Living for 13 years without a direct or stable source of livelihood after serving with the defunct national carrier, Nigeria Airways, Victor Ogunyinka recounts his 12 hours experience with some of the ex-workers as they relay their ordeal while they endlessly wait for their rights.
“Imagine one of our captains that flew a DC-10 with Nigerian Airways died because he couldn’t afford N50,000.00 to buy his drugs,” Dr Godwin Jibodu, a former Director of Engineering and chairman of ex-Nigeria Airways Elders Forum said in disappointment.
Nigeria prides itself as a nation where respect is sacrosanct and where the words of elders are golden, with so much belief in the Holy Book that said one of the recipes of long life is honouring your father and mother.
The story of ex-Nigeria Airways workers has become and an unending seasonal movie, with episodes of suspense, thriller, horror, disappointment and eventually, death.
The calm in the residence of the ex-Nigeria Airways workers in Gowon Estate, Egbeda, Lagos State, does not reflect the untold hardship and untimely death news that has enveloped the community, as one of the ex-workers put it. “Death is now a familiar occurrence that it hits us almost every now and then.”
One thing that is conspicuous is the fleet of cars parked around the quarters of the ex-national carrier workers and one wonders, how did pensioners who are awaiting their entitlements for about 13 years from the Federal Government maintain these cars?
“Don’t be deceived by the fleet of cars you see around our buildings,” Mr Alexander Dirma who worked at the Procurement Department of the national carrier began. “The cars you’re seeing everywhere are not meant for Nigeria Airways ex-staff. Some of the ex-workers had to sell their flats and relocate to their villages or squat with relatives; so these cars are owned by tenants who bought those flats. You never eat, you wan buy car (You’ve not eaten, you want to buy a car).”
Would they ever be paid?
On September 20, 2017, the Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, briefed newsmen after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting of that day presided over by Vice President Prof Yemi Osinbajo, that a sum of N45billion has been approved.
Sirika said: “Sirika said: “Past governments decided to liquidate Nigeria Airway without tending to the issues of the entitlement of the workers and the workers have been struggling to get paid.
“This government when it came on board decided to take it seriously. And I am happy to announce that Mr President has approved N45 billion which has been confirmed to be the entitlements of this workers and the Ministry of Finance has been instructed to pay.
“And the Ministry of Finance has written to me last week that they have received instructions to pay these workers and therefore they are going about setting up all the modalities to pay.
“It will not be paid through my ministry before somebody will say I have stolen it. It will be paid by Ministry of Finance through a process and that process will commence very soon.
“So, I’m very glad to say that this is also what this government has done. It took a long time for the workers of Nigeria Airways to be attended to and we thank them for their patience.”
But nothing seems to be done since then and the ex-Nigeria Airways workers vowed to disrupt activities at the airport if they were not paid in 14 days, which would elapse after Easter.
But the Minister of State for Aviation, on March 30, 2018, also announced that the N45billion severance package will be paid after the Easter break as soon as the Nigerian Senate resumed sitting and approved pay.
Sirika further added that the funds had been provided and was willing to pay but would follow laid-down rules.
Fast forward to May 15, 2018, the Minister of Finance, Mrs Kemi Adeosun, wrote on her Twitter handle that “There has been a misconception in the media that the President had approved the payment of N45 billion terminal benefits to the ex-workers of Nigeria Airways. I should make it clear that there is no presidential approval and no appropriation yet for the payment.
“The terminal benefits of ex-Nigeria Airways workers are also part of the outstanding inherited debts. These benefits have been reconciled and agreed at N45 billion, following verification. But we don’t have Presidential approval yet for the payment. It also has to be appropriated,” she said.
These turn of events have respectively raised and crashed the hopes of the affected pensioners and are almost giving up on what was seen as their biggest chance to get rewarded for the fruit of their labours, following neglects from successive past government save for late President Musa Yar ‘Adua that paid a fraction of what they were owed in 2007.
How they have been faring without pay for 13 years
Of course, it has been anything but palatable for the about 3,000 workers of the former national carrier with over 700 deaths in the course of waiting for redemption.
Some of the affected staff and widows left behind by the deceased shared their ordeals with Sunday Tribune, with the common narratives being that government, should, as a matter of urgency, attend to the staff to prevent another tear in grief.
‘How can one serve his country in vain?’
Mrs Josephine Aguofor, widow of one of the ex-workers recounted her ordeal and what led to her husband’s death.
“I lost my husband January 29, 2016, but before his death, my husband was in the office on that day in 2004 when police came from Abuja and forcefully evicted them from office with tear gas; he developed a respiratory ailment. He was admitted for two weeks in the hospital and since then, his breathing was abnormal up till his death. The cause of death written on his certificate was fast breathing.
