The news that the Federal Government has approved N22.68bn as part-settlement of the pension arrears and other entitlements of defunct Nigeria Airways workers is cheering. The sum represents about 50 per cent of the total amount which has been put at N43bn naira which is required to pay all outstanding claims of the ex-Nigeria Airways workers.
We heartily commend the government for finding the will to settle the outstanding claims which successive administrations had failed to pay. The story of the Nigerian Airways, once the pride of the nation and the fate of its numerous ex-workers waiting for their entitlements, is one that is well known. The humiliation these workers and their several dependents had endured is the stuff of legends. The old Ikeja GRA, which mostly housed their staff and what has now become of those once lofty accommodations, perhaps best represents how not to treat the nation’s once proud workers and citizens.
All the same, we are glad, therefore, that after several years of successive government failures to fulfill their promises to the ex-Nigeria Airways workers, their matter is finally getting the needed attention of the Federal Government. The government should now go further to find the balance of the money to pay the suffering pensioners their full entitlements and close the ugly chapter in the nation’s labour history.
This is very important, especially coming on the heels of the now suspended Nigeria Air project and the controversies it has attracted so far. We believe that government’s plan to float another airline even when matters arising from the defunct Nigeria Airways had not been completely laid to rest, amounted to putting the cart before the horse. It certainly did not bode well for the new project or give confidence to the prospective investors. We are, therefore, not surprised to find out that one of the reasons that may have led to the rather abrupt suspension of the new airline project is the alleged last minute withdrawal of key investors.
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Whereas the potential benefits of a national airline to the country might not be in doubt, our many sad experiences in the past and even in the present with private ventures, recommend that we approach any new project in the sector with utmost circumspection. Aviation business, all over the world, adheres to best global practices and those who venture into it and are not ready to play by the rules would be found out and held to account. There is no need to invest in the sector without adequate planning. The aviation industry punishes players who do not hold to the best international best practices, and many public and even private entrepreneurs who have ventured in have had to pull out unceremoniously with huge liabilities in many cases. This is why only those who are ready and know what it takes may venture in. Our government and all relevant stakeholders must carefully weigh the cost before thinking of resurrecting the rested Nigeria Air project. It bears reiterating that the aviation industry punishes sloppiness and recklessness and any investor who is not ready to play by its standards would be found out and exposed. There is no hiding place.
This is the sad lesson we should have learnt with the travails of the now rested Nigeria Airways and the untold sufferings of its workers over the years. Many of them died while waiting for their entitlements and left behind broken family members and dependants.
It is for this reason that the government must extend its goodwill to other sectors of the economy where there has been default in the payment of the entitlements of retirees and pensioners. It sends the right message to workers when government prioritises the entitlements of its ex-workers. It can be a veritable tool in the fight against official corruption.