cadre academics must undergo external evaluations by professors within or outside the country. Hence, no one can dictate the time that such evaluations must come. Again, sabbatical appointments that are for one year may not cease at a consecutive 12-month calendar year if there are some disruptions in the academic calendar. But, Mai Kanti is insisting that all claims for promotion arrears should be calendared from January to December of the year of the promotion.
My townsman, Amadu Mai Kanti, exhibits some tendencies common to power intoxicated and least-knowledgeable elements. For instance, when the President, Major General Buhari directed that the striking members of the ASUU be paid their two months salaries which have been witheld, these tendencies manifested clearly. The goodwill laden directive was taken with a pinch of salt as if it came from Jibril of Sudan, the so-called reincarnate of President Buhari. Mai Kanti delivered the directive on his own time, terms and volition. This is simply because he has pigeonholed the academics as the people to be dealt with decisively. This is a typical of behaviours of the characters that I mentioned above and will explain further below.
Mallam Amadu Mai Kanti has in many respects reflected the traits of Edward Armstead, the lead character in the Irving Wallace’s 1982 book, The Almighty. Edward is a newspaper publisher who aims at controlling, shaping and manipulating the news. His dream is to sell more than New York Times through getting exclusive breaking news. In his bid to realise his goal, Edward would finance acts of terror and arson to break the news first. In our case, Amadu Mai Kanti aims at justifying the imposition of IPPIS by stopping, omitting and mutilating our salaries. In this way, he wants to be portrayed as more productive in fighting corruption than the court, EFCC, IPCC, and the office of the Auditor General. He will answer many questions on this and more. But the man is roundly wrong. By its design, IPPIS as a system requires physical presence of staff to be captured. Then, how can you justify forceful enrolment without seeing all the stipulated particulars? Isn’t Accountant General sabotaging the IPPIS at its back by violating its own principles? Indeed, this very act suggest that IPPIS is as useless as suya wrapping paper. I wonder how two persons on the same rank will have different tax deductions if not because of IPPIS drunkenness.
When you look at Mallam Amadu Mai Kanti from another angle, he resembles Robin Hood, a renowned character in the classical English literature. Robin Hood steals money from the rich and gives it to the poor. Whereas Robin Hood helps the poor from his stolen proceeds, Mallam Amadu Mai Kanti pays the dead and retired via IPPIS. If it is a mistake and this mistake is repeated in many institutions then IPPIS is a completely ridiculous fraud. IPPIS also cuts legitimate earnings of the employees and gives it to the Government. What a 21st century Robin Hood? Indeed, the claim of the OAGF on tax deductions in respect of Pay as You Earn (PAYE) is very misleading. If unions have already struck deals with some state governments over this, how can IPPIS single-handedly jettison such agreements without recourse to the parties involved? Well, Robin Hood always wants to steal to give. Mallam Amadu Mai Kanti is not in procession of any document that renounces or denounces such arrangements but acts with impunity.
Another nauseating character of Mallam Amadu Mai Kanti is that he is a big bully and a confused micromanager. Leaders that are not advanced and exposed to human values are mostly micromanagers. Our greatest storyteller, late Chinua Achebe illustrated this character in the person of Okonkwo in his Things Fall Apart. Okonkwo is a one-eyed, closed, and pessimistic bully that terrorizes his wives, children, town-people and eventually himself. ASUU and other unions are victims in the sense that Mallam Amadu Mai Kanti dictates deductions for their dues without consulting them. I pity Vice Chancellors and Bursars of Federal Government tertiary institutions for the staccato of bullies from the man. The doggedness of ASUU is not unknown to the Nigerian government. When ASUU refuses to enrol into IPPIS, Mai Kanti would still write to VCs directing them to collect information from ASUU members and furnish it to the OAGF within specified short time. The OAGF enjoys helicoptering offices of VCs with memos that show too little respect to their autonomy and dignity. Thus, Amadu Mai Kanti’s bullying spares neither the small nor the big: cleaners, lecturers and professors as all can have their salaries kidnapped or tithed by force.
Amadu Mai Kanti must know that ASUU has since developed a very thick skin to withstand bullying even by the most fanged military juntas. In reading the autobiography of Lee Iacocca, the leading Italian-American auto-business leader who held sway in Ford and Chrysler motors, I come to understand how bullying turns around people. In those days, when Americans denigrated Italians, Lee Iacocca was bullied as a school kid. Henry Ford bullied him in Ford Motors, he suffered and yet moved on to Chrysler and salvaged it and reclaimed his reputation. No doubt, no doubt, and no doubt, the power of knowledge will scatter, splinter, smash and shred forces of ignorance and hidden and manifest corruption. ASUU shall win in time and in time Amadu Mai Kanti will falter to failure in his pursuits of ASUU and other unions. ASUU has its members behind it and Amadu Mai Kanti has many public officers by his side. Truth shall win and false shall fizzle like matches in the rains.
Associate Professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, Bayero University, Kano