“I have borrowed so much that I don’t know who to meet again. My lenders say they don’t want to see me again until I pay what I borrowed; my hope was rekindled when I heard that they will pay after Easter, but it didn’t happen. Fraudsters duped my son where he was working and he got fired,
“My children had stopped going to school; no food, no work, nothing is moving since 2004. My daughter fell sick and we couldn’t take her to hospital. How can one serve his country in vain,” she lamented.
‘I went from running a profitable business to hawking pure water’
“My husband died as a result of too much suffering. He took ill and we went about different hospitals trying to save his life, but he didn’t survive it. We are hungry, my children don’t always go to school because of fees debt; I go to the school every time to beg for more time.
“We have heard them announcing different paydays, but till today, nothing of such. Anytime I go to school to beg for more time, they will tell me that they heard there is a new payment date in the news and they will oblige me more time to pay, but in the end, it doesn’t happen.
“What I do right now is to go hawk pure water when I couldn’t continue my business because we have spent the gains on debt and other things. So I had resort to selling pure water. And I am really praying that they give us answers on time because many people are just dying,” Mrs Rose Ndikanwu said.
‘I’m poor widow, pensioner’
Theresa Nwako, 70, a pensioner and also a widow explained that “my husband, Mr Nwako, worked at Nigeria Airways, Operations Department, he died in 2013. He died of a stroke, which we managed for almost seven years. He was retired in 2002. We have been surviving by the grace of God. The children were in school when their father died and I am also a pensioner (teacher).
“Business has been difficult to go into as almost everything is at standstill. I am just a poor widow and I beg the government to please hasten to help us, they need to consider we widows in this helpless condition.”
‘The dead should not be forgotten’
“We are begging the government to please listen to the ex-workers because many have gone for the minutest sickness possible. The ones that are late should also not be forgotten so that their families have somewhere to start from,” Mrs Celina Onwughai, a widow pleaded.
It is on good record that the anticipating pensioners trust the activities of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration so much so that they are optimistic that he holds the ace to their demands.
One of the pensioners who spoke under the camera said: “We beg the government to please come to our aids; we live a despicable life as we speak, very terrible; from hands to mouth. We really appreciate this government; this is an inherited problem and we appreciate what has been put to it. One thing I’m certain of is that if the president really wants, he can just order for the payment regardless of where the money will come from and it will happen. We appreciate the ministers of aviation and finance; they should please help us out.”
‘Nobody wants to borrow us money anymore’
Mr Udoh Isoh who worked at the Managing Director’s office explained that “A lot of my colleagues went borrowing because they believed succour was on the way, but it didn’t happen. Again, we heard this year (2018) that after the Easter break, we will be all smiles, we are now in June (two months after Easter) nothing has been done.
“We want the Federal Government to have mercy and pay us. Many of us worked for 25, 30 and 35 years in service. Some of our colleagues here in Gowon Estate died of common sicknesses that would have been treated if there was money. A lot of widows here are so stranded; many of our children are not even in school anymore, some of them are resorting to menial jobs just to make ends meet. I am supposed to travel home to my village but I cannot raise the transport fare. Let the government please help us,” he said.
‘I don’t know why poor man’s pay is always complicated’
Mr Dirma, when asked about how he has been struggling said: “When you talk of survival, by looking at me, you’ll know it has not been easy. It is from hand to mouth and borrowing because there is nothing like raising our hopes and then dashing it.
“Almost 50 per cent of our staff who died was of a common sickness; most of them died of stroke; what causes stroke? When you cannot feed your wife and children and you start thinking, next thing is stroke.
“I don’t know why when it comes to poor man’s pay, they start speaking vocabularies. We have had almost four new dates.”
‘Majority are on sick bed’
“We have been suffering since late President Musa Yar ‘Adua left office untimely. He paid us about five years of our earnings and that was it,” Mr John Akinniyi, who worked at Avionic, engineering department said.
He continued: “I will want to appeal to the president and the ministers of aviation and finance to do whatever they have to do for us on time because people are dying by the minute. Majority are on sick bed as I speak to you. We are expecting something and we really hope it can come soon enough even if it is tomorrow.”
‘Number of deaths keep increasing’
Mr Dirma explained that the number of deaths is increasing by the day and it could have been prevented.
He brought out his book, when asked about the number of deaths recorded in couple of months back and said: “Some of those that have died in the course of waiting for this payment in this environment alone are Mr Makut, Mr Amaechi, Mr Ojo, Mr Dika, Mr Tony Nwako, Mr Ogungbade, Mr Alex, Mr Akpan, Mr Aguofor among others.