By Emma Ujah, Abuja Bureau Chief
ABUJA—The Federal Government has released N22.68 billion for the settlement of retirement benefits of former staff of liquidated Nigeria Airways.
Minister of Finance, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, who announced this in a meeting with the retirees in Abuja, yesterday, also announced another N20 billion for public universities in the country .
President Muhammadu Bubari, according to her, gave the approval due to his concern over the plight of the former staff of the liquidated national carrier.
She said: “Upon my resumption of office as Minister of Finance, some pending fiscal issues in the aviation and education sectors were immediately brought to my attention.
“As such, I took it as a challenge to quickly address key issues regarding the settlement of existing claims in both of these sectors. Consequent upon this, I am happy to inform you that Mr. President has graciously approved N22.68 billion and N20 billion to aviation and education sectors respectively.
“As you are aware, the ex-workers of Nigeria Airways Ltd in liquidation were not paid their entitlement benefits for the past 15 years, despite the liquidation.
‘’As a result of the delays in settlement of these benefits, many ex-workers have been thrown out of their houses, their children have been unable to attend school, and others have lost their businesses, fallen ill or indeed, passed on. This unfortunate situation cannot be allowed to continue under a responsible administration.”
The Minister promised that the 50 percent balance of the N45.3 billion entitlement owed the ex-workers would be looked into in about six months, depending on government’s revenue flows.
She constituted a committee consisting of officials of the Office of the Head of Service, Ministries of Finance and Aviation , the Bureau of Public Enterprises, Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation, Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate and the ex-workers’ union to implement the payment.
According to her, “the committee is expected to physically verify the claims of the pensioners and relevant next-of-kin before the release of funds to the approved beneficiaries.”
She also explained that the release of the N20 billion to public universities was part of measures to avert the impending strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU.
The minister said the administration would ensure that the nation’s universities were well-funded and would, therefore, seek ways of sustainable funding of the sub-sector.
Reacting to the approval for the education sector, Lagos Zonal chairman of Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, Prof. Olusiji Sowande, said the union was not thrilled by news of the approval.
He said: ‘’I think it is way of blackmailing the union that we have received money. The federal government has never paid any money into the account of the union; it has to be paid into the account of the universities.
‘’If new of the immediate release of N20 billion is going to come, it will come from two places I think are reliable. It will come from the national secretariat of ASUU and evidence of that will be sent. It will also come from the university that has received the money.
‘’I think we have to make clarification. Money of this nature is not released to ASUU; it is released to the universities. ASUU does not spend or disburse government money.’’