- Over unpaid entitlement
BY COBHAM NSA, ABUJA – Immediate past Minister of Finance, Mrs Zainab Ahmed was on Tuesday treated to an unpleasant and unforgettable last day in office as angry pensioners of defunct Nigeria Airways showered her and some top government functionaries with an unannounced ‘lock-in’ engagement.
For over three hours, the aggrieved former Airways’ staffers and their dependants held the Minister hostage over non payment of their outstanding entitlements and inhuman treatment meted on them by the Ministry’s officials
The pensioners, in their scores, had stormed the Federal Ministry of Finance Headquarters, Abuja demanding that verification and payment of their final entitlement must be effected by the Federal Government without further delay.
In their anger, they overpowered the government and private security operatives to barricade the entrance into Finance Ministry, preventing the Minister an other top officials from exiting the complex at the close of work.
Among the Minister’s guests caught up in the lock-in drama were Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita-Enang and some Heads of Agencies and Parastatals under the Ministry’s supervision, including Commissioner for Insurance, Mohammed Kari, and Director General, Debt Management Office (DMO), Patience Oniha
Forming a human wall by the main gate, facing the Ahmadu Bello Way, the protesters effectively blocked vehicular traffic in and out of the Ministry.
Most of the pensioners were seen adorned with their personal effects and even children. Chantting solidarity songs, they insisted that the Minister and other top officials would not drive out of the premises until a firm commitment was extracted from the Ministry and PICA to capture them in the verification as promised
Speaking to newsmen on their grievances, National Chairman of Nigerian Union of Pensioners (NUP), Nigeria Airways Branch, Comrade Sam Nzene said they were invited by officials of Presidential Initiative Continuous Audit (PICA) to Abuja for verification but were unfortunately abandoned to their fate by officials.
He said aside being locked out from the Ministry on Monday, the PICA officials did not make any concrete arrangement for the exercise.
Further highlighting their plight, Comrade Nzene said they arrived the Ministry on Sunday for the exercise slated to hold on Monday through Tuesday but were left frustrated with no PICA official on ground to attend to them.
The Union Chairman, who admitted that some of the pensioners missed out on the first tranche of payment through “no fault of the government”, however said after series of engagements, they were thereafter invited for data capturing in order to receive their payment.
According to him, the situation took a frustrating turn when the consultant handling the exercise for disbursement of the entitlements suddenly became unfriendly and inaccessible
He said as at Monday, the Consultant, simply known as Jubril by the Union, refused to show up and attend to them, claiming that he has so far not been paid by government nor have his contract regularized by the Finance Ministry.
With the frustration and reality of May 29 second term inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari staring them in the face, the angry pensioners resorted to barricade the Ministry’s gate as a way of driving home their demand for fair treatment.
Intervention from the Executive Secretary of Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD), Barrister Sharon Ikeazor to calm the aggrieved ex-NAL workers failed to yield results as she left the protest scene disappointed
However, things were brought under control at about 6:50pm and the protesters’ frayed nerves calmed when their Union Chairman, Comrade Nzene announced that everyone should proceed to the Ministry’s auditorium based on assurances from top management that commence the verification immediately.
But not fully convinced of the PICA team’s sincerity, the protesters moved to ensure they were not outsmarted to let down their guards for the Minister and other top officials to easily exit the premises.
In the process, they quickly shared themselves into two groups with some remaining at the gate to keep the protest fire burning while others with measured steps headed for the main auditorium to hold further negotiations and briefings.
With both parties making desired headway in the initial talks, reprieve came the way of Mrs Ahmed and her embattled officials as the main gate was flung open and she hurried home to break her Ramadan fast.
As the hurriedly arranged meeting gathered momentum, both sides thereafter agreed to reconvene and undertake the exercise in the morning of Wednesday, May 29 at about 10am. The resolution came after the Finance Ministry team led by the Permanent Secretary, Special Duties, Dr Mohammed Dikwa had extracted commitment of good conduct and apologies to the Minister from the protesting pensioners.
The Federal Government had on Monday, October 15, 2018 commenced the final verification and payment of N22.6 billion as 50 per cent entitlements to all former staff of the defunct Nigeria Airways. The long awaited exercise was scheduled simultaneously in three regional centres of Lagos, Enugu and Kano.
The amount was approved by the Federal government to settle pensioners of the liquidated National carrier who have been locked in a long drawn battle for justice and payment of their entitlement over the past 18 years