The past 14 years have been tortuous for workers of the defunct national carrier, Nigeria Airways. That was the time when the airline was liquidated by the administration of then president Olusegun Obasanjo.
After the liquidation, the workers have been in the trenches fighting for payment of their severance benefits. The last time their pensions were paid was during the administration of former president, late Umaru Yar’Adua in 2008.
After receiving the first tranche of the payment, the workers made several entreaties to the Goodluck Jonathan administration but to no avail.
When President Muhammadu Buhari came on board in 2015, the assurance to pay retirees of the Nigeria Airways was part of his campaign promises. However this did not materialize as early as they wished in the life of the administration.
The president raised the hope of the ex-workers when he approved N45bn after an audit by the Presidential Initiative on Continuous Audit (PICA), a department in the Ministry of Finance.
Little did they know that the approval would not materialize as the money was to be paid from a promissory note, according to former Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun.
The workers at a time staged protests in Lagos and Abuja to press for the payment. But a month ago, the government put smiles in their faces when it approved N22.5bn, being 50 per cent of the total N45bn earlier approved by the president.
Like the popular cliché that it is never late than never, the government last Monday commenced verification of the beneficiaries in Lagos, Kano and Enugu. The retirees, some of them on life support and assisted to the venue, trooped to the three centres while the next of kin of deceased beneficiaries were verified. Daily Trust learnt that 800 of the beneficiaries have passed on in the midst of the struggle.
The first week of the verification was nearly marred by technical glitches with many of the beneficiaries unable to partake in the exercise.
But the temporary hitches had evaporated even as those who have been captured were said to have started receiving payment alerts.
The Minister of Finance, Hajia Zaynab Ahmed, had last weekend assured that those who had been duly verified would start receiving the alerts this week and the promise came to fruition.
To the Nigeria Airways retirees, the president has written his name in gold by paying part of their entitlements which his predecessors except Yar’Adua failed to do.
They are optimistic that the balance would be paid in no distant time as promised by the Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika.
When our correspondent visited the Skyway Catering Complex, venue of the verification exercise at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, it had progressed significantly with the initial hitches addressed.
Right at the venue, many of the retirees confirmed that some of their colleagues who had been verified had started getting payment alerts.
One of the beneficiaries, Mr. Chucks Agbaso, said, “I am very happy that after waiting for a long time, we are now getting what is due to us. I am very happy, I’ve been praying for this day to come and we thank God it is happening.”
President, Aviation Union Grand Alliance (AUGA), Engr. Lookman Animashaun, commended President Buhari for putting smiles on their faces when others practically ignored them.
“Yar’ Adua was about to complete the payment when he died. Jonathan was supposed to be his deputy and he was there when all these processes were done, but he did nothing about it. We had been in touch with Buhari even before he became president and he promised that when he became president, he would pay us and he has fulfilled his promise.
“I think we should thank him (Buhari), then, thank Sen. Hadi Sirika, the Minister of Aviation for initiating it. We met with him in the second week of his appointment as a minister and he promised to do something and under one month, he presented our case to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) for approval, which was done about a year ago.
“Then, to release the money now became an issue with the former Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, but we thank God the new minister came in and within one week, she kept her promise. And she has also promised us that the balance would be paid within the next six months, but we know are we are sure that money would be paid in less than six months. This is not politics, but the obvious thing that somebody has done.”
Former Nigeria Airways staff during their screening in Lagos on October 15, 2018.