PAINS, AGONY HOPE AS NIGERIAN AIRWAYS PENSIONERS PLAN TO SMILE AGAIN - Soul 2 Soul Mates Blog

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10/23/2018

PAINS, AGONY HOPE AS NIGERIAN AIRWAYS PENSIONERS PLAN TO SMILE AGAIN


PAINS, AGONY HOPE AS NIGERIAN AIRWAYS PENSIONERS PLAN TO SMILE AGAIN
After many years of abandonment, old retirees of the Nigerian Airways are preparing to smile to the banks as the government has commenced payment of their entitlement after rounds of verification exercises. The process, however, is not without its challenges, Oladeinde Olawoyin who visited the Air force Base location of the verification exercise in Lagos.

One afternoon in the late 1990s, Pat Isaac climbed to the rooftop of a water tank on the premises of the defunct Nigerian Airways to check the tanks. As a staff of the department in charge of water supply, the check was a routine activity, he told the reporters. But that afternoon, what was a routine check took a tragic turn and he missed his steps. Within split seconds, he narrated, he came down crashing from the edge of the iron bars above which the tank was placed. With his face damaged and head turned backwards, he told the newsmen he lost consciousness.

“That was the last thing I could remember,” he said, slowly, his head bent sideways. “I spent many, many months at the hospital and people felt I may not survive it. But I thank God I survived. It was an Indian doctor that treated me.”
Few years after the incident, Mr. Isaac said, he retired from the services of the Nigerian Airways. But for more than a decade after his retirement, until the first week of October, the old retiree said he lamented and waited in vain without receiving his entitlement from an organization he served diligently.

“It was harrowing,” he said of the experience. “We waited for many, many years. We were abandoned by the government. Many of our people have died; many have become weak and incapacitated. It is really sad we were treated that way. We thank God this government remembers us now.”

TALES OF PAIN, ANGER, DISAPPOINTMENT

Mr. Isaac’s situation isn’t an isolated case; it is one of many sad tales retirees of the defunct Nigerian Airways told the newsmen during a visit on Monday. The retirees, who all filed out for verification ahead of payment of their outstanding entitlement, said they had lived through pains over the years as government neglected them.

Alimi Kuye, a retiree, told the reporters that  he personally knew of about five of his colleagues who died due to their inability to pay for medical treatment in the periods they received no benefit from government.

“Many people have died, as you can clearly see from what people are saying,” he said. “Many died from avoidable ailments; many have become paralyzed because they couldn’t afford hospital bills and money for drugs. It is sad.”

Another retiree, who identified himself simply as Adigun, spoke of the government’s neglect of retirees in harsh words, lambasting past governments for their ‘nonchalant attitude’ to the plight of poor pensioners. He also commended the Nigerian government for addressing their plight.

“Our past leaders failed us. They abandoned us when we are helpless and have no strength again to work. It is sad. We thank the Buhari government for coming to our rescue.”

Weeks ago, the Nigerian government announced its readiness to pay outstanding entitlements owed the Nigerian Airways pensioners. The payment will be effected after a verification exercise conducted in three centers nationwide, supervised by officials of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC).

But the exercise which was initially scheduled to end on October 22 was later extended by one week following disruptions in the arrangement.

A TEDIOUS EXERCISE

At the Air force Base venue of the screening and verification exercise in Lagos, newsmen observed that while many of the pensioners were all smiles in anticipation of the payment of their entitlements, others looked tired and worn out due to the rigor involved in the verification exercise.

Reporters gathered that the exercise begins with the pensioner obtaining a verification slip and a designated number, after which he could now be eligible to receive the Presidential Initiative on Continuous Audit (PICA) form.

At the Lagos Airport verification centre, after collecting the PICA form, the pensioner moves ahead for signature at the side of the premises and after that, he goes for EFCC check. The EFCC check is to curtail fraudulent claims and confirm other account-related details, our correspondent gathered.

The pensioner would then be captured for record and accountability purposes,, after which he could go home and await payment.

Since Friday, Mr. Adigun told the reporters, himself and other retirees have been shuttling the Air force Base section of the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos, which is one of the three selected verification venues nationwide. He explained however that he has not successfully had his verification completed.

“The process is not bad but the crowd is much,” he said. “The EFCC people work till late in the evening. Hopefully, by tomorrow (Tuesday) many would have been attended to. If you were here on Friday or Saturday, you would have no space to even stand.”

