Ex-workers of the Nigerian Aviation Handling Company Plc (NAHCO), have issued the management and the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), a two-week ultimatum to explain the status of their N1.13 billion or face legal action.
The aggrieved ex-workers numbering over 700 have engaged the services of human rights lawyer, Joe Nwokedi, to demand the payment of their terminal and severance benefits. And barring a round-table meeting between the ex-workers, NAHCO and BPE in two weeks, Nwokedi shall also be taking the matter up with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), for intervention.
The Guardian recently reported the face-off between the NAHCO management and their former workers over a N1.13 billion-worth severance package paid to the workers after the company was privatised in 2005. While the management claimed that the sum was a loan and due for repayment by the government, the workers said NAHCO had no legitimate claim to their benefits.
The workers said the contentious N1.13 billion pending at the Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD) remains their severance benefits and not NAHCO’s refund. And to challenge NAHCO management’s request that the bounty be paid as a “gratuity refund”, the ex-staffers have resolved to head to the law court.
Counsel to the workers, Joe Nwokedi, told journalists that all plans to resolve the issue had been frustrated by both NAHCO and BPE, accusing them of plans to divert what belongs to the workers. Nwokedi said the lack of cooperation on the part of the aviation ground handling firm and BPE had left them with no choice than to seek redress in court. He noted that his office looked at the claims of the workers and realised that “there was grand design not to pay the workers their severance package after working meritoriously for the company before it was privatised”.
“When this matter came up, we looked at it, studied it and discovered that there was injustice done to the former workers. There are so many issues that were hazy that they could not clarify. There were so many areas that needed so many answers. Those answers were not provided. The answers were not satisfactory. We have actually gone to PTAD on the money that our clients are supposed to have been paid.
“As a matter of fact, they made it so clear to us that the money they are paying us is not from them, which is N1.13 billion that was mapped out for them as their severance package after several years of diligent service at NAHCO. The question now is where is this money?
“They could not answer the question as to the whereabouts of N1.13 billion. It was on record that it was mapped out for the severance package of our clients. That now led us to BPE because they mentioned BPE and in the course of our deliberations with them, they availed us with documents from BPE directing them as to when NAHCO was privatised,” he said.
Secretary of NAHCO Worker’s Forum, Sanmi Alademoni, decried the rate at which some of the ex-workers were dying because of the inability to get money to take care of their health. Alademoni lamented that PTAD had also stopped paying the meagre earnings to the ex-workers in the last four weeks, “which further gives credence to our fears that something is not right.”
The group, numbering over 700 persons, led by their National Coordinator, Funso Ojubanire and Alademoni, were disengaged from service of NAHCO and retired when the company was privatised. Majority of the ex-workers had put in up to between 15 and 20 years prior to the company’s privatisation, saying they were entitled to huge remuneration as payment for their terminal benefits.
They claimed to have suffered severe setbacks when PTAD allegedly short-changed and eventually underpaid them after 15 years of long wait in anticipation of the payment of their terminal benefits, which is “legally and lawfully” due to them as ex-workers of NAHCO Ltd.