By Jonathan Nda- Isaiah, Abuja
The federal government has approved N45 billion for the payment of gratuities and other retirement benefits of former staff of Nigeria Airways.
This was disclosed by the minister of state Aviation, Hadi Sirika, yesterday after the Federal Executive Council meeting ( FEC) presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo at the Presidential Villa.
He was joined at the briefing by the ministers of Labour, Chris Ngige and Health, Prof Isaac Adewole.
He also announced the certification of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
He said the ministry has begun to put modalities in place for the payment of the retirees, regretting that some of them had lost their lives in the process of 20 years of waiting for the payment.
Sirika said the President had mandated the Minister of Finance to release N45 billion for their severance packages.
He said, “This government when it came on board decided to take it seriously. And I am happy to announce that Mr. President has approved N45 billion which has been confirmed to be the entitlements of this workers and the Ministry of Finance has been instructed to pay.
“And the Ministry of Finance has written to me last week that they have received instructions to pay these workers and therefore they are going about setting up all the modalities to pay. It will not be paid through my ministry before somebody will say I have stolen it. It will be paid by Ministry of Finance through a process and that process will commence very soon.
“So I’m very glad to say that this is also what this government has done. It took a long time for the workers of Nigeria Airways to be attended to and we thank them for their patience. Unfortunately we lost many of them many of whom I have known personally. So this will soon be dealt with”.
Sirika also maintained there is no going back on the concessioning of Nigeria’s airports beginning with Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt airports.
He also assured aviation workers kicking against the concession that the process will be transparently done with the workers fully involved in the process.
According to him, “You will agree with me that this is not news. They have done so in the past. We are a democratic government and we recognize that it is their right to protest and what they are protesting is whether there will be job losses and labour issues. And we have been very consistent and we have been engaging them. This time, it will be very different.
“As at the time the concessioning of some government assets started, we were not knowledgeable in what concession entails but today we have the knowledge and it will be transparently done with active participation of workers in both the delivery and the steering committees to drive this process.
“What is more, come this Friday a portal will be put up by the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC), where all matters of concession will be available for anyone to see. Is an extra effort by this government to be so transparent in dealing with this type of situation. So when it is transparently done, labour issues will be addressed within the process, you will agree with me it is the best way to go.
“I had talked about concession as against the outright sale that was tried by past governments. I read on the social media that I had stolen N635 million but in the body of the story they said I had budgeted to spend it during concession.
“I have to say that we have been meeting with them but the policy of government is that we cannot fund aviation infrastructure today through public budgets. The money is not there. We intend to get private sector to come and put in their money.
“Just to illustrate, Murtala Mohammed airport was built to cater for 200,000 people per annum but today it is doing eight million. The toilets and lifts in the airport were meant to serve 200,000 people per annum but now are serving eight million per annum. There is no single addition on that airport and we are growing as a people.
“At the time it was built we were 60 million people today we are 173 million. And we cannot continue to let the airport be like that and we do not have the money to invest and develop this airport.
“In our opinion as a government and the policy has been done that it will go through concession, to give to some individuals who will build, operate, maintain, sustain, make money and government will also make money in the process and return to government after a number of years between 20 to 25 years. This will be transparently done, this is the catch phrase, so we are proceeding.”
Sirika disclosed that when the Buhari administration came to power, it resolved to concession all the airports as the only way to upgrade and develop airport facilities in the country adding that government can no longer fund infrastructure.
The minister said that he recommended the concessioning of the nation’s airports in the roadmap he submitted to the President.
“Mr. President gave the approval to concession all Nigerian airports but to start with the big four – Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt. And that approval was taken to council and it also approved Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano to start with. The rest will follow in due course.
“On where are we today as regards concessioning, because of the procurement process and because of the Act establishing ICRC, we have come to the stage where we have appointed a transaction adviser. They were appointed and I briefed you here in this hall. They are to drive this process on concessioning. We have commissioned them, we have given them part payment. They are to commence what is called the Outline Business Case which they will bring and we will take to council after which there will be full business case and then we will procure.
“So Abuja and Lagos are part of the big four that will be concessioned in this first phase.”
In his own briefing, the minister of Labour, Employment and Productivity, Dr. Chris Nigige said whereas the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) had called off the strike actions they embarked upon, the government was also making concerted efforts to ensure that Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities (NASU) and Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) call off their own strike actions.
He said following collective efforts of government officials, oil workers and National Union of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions Employees (NUBIFIE) and other unions threatening to go on strike had suspended the moves.
“ I am happy to announce that after intense and fruitful deliberations, National Association of Resident Doctors called off their strike about a week ago, followed by ASUU that called off their strike last Monday. Efforts are on to get NASU, SSANU AND NAAT which came under a Joint Action Committee called JAC of unions of universities to call off their strike today.
“You will also recall that the ULC, United Labour Congress, a proposed Labour federation that has applied for registration to government also decided to ask its affiliates to go on strike starting from Monday. The affiliates in question are sensitive affiliates because they control critical areas of our economy. The National Union of Electricity Workers, NUE, the NUPENG, the National Association of Pilots, Engineers and Electronic Managers in the Airports, NAPE and the National Union of Banks and Financial Institutions Workers which is NUBIFE.
“These are unions that affect the lives of everybody. If you don’t have electricity, if you don’t have petrol and diesel and kerosene and you don’t have access to money in your ATM in the banks, something serious could happen to one’s life so we decided to in the spirit of collective bargaining and social dialogue as enshrined in the ILO Convention engage them.
“The tripartite decision yielded fruit. We engaged them yesterday and this morning, we engaged them before Council and I am happy to announce that they have agreed to call off the strike with effect from today. So, we are getting the striking workers back to their beats.
“The underlying thing is that the government has assured all of them that we have the welfare of our people at heart and for those of them who were angling for payment of arrears of salaries, shortfall of salaries, promotion arrears, leave allowances, benefits, government has shown good faith and has started paying.
“We hope to continue paying and the monies that are not paid this year will be captured in the 2018 Appropriation budget”.
On ASUU giving the federal government conditional suspension on their strike, he said, “Yes not only ASUU even the National Association of Resident Doctors. This is because unlike before, the collective bargaining agreement I am midwifing as Labour Minister, I put time lines to enable government, ministries, departments and agencies that are concerned to go and comply with their own section in the time lines. “
On his part, minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole, said whereas there has not been any case of polio in the country since 2016, 41 cases of death had been recorded from Cholera outbreak in the North adding there are other 2,719 cases being treated. Consequently, he said Cholera vaccines are being distributed in affected areas in the North.
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