The Holy Bible says a worker deserves his wages, meaning that under no circumstances should an employer owe his workers no matter what happens. However, this was not to be with hundreds of former Nigeria Airways workers. Over the years, it had been the stock-in-trade of successive governments in the country to deliberately owe their workers huge amounts of money in salaries or other emoluments giving some spurious reasons for not paying when due knowing full well that these workers had put in the best of their service years and living.
These hapless ex-workers after waiting helplessly expecting to be paid their severance package and other entitlements took to the streets in Abuja last Monday demanding the payment of their owed salaries, severance package and other monies they are entitled to.
It would be recalled that former President Olusegun Obasanjo once told Nigerians that he left about 10 working aircraft in the defunct Nigeria Airways and that it was a surprise to him that the aircraft were sold out by successive governments contrary to stakeholders’ advice not to sell the aircraft. This was how the fortunes of the airline began to nosedive prior to its final demise many years ago. Those who gave away the airline by cash and carry arrangement did not take the welfare of the ex-workers.
Pushed to the wall by hunger, poverty and excruciating pain of not being able to meet their family financial obligations besieged the defunct Airways office in Ikeja last Monday thus preventing workers from entering and leaving. They virtually shut down the offices.
It is much incredible to learn that eight months after a colossus amount of fund had been earmarked for the main purpose to offset the workers’ demand, no action had been taken up till now thus throwing up some questions on what was realized from the sale of the company’s assets and where the money is at present. It is a pity former governments have the penchant of unwillingness to pay what they owe unless workers resort to protests and strikes not minding what they might have been going through after their sudden loss of their jobs. They are not able to meet their financial obligations like payment of their house rents, payment of their school children’s fees, catering for their aged ones.
Most of them have died in the process of continuous hunger and other deprivations. More disturbing and worrisome is the brazen inhumanity and unfeeling non-chalance displayed by governments to the ex-workers’ salaries, sorrow over the years. It is to the credit of the workers that they did not make the protest violent otherwise the story could have been otherwise. They comported themselves well in the face of extreme provocation created by the government by not paying them what they deserve. This rankling attitude by governments of not paying what they owe workers working or retired should be jettisoned forthwith.
The case of Airways ex-workers is practically unwillingness of the government to settle them even after about eight months money was voted for this purpose. The germane question to ask at this juncture is how much was realized from the sales of the Nigerian Airways property and where was the money lodged? The government owes Nigerians an obligation to answer this poser and why was the payment delayed up to the time the ex-employees demanded payment by protesting on the streets of Abuja.
We, therefore, call on the Transportation Minister Rotimi Amaechi, Airways management and other stakeholders to urgently, look into the plight of these suffering workers with a view to settling them forthwith. They should always remember that no matter how long, they too will be in the ex-workers’ position; they should do the needful now.
President Muhammadu Buhari at this stage should give this issue a sort of presidential fillip for the urgent payment of these suffering ex-workers to save most of them from premature deaths and terminal illnesses.