Nzene: How government arrived at N45b instead of N78.3b temains a mystery
Chairman of the Nigerian Union of Pensioners, Nigerian Airways Branch, Sam Nzene, told WOLE OYEBADE that issues, which his members recently protested about would remain unsettled until all the retirees have been paid, and the balance also approved.
The Federal government has approved the sum of N45b to be disbursed to your members. Does this amount meet your expectations?
Well, I think it is a good thing that the government has decided to respond to our agitations, following our last outing, where we did a peaceful walk, in an attempt to bring our plight to government’s knowledge, that is, letting it know that we have not been paid despite the fact that the president signed and approved our payment before travelling out for medical attention. Since approving the payment, we have not heard anything. It is good to know that they have responded again and ordered that we be paid. What they are doing is something very good.
Having said that, let me add that we are not happy with the amount of money released because we know that our money is N78b. We don’t even know what happened that warranted the cut to N45 billion. We don’t know why and we are still waiting to get the details.
How did your group arrive at the N78b estimate?
I don’t have the breakdown here. But I can tell you that part of the N78b covers the administrative cost for the government people that will pay the money. That is one per cent of the N78b. Again, we have four staff members that were retained in the office to be paid salaries. That has not been paid at all because Their salary is there. Then, the sum to fend for the union is still there. If you put all of them together, the remaining is for our pension payment. So, about N2b or N3b are to cover other costs. About N73b is mainly for pension settlement.
How are your members fairing having been starved of their entitlements for about 15 years?
It has not been easy. In fact, it has been horrible to say the least. They have been suffering, some are very sick and most are terminally ill because of long-term neglect. Some of them are also homeless, while most of their children have had to drop out of school owing to lack of funds. Someone that dropped out of school over 10 years ago, can such still return to school, given the age?
We have several of such terrible stories abound, but the most serious of them all is that most of us are now terminally sick, and are either hypertensive, diabetic, bogged down with heart problems, prostrate cancer, renal diseases, loss of sight and so on. Things are not going well at all. There are people I used to know as very healthy and good-looking people, who are now so sick and in pitiable conditions. Some cannot even walk, while some are plagued by sight impairment. You will shed tears if you see some of my members. All these are caused by the negligence we have suffered for about 15 years.
As an ex-civil servant, you must be disappointed at the way things are turning out after nearly three decades of service.
Definitely. That is the type of government that we have worked for all our lives, beginning from when we were young and strong. Some of us have only worked for the government all our lives, and we did everything we could to serve the nation properly. I started working in Nigeria Airways when I was just above 18 –year-old. By the time I retired, I could not work anywhere else because I was considered old. I had no choice than to start a small business.
Since the airline was liquidated, why did the then administration fail to factor in your gratuities?
Let me start from the beginning. Obasanjo liquidated Nigeria Airways without due process, and he never did anything for the workers. It took the efforts of several ministers before he agreed to pay us five years pension, which he did not even pay all. By the time the matter went to the Federal Executive Council, he said they should put it aside. And that was all. Till he left power, he never paid anything. In fact, he was boasting so openly that he will not pay us a dime, saying we were corrupt and we have already taken out pension.
There is an allegation that union members that negotiated the severance package were compromising the process?
I was among those who negotiated the package and I must tell you that we did the best we could do within the circumstance we found ourselves. We have the report and if you see it, you will know that it is perfectly okay. At that time, there was a change in the pension system, and it was from monthly pension, to contributory pension scheme. It was the month we started negotiations that the system changed and the new scheme came into force. So, you cannot be on monthly pension because government at that time had stopped it. It was pension for life and we agreed on a 25-year-period.
Are you still on 25-year pay agreement?
Well, if we get this 10 years arrears now, it will mean that the government has paid us for 15 years because Yar’Adua paid the only five years that we have received till date. If Buhari pays the one for 10 years, it will bring all to 15 years.
How come the Goodluck Jonathan administration did nothing for your members?
That is another story entirely. I must tell you that Yar’Adua would have paid everything because at the time they brought the issue of those, who were not paid in 2008 to FEC, he told them to go back and bring all outstanding payments to him. It was October 20 of that year. But unfortunately he became ill and nobody agreed to do anything in that respect.
All through the time Jonathan was there, he failed to do anything for us. The then Aviation Minister, Stella Oduah, was just not be bothered. She said as far as she was concerned, government did not owe us anything. Even when the State House wrote her memos on our behalf to do something for Nigeria Airways ex-workers, she refused to act on them till she left office.
When Oduah left, a former governor of Benue State acted for four months. He wrote Jonathan’s government about those that were not paid then in 2008. We had assurance that something would be done. But, his tenure was shortlived. Osita Chidoka also came in and promised to look into our matter, but till he also left, he did nothing for us.
We are happy that Buhari’s government is beginning to respond to our plight. At least two of us met him before he became president. He gave us assurances then that if he became president, he would pay our money. And truly, when we met the minister last year, he agreed to do something on our issue, and immediately forwarded our case to the president in October last year. The president also gave approval for our matter to be taken up fully. So, we are very grateful to President Buhari for this.
How much of an impact will the payment of these benefits make in the lives of your members?
A lot more than you can imagine. That is why we insisted on the lump sum because we know that monthly pension will do little or nothing in their lives. But, with the pay off, they can really attend to their health situation, some will better manage their sicknesses, even if it will not go away. All in all, they can have better quality of life.
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