The minister of finance, Zainab Ahmed, yesterday announced the presidential approval of N22.68 billion for the settlement of the outstanding pension entitlements of ex-workers of the defunct Nigeria Airways Ltd, representing 50 per cent of the N45.3 billion total entitlements of the retirees.
To this end, the minister has set up a committee to physically verify the claims of the ex-workers of the defunct Nigeria Airways Ltd for transparent and urgent disbursement of the approved fund.
Ahmed also announced the approval of N20 billion towards the revitalisation of federal and state universities across the country, with the two releases amounting to a total of N42.68 billion which, she said, would be immediately disbursed to the beneficiaries.
LEADERSHIP recalls that the former aviation workers had lost their jobs following the liquidation of the government-owned airline and had not been paid their benefits for the past 15 years despite the liquidation. Many of them had expressed deep agony and claims of being thrown out of their houses and lack of money to fund the education of their children.
“This unfortunate situation cannot be allowed to continue under a responsible administration,” the finance minister said.
The committee she set up would be headed by the secretary of PICA. It has representatives from the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation, federal ministries of aviation and finance, Bureau of Public Enterprises, Office of the Accountant General of the Federation, budget office and the union of the affected ex-workers of the Nigeria Airways.
While the ex-workers applauded the release of the funds, they expressed fear that the setting up of a special committee to carry out the verification process could delay the process, but the minister promised speedy verification and disbursement process of the funds.
Similarly, the minister further told the gathering of the retired pensioners at the headquarters of the ministry that another N20 billion had been approved for the funding of federal and state universities in the country.
“This administration, in its determination to revitalise the public universities and ensure smooth running of the education tertiary system, has decided to approve the sum of N20 billion for immediate release for the public universities,” she said.
On his part, the representative of the minister of education and permanent secretary in the ministry, Sunny Echenu, said government was working on a sustainable model through the ministries of education and finance to address ASUU’s demands.
It would be recalled that the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) had in 2013 signed a memorandum of understanding with the federal government on the conditions on which the government would improve funding for staff welfare and provision of critical infrastructure in public universities.
In his reaction, the secretary general of the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Comrade Olayinka Abioye, applauded the president’s action, saying it is a step in the right direction.
Comrade Abioye said, “If somebody is owing you money and he is paying half of it, you cannot be too happy about it. The position of the union is that this money must be paid fully. You will recall that we have dragged this matter for many years. Hopes have been raised and dashed several times. I can tell you that irrespective of how bad we feel now, we have to also appreciate Buhari for making it his duty.
“We commend the president and government for approving the 50 per cent. We also commend the finance minister, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, who just came on the saddle for only one month and has been able to convince the president on the approval. I assure you that we will get the remaining half before the end of the year.”
Also commending the presidential approval of the fund, ex-Nigerian Airways staff and former chief operating officer (COO) of Medview Airline, Chief Lookman Animashaun, thanked President Buhari for the bold step.
“We want to sincerely thank Mr President for the approval of the fund, even though it is not the total amount of N45 billion that we were expecting. It will bring succour to the people who have been dying in droves; many of them have suffered avoidable deaths which, if they had money, they would have taken care of themselves one way or the other,” he said, adding that the affected retirees were looking forward to the verification exercise and to the approval of the remaining sum.