By Chinelo Obogo

The Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN) has revealed that five ex-workers of the defunct Nigerian Airways passed on within the last seven days without receiving the final severance package promised them by the federal government since the liquidation of the airline by former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Speaking at the Workers Day celebration at the ATSSSAN secretariat in Lagos on Wednesday, the first Vice President of the association, Emmanuel Jaja, said that 100 former workers of the country’s defunct national carrier have died since the last verification and part payment exercise carried out during former President Muhammad Buhari’s administration in 2019.

“We wish to lament the death of five former members of staff of the defunct Nigerian Airways who lost their lives in the last one week, including the pilot whose plane was hijacked in 1993, Captain Makpo Omodiagbe. They died without receiving their full benefits from the federal government after the liquidation of the airline. The government must endeavour to pay the severance of the remaining members’ staff so that they can enjoy the labour of their lives before they pass on,” he said.

The defunct national carrier ceased operations in 2003 following years of financial downturn and fleet depletion. In November 2023, the Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Mr. Festus Keyamo,  said the federal government approved the payment of N5 billion compensation for defunct airline workers while confirming the government’s intention to clear the last tranche of monies owed. The payment was initiated by the Presidential Initiative on Continuous Audit (PICA) in 2019 with N5 billion allocated for it which is meant to benefit 1,000 former Nigeria Airways employees. The one-time final payment to ex-employees had been pending until 2018 when the federal government, under former President Muhammadu Buhari, approved N22.68 billion for retirement benefits, representing approximately 50 percent of the total N45.3 billion entitlement for the former employees.

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The ex-workers initially submitted a claim of N78 billion as their retirement benefits but this amount was revised following a verification exercise conducted by PICA and other stakeholders, aligning with the airline’s conditions of service. The agreed sum of N45 billion was then designated as the total retirement benefits for the affected staff. Due to financial constraints, the payments were disbursed in two phases, with the first batch of beneficiaries receiving their payment in 2019. Last year, Keyamo assured that the federal government has taken the matter seriously and that the ex-workers will soon receive the remaining portion of their severance pay.

However, five months later, nothing has been done.

At the Workers Day event, Jaja also said the aviation union is against the recent increase in electricity tariff in the country amidst epileptic power supply in the nation, saying, “We call for a return to status quo. Government must also urgently address the issues of minimum wages for workers in order not to incur the wrath of the Nigerian workers.”

Speaking on the issue of companies in the aviation industry that have refused to allow their staff to join trade unions in the sector, he said, “We wish to reiterate that ATSSSAN in collaboration with NUATE and other unions will make the industry uncomfortable for airlines and companies that has refused to allow their workforce to unionise.”