Chinedu Eze writes that retired workers of aviation agencies are going through harrowing times to get their benefits
Recently in a chat with newsmen, one of the senior officials of the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) painted a gory picture of what retired officials of the agency go through. The senior official revealed that the agency owed its retired personnel about N18 billion.
“What we realised is that in NAMA we have funds tied down somewhere and then we are carrying liabilities. When you look at just pension, this is an emotional side of it. We are in liability of almost N18billion. So we have a situation in this system that somebody will retire and for the next three years he is on queue waiting to earn his benefits. You put in 35 years and retire. You were used to earning something monthly, but at the time you are weaker, you are older and you may even be sick and the time you need all the support; that is when you begin to earn nothing, as the salary stops. That is the situation we have now,” he said.
This is the fate of many who have retired from NAMA. It is the same problem with the retired officials of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) where some of the workers that retired three years ago are yet to get their gratuity. In the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) the management was unable to make a clear arrangement with the Pension Fund Administrators, which brought a lot of confusion on how to settle the retirement benefits of the workers.
An official of the Air Transport Service Senior Staff Association (ATSSSAN) told THISDAY on Wednesday that the pensioners have an association that agitates for the payment of their benefits; that even the unions also carry out campaigns to ensure that management of the agencies pay them.
“In FAAN and NAMA it is not a question whether they have the money. The money is there but they don’t manage it prudently. In FAAN, they keep on recruiting new staff that are not even skilled or needed and the money, which would have been used to pay pensioners, is used to pay new workers whose services are not even needed. I know NAMA and FAAN can do better. NAMA generates most of its money on foreign currency but is not prudent in the utilisation of the money. Until the invasion of NAMA by Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) who would have thought that such humongous amount of money could be allegedly stolen and the agency would still be working and paying salaries. They don’t want to settle the pensioners that is the truth,” the ATSSSAN official said.
Housing Fiasco and Monetisation Policy
Recently there was on-going conflict between aviation agencies, especially FAAN and NAMA, where retired officials laid claim to the accommodation at the agencies’ living quarters where they lived until they are retired. The retired officers insist that in recognition of the monetisation policy of the federal government that they ought to buy the apartment where they lived until they retired. In fact, their names had been slated by the presidential committee in charge of the policy implementation, but the agencies are kicking against this and also are questioning the implementation of the policy, which with new administration at the centre may push for a change of that policy. Recently, a policy that once an officer is appointed a director in any of the federal government agencies he has to retire after eight years was changed and the old system that an officer should retire after 35 years of service or when he turns 60 years has been returned.
In the monetisation policy, which is also referred to as fringe benefits, a new approach to the remuneration of public officers in Nigeria was introduced by Acts 2002, which provided the reference point for monetisation of the salaries and allowances of all categories of federal public servants, which stipulated that the fringe benefits, which were formally paid in kinds be converted to cash by the salary and wage commission.
It was believed that the policy, which indications have showed has suddenly become unpopular, would encourage private initiatives and facilitate creativity and motivation and most importantly, improve the service of quality delivery, promote patriotism and efficiency among civil servants.
Last week, trouble ensued among the residents of the official quarters of the aviation agencies, known as FAAN quarters located at the domestic area of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos. NAMA wanted to evict two of its retired officials, insisting that since they had left the service, they had to vacate their residences three months after their retirement.
The duo, a former Director in charge of Safety and Electronics Services, Godfrey Eze and a former General Manager Administration, Moshood Kolawole Jimo became the butt of NAMA management’s outrage against the monetisation policy as it forcefully ejected them from their residences.
THISDAY learnt that before they were forcefully ejected by men led by NAMA officials, the Nigerian Air Force personnel belonging to Operation MESA were drafted to the quarters to arrest thugs allegedly brought in by NAMA to enforce an order of eviction secured by the agency.
Speaking in an interview, Eze, who retired from NAMA, as Director in charge of Safety and Electronics Services, between December 2005 and February 2009, said the agency was unfair in its attempt to evict them out of the quarters because issues surrounding his ouster had not been fully settled, noting that the agency was yet to pay his gratuity.
