Two former workers of the defunct national air carrier, Nigeria Airways, have died in the past two days while awaiting their final severance packages of N45 billion, as promised by the Nigerian government.
Felix Agbabuwa died on Wednesday, while Ray Sunmonu died on Thursday in Akure, Ondo State, marking the eleventh former Nigeria Airways employee to die in the past three weeks.
Mr. Agbabuwa was in the catering service department of the airline while Mr. Sunmonu was a flight engineer with the carrier before it was shut down by the federal government, according to a source close to the defunct airline.
Our correspondent gathered that no fewer than 600 former workers have died since the airline was liquidated in 2004.
A memorial service was held on Thursday for Captain Ekpeyoung Asuquo, who died about three weeks ago in Lagos at the annex office of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).
A former employee of airline told Source that the Nigerian government had promised in September that their severance packages would be paid, but till date they have not received any of their benefits to which they are entitled.
“Since the government announced in September that they were going to pay us the severance packages of N45bn, we have lost more of our people than any other time. In the next few days, it would be two months since the promise was made without any hope of getting the benefits.
“Most of those who died in recent times lost their lives due to the renewed assurance that they were going to get their sweat. Don’t forget that due to their ages, most of them were hypertensive and anything could trigger that. We just hope that the government will do the needful and pay us before we all die of hunger,” the former worker told our correspondent.
It would be recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari announced the approval of N45bn as the final severance packages for the ex-workers on September 20, 2017, but since the announcement was made, the Presidential Initiative on Continuous Auditing (PICA), a department under the Ministry of Finance, has yet to pay the sum owed to over 6,000 beneficiaries.
Immediately after the liquidation of the carrier in 2004, the Federal Government had paid 25 years’ severance benefits to foreign workers of the airline in accordance with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), while their Nigerian counterparts only received five years’ benefits.
The five years’ severance packages were paid to the former workers by President Umaru Yar’Adua in 2008 with a promise to pay the remaining 20 years before 2011.
The death of Mr. Yar’Adua made the promise unfulfilled. His successor, former President Goodluck Jonathan, refused to follow through with his predecessor’s promise.
At a forum held in Lagos on Thursday, Nick Fadugba, the former Secretary General of the African Airlines Association (AFRAA) called on the Nigerian government to ensure the speedy payment of the former national airline’s workers.
Mr. Fadugba lamented that several of the former workers have died in recent times and wondered why the PICA, an arm of the Ministry of Finance, delayed the payment of the workers despite the government’s approval.
“Airlines in Nigeria today should come together and form a joint venture because they are too small and weak as they are presently. We long for Nigeria Airways to be re-incarnated. Since the airline was liquidated, no single airline has been able to fit into the shoes of the airline.
“I commend the federal government for agreeing to pay the workers of the former national carrier, Nigeria Airways. However, they should be paid before the end of the year,” Mr. Fadugba said.