How Nigeria Airways ex-workers’ N45b benefit got stuck again

Ex-workers of the Nigeria Airways during one of their protests recently in Lagos.

The outstanding benefits of Nigeria Airways’ workers recently got a hearing at the National Assembly, but in a manner that only raised false hopes. WOLE OYEBADE writes on the fresh huddle and prospects of a respite for over 5000 senior citizens.

Rumour of the Senate’s approval of N45 billion brought a huge sigh of relief to the retirees.

As many that had thronged the Assembly complex on the afternoon freely welled-up tears of joy.

Indeed, the journey had been long and tedious for ex-workers of Nigeria Airways. So, the victory is well deserved after 14 years of struggle.

In fact, for two weeks leading to the d-day, July 24, 2018, scores of retirees, daily, crowded the National Assembly to lobby Senators for their due benefits.

Written all over the lobbyists were pitiable stories of hopes betrayed, frustration, pains and ill-health that a timely intervention can upturn.

It was not difficult to get words of assurance from as many Senators that cared to listen.

So, when the plenary ended and news filtered in that the lump sum had been approved, it was a moment to relish. But not for too long.

The coast became clearer some days later and to the dismay of those still celebrating, the approval to pay the workers has not been granted.

One of the retirees that also lobbied at the Senate, Sam Nzene, said it was so disappointing to find the truth.

“I could not believe it, nor even share it with our members because they all rejoiced like never before.

Unknown to us, what the Senate did was all about paying other projects and not ours,” Nzene said.

For weeks now, Nzene and other excos of the Nigerian Union of Pensioners’ (NUP) have been living with a moral dilemma; to either tell members the lethal truth or keep mum, while they nurse false hopes.

Stuck in the Act

Recall that the Federal Executive Council (FEC), in September 2017, okayed the sum of N45 billion for the payment of the workers’ entitlement.

The defunct airlines was liquidated by the Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration in 2004, over maladministration, huge debt and inefficient services of the national carrier.

The current administration in line with her promises to pay the retirees had resorted to raising bonds to off-set the debt.

In fact, the bond was to cover a backlog of unpaid pensions and gratuities of the military, defunct Nigeria Airways, Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL), National Electric Power Authority (NEPA), salary and promotion arrears to civil servants.

Also, government’s obligations to contractors and suppliers and unpaid electricity bills by the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), among others incurred between 2006 and 2015.

Apparently recognising the limitations of the Promissory Note and Bond Issuance Act that was specifically designed to raise bond for capital expenditure and infrastructural development, the FG proposed an amendment of the Act to the Senate, to also cover recurrent expenditure.

After extensive work and public hearing by the Ad-hoc Committee on the Promissory Note Programme and Bond Issuance, the Senate on July 24 considered the committee’s report and passed same before going on recess.

However, its details – what was or not approved – are yet to be made public.

As at the last check, The Guardian learnt that the Act was still with the Clerk of the Senate, and due to be passed to the Attorney General and Minister of Justice and subsequently to the President for assent into law.

Taiwo Adenekan, a keen observer of the development and ex-staffer of Nigeria Airways, said until the President signed the Act into law, the Minister of Finance cannot release the money as specified in the Act.

However, “It is still not clear what the Senate passed in the Act, whether it includes the Nigeria Airways workers’ pensions or not.

“Should they have removed the fund of the Nigeria Airways, then they must also have removed pensions of the military, NEPA and NITEL workers, but they cannot afford to do that.

“We are waiting for that, especially now that the president is back and with the threat from ATSSSAN, I think it will get to the presidency,” Adenekan said.
Retirees, unions petition Presidency

Nzene, who is also the Chairman of the Nigerian Union of Pensioners, Nigerian Airways’ branch, doubted that the new Act had anything in store for his members.

He said the union had resolved to a new approach at ensuring that the government pays their benefits.

“We have been writing letters and just yesterday (Tuesday) we submitted a letter to the president written by four workers’ union – Nigerian Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN), National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE) and NUP. We are begging the president to release our money.

“Our members are beginning to get the picture that there is no document to affirm that this thing was actually passed by the Senate. We don’t want them to start loosing hope again, as people would start dying.”

ATSSSAN, at a recent National Executive Council (NEC) meeting in Abuja, berated government’s failure to put closure to the Nigeria Airways’ outstanding, several years after the airline was liquidated.

The union resolved that the issue of payment of the severance benefits of the workers must be resolved immediately in order to forestall brewing labour crisis that could affect, in the negative, the prospects of the recently unveiled ‘Nigeria Air’ by the Federal Government of Nigeria.

ATSSSAN warned that if government does not pay Nigeria Airways workers their entitlements, it will not guarantee any place for the new airline in the industry.

The NEC commiserated with the families of “over 960 Nigeria Airways workers, who died in very avoidable health conditions while waiting for their entitlement.”
FG reassures on payment before Nigeria Air

Sources in the presidency assured that the workers were never at any point forgotten, as “the president had resolved to pay the retirees their dues”.

It was mentioned that President Muhammadu Buhari, at the last FEC meeting prior to his 10-day holiday in London, insisted that the Nigeria Airways workers be paid before the launch of the Nigeria Air.

“The President actually asked why the workers have not been paid. He said without them getting paid, then we are wasting our time trying to set up a new national carrier.

So, he mandated Kemi Adeosun to go to the National Assembly as sort the issues out.

That tells you the level of his commitment and you can be rest assured that they will get sort-out. How soon, I may not be able to say,” the source said.

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