He said the refusal by the agency to pay his entitlements and other matters related to deductions from his salary, while in service as part of the Monetisation Policy on the apartment needed to be thoroughly looked into.
“NAMA tried to evict me in 2013, but the move was resisted because there was no eviction notice from a competent court, or the Police and court bailiff. For a matter that is yet to be fully decided by the court, the action so far taken by NAMA management amounts to taking laws into its hands,” he said.
But the crisis generated by the matter was yet to settle last week, when crisis broke out at the quarters forcing some residents to scamper for safety. Thugs allegedly hired by NAMA invaded Eze’s residence to evict the occupants. Eze, according to investigations, on August 6, 2016 was in Abuja when the thugs raided the apartment.
Investigations revealed that the said thugs broke the wall at the back of the building to gain access, shattered the windows and threw out his property.
“My family has been traumatised since August 5, 2016 and August 8, 2016 when thugs hired by NAMA management invaded my apartment at FAAN quarters. They damaged my property, ransacked the entire house, stole huge sums of money, jewelry and other valuables.
From my assessment, the thugs stole from my house, 2,500 Euros and $1,600 and N250, 000 cash as well as my wife’s jewelry. The also stole some yet to be ascertained foreign currency belonging to my son, who is an instructor at the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Zaria.
He said he insisted on buying the apartment in accordance to the monetisation policy, adding that the Presidential Implementation Committee had also slated him to buy the apartment.
“The PIC never support what NAMA management is doing. Many years ago, the PIC issued forms for expression of interest to some residents. They sent their officials and captured us, inspected the houses and we are only waiting for the letter of award. So for NAMA management to throw up charges against us and the police colluding with them is unacceptable,” Eze alleged.
On his part, the retired former General Manager, Administration, Alhaji Moshood Kolawole Jimoh, who left NAMA on February 6, 1025 has faulted the action of NAMA and described it as illegal. According to him, when he saw the way NAMA official led thugs to forcefully access Eze’s apartment by breaking a wall, he ordered his household to open all the doors for them to enter; yet, that did not safe his belonging which they vandalised as they threw them out of the house.
Jimoh said he left the service not because he had reached the age to retire or because he had put in 35 years, “but I left in recognition of the new policy, which states that if you have occupied this position I was for eight years you will have to leave. But recently they have upturned that policy, and I have already left the service; yet NAMA is forcing me out of the apartment that by right belongs to me.”
In a petition to the Commissioner of Police, Murtala Muhammed International Airport Command, the retired civil servants of Aviation Parastatals in FAAN quarters otherwise known as Strabag Estate complained about threats by the heads of the agencies of FAAN, NAMA and NCAA, to evict them.
The petition signed on behalf of the retirees by Catherine Ahuruchi said the move to evict them was in total disregard of a pending suit and court injunction in the Federal Industrial Court, Lagos.
The petition dated June 30, 2016 partly read: “Commissioner, you may recall our earlier letters and discussions with you as legal sitting tenants at FAAN quarters. We have filed a suit against the agencies which is pending in the Federal Industrial Court, Lagos over the refusal of some of the agencies to implement monetisation policy of government in residential quarters.
“You may also wish to note that Justice of the Federal Industrial Court has since issued court injunction restraining the agencies and their agents from evicting or disturbing us in any form until substantive suit is determined. You will remember that FAAN, NAMA and NCAA had been in the habit of issuing quit notices and harassing our retired officers with threats of seizure of their retirement benefits until the then Commissioner of Police intervened.”
When contacted the management of NAMA said it was not disposed to discuss the issue, but confirmed the incident. One of the officials told THISDAY that NAMA and FAAN are of the view that as retired personnel and despite the monetisation policy, which legally cedes the apartments to them as last residents when the policy was implemented, they ought to have left three months after their retirement. Informed source from NAMA told THISDAY that if the agency gives out the apartments to retired personnel, which ones would the current top officials who live in the city take over? The source noted that it is the view of the agencies that they should fight the monetisation policy and insisted that the retired workers must leave the FAAN quarters.
What is happening to the retired workers of these agencies will obviously impact on those who are in service now when they retire. In taking a cue from these experiences, they may decide to pad their nests now with public fund, knowing they would be left in the lurch by the agencies when they leave active service.