Pensioners sleep at Lagos Airport verification venue

Sylvester Okorie, another Nigerian Airway ex-staff, told the reporters that many of the pensioners slept around the premises of the verification venue over the weekend because they could not afford transport fare to their various places on a daily basis.

“I live in Igando, Alimosho local government area. I slept here on Saturday through Sunday and now. If by the end of today, I am not able to complete and get to EFCC (verification unit), I will sleep till tomorrow,” he said.

He explained that he was not alone in the compound as many others, too, slept overnight to avoid Lagos traffic and get to the venue on time.

“I need about one thousand naira to get here from Igando. Where will I get that every day? It’s better to just sleep here.

“In spite of that even, I got number 184 on the queue; my friend who came later got 271. Many people slept here last night. It is difficult but we thank God this government remember us.”

Mr. Okorie worked for years as a Police officer, he said in an interview with the reporters, and that accounted for why he was still strong and could withstand the rigor of the exercise.

He said, “I see many of our people being carried about and I thank God for (the nature of) my body system. I worked in the Police for years before joining Nigerian Airways and retiring there. Many of our people have to be taken around; the sight is pathetic. None of us deserves to suffer the way we were treated. We thank God now.”

Mr. Okorie’s friend, also an ex-staff named Alex, said he came from Maza-Maza area of the city and could not afford to go back daily due to paucity of funds. “We are poor retirees; we can’t afford to be going and coming every day. That’s why it is important that this process is made easier and faster, even though they are trying.”

He also said that many pensioners had to be taken in ‘wheel chairs’ to come for verification, adding that the process is long because there are too many pensioners involved. He however praised the government and lambasted previous governments for their failure to come to their aid.

“Imagine how tired and weak our people are. These are people who served Nigeria. What message is the country passing to younger generations?” he asked, rhetorically.

Makeshift ‘Canteens’, photocopier operators spring up at verification centre

The newsmen observed that as the verification exercise continued slowly on Monday, some traders devised the avenue to make quick money.

At the entrance of the verification centre, there are food sellers doing quick businesses as the exercise progressed. Many of the pensioners took turns to buy food and drinks from the traders.

Due to the nature of the exercise, there are also numerous photocopier machine operators in the building, ostensibly to attend to the concerns of pensioners.

“The traders have helped us a lot by their presence,” said Mr. Adigun. “Many who couldn’t go home can eat here with the little they have left,” he added.

“Again due to the nature of what we are here to do, the photocopier operators too have been of help, we have to make copies of many documents and we can’t do that outside.”

Light at the end of the tunnel?
For more than a decade now, many pensioners who spoke with the reporter said, Nigerian Airways ex-staff have not received their entitlements. According to Mr. Isaac, many have survived on crumbs from relatives and children while those who had no such luxury have died.

“The last time we were paid was around 2008, when Yar’adua was president,” said Mr. Okorie. “Since then we have received no payment from the government.”

“Anytime we had meeting and deliberation, they always announce that people have died; almost every week. With this payment, people will live fine now.”

A staff of PICA who spoke with the newsmen at the Lagos verification unit on Monday but declined to have his name in print because he was not authorized to speak, said the pensioners would have their accounts credited before the end of the week.

“Although I understand they will get about 50 percent of their entitlements but payment will be effected after verification is done, latest before Friday,” he said.

“The exercise is moving and as you can see, the crowd has reduced drastically.

By Wednesday or Thursday, despite the extension, we may not have anybody on ground again as they will likely have cleared everybody.

“If you were here last Friday and Saturday, you’d understand what I mean. The exercise is smooth and everybody will smile later.”

Thankful, joyful pensioners

A few of the pensioners who have had their verification completed spoke glowingly of the federal government’s resolve to clear the backlog of entitlements.

A pensioner, Kunle Ajayi, said he had waited endlessly for the moment and thanked the Nigerian government for the initiative.

“The government has done well by paying us. I have completed my verification and I have been done the ‘capturing’. They said we will get alert by end of the week; we are grateful.”

“Although the exercise may appear tough because of our ages, we still appreciate the government who remember us,” said Mr. Adigun.

For Mr. Okorie, both Presidents (Umaru) Yar’adua and Buhari deserve commendation for their resolve to pay the entitlements.

“Yar’adua is dead but he was the one who paid us before he died. (Goodluck) Jonathan was there for years and he never remembered us. He abandoned us,” said Mr. Okorie.

“We remember Yar’adua and pray for him. We pray for Buhari who remembered us –– God will remember him too.”

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