After 13 years of agitation, the federal government last week, finally gave approval for the release of N45 billion for the payment of gratuities and other retirement benefits of former staff of defunct Nigeria Airways Ltd (NAL).
It was cheering news, especially for the ex-workers of NAL, many of whom might have given up on the payment of their severance package. But what is instructive about this is the fact that the government that liquidated the nationâ€™s national carrier, NAL was unable to pay the ex-workers.
THISDAY learnt that some years ago, the workers were given five years retirement payment after the liquidation but they rightly demanded for pay off. This was after several years the labour unions had cried 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.
Early this year, THISDAY learnt that the corpse of one of the seasoned pilots of Nigeria Airways (name withheld) was 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. It would have been avoidable death if he had the resources to attend to his ailment.
In a recent protest by the ex-Nigeria Airways workers, a former staff, Christiana Ojukoya noted that their colleagues in Europe and America were paid their full entitlements immediately the carrier was liquidated, whereas those in Nigeria, Cameroon and other West African countries were neglected for years until 2009 when late President Umaru Yar’Adua paid five years of their severance packages, instead of the 25 years paid to their colleagues abroad.
“The sad thing is that I and my husband worked for this airline for 25 years and we both suffered until he died last year. My husband died in penury because we could not raise money for his medical bills,â€ she mournfully stated.
Under these gory experiences, one can appreciate the succour the Buhari administration has given to these ex-workers of the defunct airline.
The Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Captain Muhtar Usman, told THISDAY that what happened was unprecedented and this showed that the Buhari administration is a listening government interested in positively impacting the lives of Nigerians.
â€œThis has demonstrated that this government is a listening government. The agitation by the ex-NAL workers for the payment of their entitlements has been going on for year until this government gave approval and provided funds to settle these workers many of whom have suffered so much,â€ the Director General said.
He noted that the government had taken a good decision considering the fact that it planned to establish a private sector driven national carrier. â€œSo by this lofty action of government, it has put an end to the sad memories of the liquidation of the former national carrier and has created a convivial environment for the birth of a new national airlineâ€, he added.
But while commending government for approving the sum of N45 billion to settlement the entitlements of about 5,909 pensioners, the ex-workers are peeved that the initial sun of N87 billion, which was the actual calculated pension fund was slashed.
Dr. Steve Mahonwu, who was Controller of Personnel Services of the former NAL, insisted that the government should complete the payment as â€œwe would continue to agitate until it was done, noting that this government has started well and would â€œgo the whole hog.â€
He added: â€œThere is going to be workable arrangement for them to pay the balance in due course. They will let us know the payment schedule. Otherwise, we will continue to agitate until it is paid. But I commend this government for listening to us. When compared to the era of Chief Obasanjo, Yarâ€™adua and Jonathan administration one can see the difference; although under the Yarâ€™adua government we got five years payment.â€
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 N45 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 N45 billion would be paid.
Since 2004, the defunct 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.
Mahonwu, who noted that the amount approved was short of what should have been paid to the ex-workers, said they would take the payment in the hope that government would add to it, noting that the money is their right and is not negotiable. He gave kudos to the Buhari administration that made this possible.
“We thank those who made it possible. This is a relief so we take it and continue to struggle for more. It is our benefit so it is not negotiable but we thank the federal government and all the people who contributed to make this possible, he said.
It was also gathered 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. Being an aviator, Sirika definitely knew the background to the agitation, which prompted him to make every effort possible to put smile on the faces of the ex-workers, some of who live in penury.