Years after disengaging from the moribund national carrier, Nigeria Airways, ex-workers share tell VICTOR OGUNYINKA how they have been living in penury while waiting endlessly for their rights.

FROM all indications, the nation’s dead national carrier, Nigeria Airways, may make a return to the aviation industry by the end of the year. This is cheery news for many, but not likely for many former staff whose entitlements have not been paid years after the airline folded up. The good news is a sad reminder of what had befallen the moribund national carrier.

Today, those who had the misfortune of being former staff of the old Nigeria Airways are living in penury, after spending their productive years working for the airline. Their dream of blissful years after retirement suddenly became a mirage. Many have died, while several others are living in ill-health with nobody to help, not even their country, which owned the organisation they worked for.

'AN EX-PILOT COULDN'T AFFORD N50,000 DRUGS'

While speaking with Sunday Tribune, a former Director of Engineering and Chairman of Ex-Nigeria Airways Elders Forum, Dr. Godwin Jibodu, captured the image of what had become of many former Nigeria Airways staff.

“Can you believe that one of our captains that flew a DC-10 with Nigerian Airways died because he couldn’t afford N50,000.00 to buy drugs?” he said.

Another ex-worker, who did not want his identity disclosed, said “death is now a familiar occurrence such that it hits us almost every now and then".

When this reporter visited the Gowon Estate, Egbeda, Lagos residence of the ex-workers, what was observed belied the story of untold hardship and news of untimely death that was told.

One thing that was conspicuous was the fleet of cars parked in the quarters, prompting a reflection on how pensioners who had been awaiting their entitlements for about 13 years have been able to keep them. However, Mr. Alexander Dirma, who worked at the Procurement Department of the national carrier, said: “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. These cars are owned by tenants who bought those flats."

"You never eat, you wan buy moto?” he asked rhetorically.

WILL THEY EVER BE PAID?

On September 20, 2017, Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, briefed newsmen after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting of that day, presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, that a sum of N45billion had been approved for the settlement of the entitlements of the ex-workers.

“Past governments decided to liquidate Nigeria Airways without tending to the issues of the entitlement of the workers and the workers have been struggling to get paid," Sirika had observed.

"This government decided to take it seriously, and Mr President has approved N45billion as the entitlements of these workers and the Ministry of Finance has been instructed to pay.

“The ministry has written 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 and that process will commence very soon. It took a long time for the workers of Nigeria Airways to be attended to; we thank them for their patience."

However, nothing has been done since then, as the ex-Airways workers threaten to disrupt activities at the airport during auspicious times, although there are rumours that the money has been approved by the President.

This situation virtually forced the Minister of Finance, Mrs Kemi Adeosun, to write on her Twitter handle that “there has been a misconception in the media that the President has approved the payment of N45 billion terminal benefits to the ex-workers of Nigeria Airways".

With that statement, the hopes of the ex-workers were again dashed and they are almost giving up on what was seen as their biggest chance to get rewarded for the fruit of their labour. A glimmer of hope came under late President Musa Yar‘Adua, who paid a fraction of what they were owed in 2007, but since then, the workers have been hoping against hope.

NO FOOD, NO WORK; NOTHING

The story has been anything but palatable for the about 3,000-strong ex-workers, with over 700 deaths recorded so far in the course of waiting for redemption.

Some of the affected staff and widows left behind by the deceased ex workers opened up on their ordeals.

Mrs Josephine Aguofor, widow of one of the ex-workers, her husband’s last days.

“I lost my husband on 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 later developed a respiratory ailment. He was admitted for two weeks in the hospital and since then, his breathing became abnormal till his death. The cause of death written on his certificate was ‘fast breathing'.

“I have borrowed so much that I don’t know whom 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 would pay after Easter, but it didn’t happen. Fraudsters duped my son where he was working and he got fired.

“My children have stopped going to school; no food, no work, nothing is moving since 2004. My daughter fell ill and we couldn’t take her to hospital.

FROM PROGITABLE BUSINESS TO HAWKING SACHET WATER

Mrs Rose Ndikanwu, also a widow, narrated her plight thus: “My husband died as a result of too much suffering. He took ill and we went to 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 our debts to the school. I go to the school every time to beg for more time.

“We have heard them announcing different pay days, but till today, nothing. Anytime I go to school, it is to beg for more time; they 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 didn’t happen.

“What I do right now is to go hawk sachet water when I couldn’t continue my business because we had spent the gains on debt and other things. So I had resorted to selling pure water and I am really praying that they answer us on time because many people are just dying.”

Others like her living on false hope of their husbands’ soon-to-be-paid entitlements have resorted to borrowing more than they can afford to pay back. Unfortunately they continue to wait endlessly.

Seventy-year-old Theresa Nwako, a pensioner and a widow of a former Airways staffer at the Operations Department, lost her husband to stroke in 2013 just one year after his retirement.

“We managed the sickness for almost seven years. 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)," she says.

“Business has been difficult to go into, as almost everything is at a standstill. I am a poor widow and I beg the government to hasten to help us. They need to consider us, the widows, in this helpless condition."

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