Since 2004 the defunct Nigeria Airways Limited (NAL) was liquidated by the federal government, the workers of the once one of Africaâ€™s greatest carriers have clamoured for pay off, as the airlineâ€™s liquidation was a decision taken by Nigeriaâ€™s government. With the pay off, labour issues concerning the defunct airline would be permanently settled, but this was not to be 13 years after NAL went under.
THISDAY learnt that some years ago, the workers were given five years retirement payment after the liquidation but they rightly demanded for pay off, and after so many years of agitation, there seems to be hope that the ex-Nigeria Airways workers would get their pay. This was after several years the labour unions had cried themselves hoarse, obstructed aviation activities on behalf of the workers and risked their lives and their jobs. This was also after some of the ex-workers had died in penury and or lost their loved ones because they had no money to care for them.
THISDAY learnt on Tuesday that the corpse of one of the seasoned pilots of Nigeria Airways (name withheld) is still in the mortuary many months after his demise because the children of the deceased could not pay for the cost of the mortuary service and burial. He died poor and his body has continued to suffer deprivation occasioned by poverty.
But there seems to be hope, really. THISDAY learnt that when the Minister of State, Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika was appointed, he sped up the process of the pay off for the ex-NAL workers. His efforts yielded fruit as N87 billion was earmarked for the settlement of the former workers, most of whom are now geriatric personalities with their good experiences a remote memory of distant past.
THISDAY investigation disclosed that the money was calculated and processed by the office of the Accountant General of the Federation. In the recommendation made after the money was budgeted, it was stated that the Accountant General should disburse the money with administrative fee of one percent of the total sum, which comes up to N735 million.
THISDAY learnt that while the plans to pay this money was on, the Presidential Initiative for the Continuous Audit (PICA) stepped in and cut the money to N43 billion and upped the administrative fee to N2.1 billion.
The calculations of the pay off that came up to N78 billion included 10 years arrears of pension and 10 years of advance payment, which would finally rest all labour issues concerning the defunct Nigeria Airways. But PICA removed 10 years arrears of pension, insisting that only N43 billion would be paid.
THISDAY spoke with two senior officials of the then Nigeria Airways Limited: Dr. Godwin Olu Jibodu, who was Director of Engineering and Dr. Steve Mahonwu who was Controller of Personnel Services.
The workers have renewed their agitation, insisting that the 10 years arrears of pension which was removed by PICA should be restored and also the ex-workers are kicking against the collection of N2.1 billion as administrative fees.
â€œWe are worried about the report, which stated that approval has been given for the payment of the ex-workers of Nigeria Airways. In the recommendation, N78 billion is to be paid; also one percent of the money to be paid as administrative charge. There is also in the recommendation that the office of the Accountant General should disburse this money.
Jibodu said the ex-workers were aware that the Presidential Initiative for the Continuous Audit was the one which audited the total package of the emolument of the ex-Nigerian Airways workers and had recommended N43 billion instead of the N78 billion.
He noted that the office (PICA) said that the arrears of the pension should not be paid and explained that the N78 billion was made up of 10 years arrears of pension that was not paid since 2009. Then the 10 years of payment of pension, which means for life any worker of former Nigeria Airways would not ask anything from the federal government.
â€œSo what PICA is doing now in its recommendation is that it has removed the 10 years arrears of the pension, advising the government only to pay 10 years advance of payment. So what we are saying, number one; they have no right to remove the arrears because we are genuinely entitled to it. The second point is that PICA while reducing the payment from N78 billion to N43 billion increased administrative fees, from one percent, which comes up to N735 million to N2.1 billion, which means they did not take recourse to the percentage. So when they cut down the amount they did not cut the administrative fee; rather, they increased it,â€ Dr Jibodu said.
The workers are also kicking against PICAâ€™s insistence that it would disburse the money and no more the office of the accountant general.
Mahonwu also noted that before PICA stepped in, the government did not consider the line of action of removing 10 years of arrears.
â€œThey approved the total amount as submitted by the Ministry of Transportation. PICA which did not contribute anything for us now wants to partake in it and benefit hugely from it. PICA is a presidential audit firm; auditors all over the world donâ€™t take compensation. What PICA is doing is causing commotion and delay and people are dying every day. They are taking N2.1 billion as administrative charge. They are not going to take it from the given N43 billion but we are looking at the morality there. It is expected that if you reduce the money to be paid from N78 billion to N43, it is expected that they should reduce the administrative charges but they now jerked it up,â€ Mahonwu said.
According to a well-worn clichÃ©, when two elephants fight, the grasses suffer. The jostling between the office of the Accountant General of the Federation and PICA is delaying the pay off. Meanwhile, Sirika, who steered this to fruition, is insisting the ex-workers must be paid N78 billion. It is expected that government should expedite action on the pay off to before more ex- NAL workers are taken to their early grave.