No less than seven former workers of the defunct Nigeria Airways died in the last one week while awaiting their severance package from the Federal Government.
The former employees of the Airways are now begging President Muhammadu Buhari to intervene and order the immediate payment of their entitlements following the recent approval of N48 billion for the payment of their benefits.
Addressing newsmen in Lagos on Wednesday, Oct. 18, the Chairman, Elders Forum of Nigeria Airways, Mr. Godwin Jibodu disclosed that the pensioners died in abject poverty despite having served the nation well.
He listed names of the deceased persons as Capt. Asuquo, Capt. Akintaju, Capt. Tunde Akinyosade, Capt. Sam Ohioma, and Mr. K. C. Amah while Mr. T. Bellgam and Mr. Ebenezer Akinbode were down with a stroke.
Jibodu further disclosed that one of the ex-workers, Capt. Charles Ntanyi, has been missing since August after boarding a commercial bus at night in the Ogba area of Lagos.
“We have lost seven colleagues within the last one week because they could not afford proper treatment for their ailments. This is very sad because the government has approved N45 billion since June for the payment of our pensions and gratuities.
“We are appealing to Nigeria as a nation not to forget the contributions of the (defunct) Nigeria Airways to national development. Nigeria Airways till date has helped in building the capacity of workers in the aviation sector,” he said.
According to Jibodu, since the money was approved, the pensioners had been making enquiries at the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Aviation and the Central Bank of Nigeria to know the reason for the delay in the disbursement of the money.
The ex-workers have not been paid their benefits 13 years after the liquidation of the Airways by the government of President Olusegun Obasanjo.
The Federal Government had earlier this year approved N45 billion for the payment of gratuities and other retirement benefits of former employees of defunct airline, out of N78 billion owed the workers.
Announcing the approval after a Federal Executive Council meeting, the Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, said the ministry had started to put modalities in place for the payment. The minister also regretted that some of the ex-workers had lost their lives in the process of waiting for the payment.
However, Jibodu laments that several weeks after the approval, the payment is yet to be effected as the ex-workers are still waiting.
Until the approval, the frustrated pensioners had accused the Presidential Initiative on Continuous Audit, PICA, of frustrating efforts by the government to pay them their gratuities put at N78 billion.
Worried over the delay, the ex-workers of the defunct Nigeria Airways are praying that an alleged disagreement between the Aviation Ministry and PICA which frustrated the payment of their benefits should manifest in a different way.
“The former Airways staff in the UK, USA, Dubai, and so on where there are laws, they got their entitlements in 2004. Is it not strange that 13 years after, those in Nigeria and neighbouring African countries are still fasting and praying for it to be paid?” the pensioners queried.
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Describing this as “wickedness of the highest order”, the pensioners noted that they were thankful to God when a few months back the payment was approved, but lamented the inability of the government to effect the promise.
On the alleged power tussle between the Aviation Ministry and the PICA, the pensioners said:
“The President, it was gathered agreed that one percent of the approved sum be given to the paying agency which is the wages commission. In our case, the one percent is almost N800 million. Suddenly PICA picked interest in paying and also demanded a reduction of the agreed amount and also demanded over N2billion as the paying agency fee.
“It was gathered that the Ministry said no because PICA has no right to slash it since the federal government is not complaining that the N78billion is too much for it to pay. Our question is, why is it possible for PICA to hold a people to ransom? We do not want to believe that President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, the Minister of Finance or their various special advisers are unaware of what is going on and have left the pensioners to die on a daily basis from curable illnesses. They cannot feed, they are not employable, they cannot pay rents and school fees. This is irritating.
“Former President, Goodluck Jonathan, we learned, persuaded our umbrella body to withdraw the case from court. The Union did, but President Jonathan refused to honour his part of the bargain by paying us our entitlements before he left office in spite of the prosperity during his regime.
“Whoever constitutes an obstacle, the set time for such to be brought to book is now. The staff are tired of hoping against hope. Month in, month out, their hopes are dashed. September is running out again. If this regime is truly transparent and against corruption, the time to prove it is now. Delay is dangerous. It is not the dead that will spend this money.”