Retirees of the defunct Nigeria Airways have continued to mount pressure on the Ministry of Finance for the release of N45 billion approved by the federal government for payment of their retirement benefits, reports IME AKPAN
Despite the seemingly poor salary, many people still find the civil service attractive and a place to work because of the benefit of receiving pension after retirement.
However, many civil servants who are still in the system are worried about life after retirement going by what pensioners are going through currently. Life after retirement has become more problematic and uncertain in Nigeria as government has failed to meet the pension expectation of retirees thereby shattering their hopes and inducing economic hardship, which in most cases, leads to fatalities.
The fate of former staff of the defunct Nigeria Airways is a case in point. Recently, the workers embarked on a protest demanding the release of N45 billion approved by the federal government in September 2017 for payment of their severance benefits.
During the protest, two elderly women slumped and were rushed to an undisclosed hospital. It was gathered that no fewer than 700 of the airline’s workers had died since 2004 when the carrier was liquidated by the federal government.
History of the fund
The inter-ministerial committee set up by the federal government in 2006 had recommended the sum of N78 billion as the total severance package for 10 years for the workers, including pension arrears for the period after the physical verification of about 6,000 beneficiaries.
It would be recalled that during the administration of late President Umaru Yar’Adua, the federal government had paid the sum of N29.1 billion, representing five years pension to the defunct airline’s workers.
45% cut by PICA
But the Presidential Initiative on Continuous Audit (PICA) set up by President Muhammadu Buhari in its recommendation slashed the sum to N43 billion, a 45 per cent reduction.
PICA), in a letter signed by its director, special projects, M.K Dikwa turned down the recommendation of the inter-ministerial committee.
The letter with the title: ‘Re: Settlement of the Terminal Benefits of Ex-Workers of Nigeria Airways –Appeal for Mr. President’s Intervention,’ with the reference number: OHMF/DSP/FMF/SH/95/Vol.4/61 was dated 19th October 2016.
The reduction of N35 billion from the recommended and approved N78 billion by the inter-ministerial committee generated reactions with the minister of state for aviation, Hadi Sirika insisting on the payment of the earlier approved sum.
Sirika in a letter to Buhari on the issue was said to have warned that if the severance packages and other liabilities of the workers were not settled, it would be difficult to re-establish a national carrier for the country again.
Sirika observed that before the company was liquidated, there was no proper determination of the worth of the company in terms of income on realizable assets vis-à-vis the liabilities in form of entitlements of staff that would be affected and insisted that the workers must be paid in full as agreed.
Approval amidst controversy
Somehow, it was gathered that a compromise was reach and N45 billion was approved.
Apart from the Nigerian staff, outstation employees like those in Rome, Saudi Arabia, Benin Republic, Cameroon and some other Francophone African countries are to benefit from the severance package.
The workers are also irked that their colleagues who served the airline in United Kingdom and United States were paid their entitlements of 25 years.
However, questions the frail-looking Nigerian retirees ask are: “Where is the money? Why have we not been paid like our counterparts in federal ministries, departments and agencies?”
Speaking during the protest match in Lagos, the union leaders were unanimous that the ministry of finance was playing politics with the workers’ benefits.
The chairman of the Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP), Nigeria Airways Branch, Mr. Sam Nzene alleged said when the money was approved last year, the ministry said it was ready but that the national assembly was delaying payment.
However, he said findings showed that it was the ministry that was actually withholding the payment.
“This is the third protest we have done since last year. Even on the December 19 2017, there was a protest at the ministry of finance when we shut down the place for five hours and at the end of the day, we were called into a meeting and told that the national assembly was holding our payment. This is the seventh month after the federal executive council approved the payment.
“Well, we went to the national assembly; we wrote to the senate president, we were told that there was nothing of the Nigeria Airways in the national assembly, that they had approved the money government sent to them for settlement of debts owed to civil servants and pensioners and contractors, that the monies had been approved and released”.
For his part, the president of Aviation Union Grand Alliance (AUGA) Mr. Luqmon Animashaun lamented that while contractors and army retirees were being paid, Nigeria Airways pensioners were yet to get their pay.
“They are paying the salary arrears of army pensioners and contractors. Where did they get the money to pay those two? They should let us know. We have combed everywhere in the national assembly; we have gone to the clerk, senate committee on aviation, appropriation…they said there was nothing like that and whatever they needed to approve, they had done and that is why they are paying the other two components. The minister should come out and tell us what the position is,” he said.
Also speaking, a retiree, Andrew Iwalegwu said: “Remember in December, our colleagues in the northern zone, Abuja, Kano, Kaduna, Plateau and Makurdi did a protest in Abuja. Then the minister of aviation said we would smile during Christmas. We never knew he wanted to give us a bitter leaf Christmas. We never smiled, that money has not been paid. We have lost 850 of our members. So hopelessness, depression and disillusionment are killing our members.”
The chairman of Nigeria Airways Elders Forum, Mr. Godwin Jibodu said no ministry or agency of government had been forthcoming with information about the money.
