These were the words of former employees of Nigeria Airways pensioners once again, while pleading with President Buhari to intervene and order immediate payment of their entitlements before Christmas for them to have a blissful yelutide.
The frustrated pensioners who had heaved a sigh of following recent approval of N48 billion for the payment of their benefits, by the Federal Government have begun to lose hope that many of them still alive may not receive their entitlements before they join their ancestors.
Many of the former workers of the defunct national carrier who spoke to Pension and You on condition of anonymity since they were not authorized by the umbrella body to speak to press, lamented that it had been frustrating and painful to them especially after their hope had been raised to receive immediate payment following the approval for such in September.
One of them, a woman with tears in her eyes declared “it has been suicide and suicide everywhere. No succour . It seems PICA and co are praying for all of us to die of subtle suicide in order for them not to pay our pensions. Only personal intervention by President Muhammadu Buhari, can stop our sufferings and save those of us still alive from joining our departed colleagues untimely.”
According to her, “how can money be approved since September and with just few days to December, yet the money has not been paid to the beneficiaries. We were told the money is in the bank, doing what in the bank.
“We suspect foul play. We are pleading with our president to personally see to this and ensure that some people are not using our money to trade. We are begging President Buhari to direct the immediate payment of this money now that the Christmas season is here for us to have joyous and happy celebrations.
“We have gone through pains, sufferings and hardship all these years. Our case is better imagined than experienced because it is not an easy road to pass through with ever increasing health challenges, family challenges, bills to pay and so.”
Not long ago, it was disclosed that about seven of the former employees had died in one week as they continue to await the release of the N45 billion approved by the federal government for the payment of their entitlements.
The Chairman of the Nigeria Airways Elders Forum, Godwin Jibodu, while speaking with journalists in Lagos, lamented that “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 payment of our pensions and gratuities.”
Mr. Jibodu named the dead former airways workers as Capt. Asuquo, Capt. Akintaju, M. K. Amah, Bose Oladumiye, Onyebuchi Anunobi, Adebayo Awoyinka, T. Bellgam and Ebenezer Akinbode.
According to him, another former worker of the defunct airline, Charles Ntanyi, had been missing since August this year after boarding a commercial bus at night in Ogba, Lagos.
Mr. Jibodu lamented that the pensioners were wallowing in abject poverty after serving the nation meritoriously at the Nigeria Airways.
“We are appealing to Nigeria as a nation not to forget the contributions of Nigeria Airways to national development. Nigeria Airways was a partner to the government and till date has helped in building the capacity of workers in the aviation sector,” Mr. Jibodu said.
It will be recalled that the federal government in September approved the payment of N45 billion severance package to former staff of the defunct Nigeria Airways.
The Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, had disclosed this while speaking with State House correspondents at the end of the Federal Executive Council, FEC, meeting saying : “Governments, in the past, decided just to liquidate Nigeria Airways without tending to the issue of the entitlements of the workers and they have been struggling to get that paid.
We came in and took it very seriously. I’m happy to announce that Mr. President has approved N45 billion which has been confirmed to be the entitlements of these workers and Ministry of Finance has been instructed to pay the money.”
He explained that the ministry wrote to his office last week that they had received the instruction to pay the affected workers.
They are setting up the modalities to pay, Mr. Sirika added. “You should know it won’t be paid through my ministry before somebody will say I took some of it. It will be paid sthrough a process, and that process will commence very soon,” he said.
The affected workers have been protesting over their unpaid entitlements since the liquidation of the airline by the federal government.
The national carrier was liquidated by former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration.
The ex-workers have not been paid their benefits 13 years after the liquidation of the Airways by the government of President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Until the N45billion 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.
However, close to three mouths after the N48billion approval which the pensioners accepted, payment is yet to be effected.
The ex-workers of the defunct national carrier are worried over the delay and appealed to the President Buhari for intervention.
The pensioners are praying that alleged disagreement between the Aviation Ministry and PICA which frustrated the payment of their bemefits should not manifest in a different way.
They recalled that “ 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?”
Describing this as “wickedness of the highest order”, the pensioner noted that they were thankful to God when few months back the payment was approved, but lamented that till today, they “are still praying God for the payment to be effected. We gathered that there is a power tussle between the Aviation Ministry and PICA.
“The President, it was gathered agreed that one per cent of the approved sum be given to the paying agency which is the wages commission. In our case the one per cent is almost N800 million. Suddenly PICA picked interest in paying and also demanded for 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.
“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 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.”