“We have tried to reach out to the ministry of aviation, ministry of finance and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) but there is no response from them. And as we speak to you there is no response as to who is holding our money,” he said.
Jibodu said the delay in payment had resulted in the death and sickness of some retirees, while one of the pilots of the rested airline, Capt. Charles Ntanyi who boarded a commercial bus in Lagos got missing in the course of the struggle for the release of the retirement package.
“This is sad and disheartening. These great men are dying in droves because they do not have money to take care of themselves. They would have been able to seek medical attention if they were paid their gratuity and pension that is presently been withheld by unknown agency of government after N45 billion was released by the federal government,” said Jibodu.
Budget no longer business as usual?
At the meeting with media practitioners and civil society organisations (CSOs) in Abuja recently, the Director – General of the Budget Office of the Federation, Mr. Ben Akabueze, says budgeting process will no longer be a yearly ritual, but how true is that statement? BEN UMUTEME asks.
When President Muhammad Buhari presented the 2018 Appropriation Bill before the National Assembly in November, 2017, it was part of the federal government’s plan for the fiscal year 2018.
Prior to that time, the executive had proposed for the budget to be laid before the NASS in October of the same year. But according to the DG budget office of the federation, the one month delay was due to some differences between the executive and the legislature.
Presenting the budget, President Buhari had described the budget as a ‘budget of consolidation’. He noted that the budget would consolidate on the gains of the previous year with emphasis on the capital side of the budget.
The budgetary proposals, according to the President, are based on key parameters such as $47 per barrel oil price benchmark, projected oil production of 2.3 million barrels per day, exchange rate of N305 to a US dollar, Real GDP growth of 3.5 per cent and inflation rate of 12.4 per cent.
He further explained that a total sum of N11.983 trillion is estimated to be the total collectible revenues for the federation in the fiscal year, out of which the sum of N6.387 trillion is expected to be realised from oil and gas resources, while total receipts from the non oil sector are projected at N5.597 trillion.
With regards to allocations to the various sectors, the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing got a whooping N555.88 billion followed by Transport Ministry with N263.10 billion; Special Intervention Programme N150 billion; Defence N145 billion; Agriculture and Rural Development N118.98 billion; Water Resources N95.11 billion; Industry. Trade and Investment N82.92 billion; Education N61.73 billion; Universal Basic Education Commission N109.06 billion; Health N71.11 billion; and Federal Capital Territory N40.30 billion. Others are Zonal Intervention Projects N100 billion; Northeast Intervention Fund N45 billion; Niger Delta Ministry N53.89 billion and Niger Delta Development Commission N71.20 billion.
Other critical allocations projected in the budget are N500 billion for social intervention programme, N9.8 billion for the Manbilla hydro power project, including N8.5 billion as counterpart funding for earmarked transmission lines and substations; N35.41 billion for the National Housing Programme; N10 billion for the 2nd Niger Bridge; and about N300 billion for the construction and rehabilitation of strategic roads.
A close look at the budget would reveal one thing: the repetition of line items. Over the years, the budget has prepared without taking into consideration the critical things that are needed by the citizenry. Most times, they ignore pressing problems and challenges while providing for the fancy, whims and caprices of the budget crafters. At the end of the day, these provisions cannot meet policy goals of the government. The implication is that they are wasteful expenditures which rather than contribute incurs loss to the treasury.
In the age of ‘Buy Made in Nigeria’ products, most MDAs still insists on buying foreign products and brands with some ofbthem putting the foreign brands in the budget when there are equally good locally made alternatives. Yearly, you see huge proposals for cleaning and fumigation and subscription to professional bodies which could be done for less than 50 per cent of the requested amount sum. Also, the annual ritual of buying computers and is also there. This is even as they have now elevated to including software acquisition to the purchase of computers.
For instance, the Fedeal Ministry of Transport proposes to spent the sum of N174.87 million on computer software acquisition , the same as the Ministry of Finance that would spend over N300 million on acquisition of computers and its software. Also, Rotimi Amaechi’s transport ministry will spend N805 million on Research and Development.
In the same vein, the Department of State Service (DSS) will expand N2.213 billion Social Media Mining Suite, the State House will be hoping to spend the sum of 4.860 billion on maintenance of mechanical/electrical installations. In the Industry, Trade and Investment Ministry, the trend did not change as the ministry earmarked N1 billion, N300 million and N509.135 million for enabling business environment, digitization and development of industrial data base and provision of IT hardware equipment,software and consultancy services. Added to this is the fact that various MDAs budget monies to themselves to prepare their own budget. A statutory responsibility of the individual MDAs.
Fielding questions from journalists and members of Civil Societtyy Organisations (CSOs), the Director General explained that lack of understanding of the budgetary process has made many to describe some items in the budget as frivolous.
When his attention was drawn to the huge amount allocated to social media mining suite by the DSS, the DG budget said it was for the good of Nigerians saying that not all security issues can be made public. While admitting that most MDAs were contravening the procurement act, Mr. Akabueze was however, silent on what his Office will do to correct the infraction by members.