By Godbless Ozegbe
Toward the end of 2015, Nigerians were overjoyed by the news that the Federal Government, through the Ministry of Aviation, had set up a Ministerial Committee that is saddled with the responsibility of supervising the birth of a new national carrier. This was sequel to an earlier directive by President Muhammadu Buhari to the ministry to quickly initiate the process of re-establishing a national carrier. Clearly, this is highly welcomed.
Some years ago, the erstwhile national carrier, the Nigeria Airways, embarked on a journey of ‘no return’ through a combination of factors that were largely induced by government. The operations of the airline finally ground to a halt when the then Olusegun Obasanjo administration refused to grant the management an approval to renew its insurance premium payment. The problems facing the airline at the time were unrestricted stealing, interference from the Federal Government and gross mismanagement.
The International Finance Corporation provided the principal advisory services to the National Council on Privatization and the Bureau for Public Enterprises in order to ensure that the exercise was successfully carried out to the benefit of the country and its people. But, instead of implementing the best of the three options as prescribed by the IFC, the Ministry of Aviation and the Bureau of Public Enterprises chose to work at cross purposes by creating a stalemate, which led to the formal withdrawal of the IFC.
The airline was liquidated on May 31, 2003 by executive fiat. Technically, Nigeria Airways is still very potent. Sadly, the Federal Government was unmindful of or did not contemplate the huge pensions that it was going to incur at the time.
The then Minister of Aviation, Dr. Kema Chikwe, acting on behalf of the government did everything humanly possible to establish a brand new national carrier that would befit the country. The evidence of such attempts were the Airwing Aerospace Limited deal and the Triaton AG deal, which also proposed to bring about a new national carrier that was to be named Nigerian Global.
Later, former Aviation Minister in the Goodluck Jonathan administration, Stella Oduah, entered the stage with the intention of floating a new national carrier to be named Nigeria One. She eventually acted upon the advice of industry stakeholders who told her that she should immediately address the issue of paying the Nigeria Airways pensioners in order to pave way for the smooth take-off of the proposed airline. However, her dream of realising this objective was short-lived by her sudden exit from office.
No doubt, re-establishing a new national carrier that is operating under a new paradigm would go a long way in addressing the outrageous unemployment problems in the country. It will also bring back or restore our long lost national honour and prestige.
The economy of Ethiopia, as a country, depends on its aviation sector as represented by Ethiopian Airlines, the same way that the Nigerian economy sits on the price of crude oil. But quite sadly, in the case of Nigeria, this oily business has brought with it an enduring pain, ever increasing population of poorly educated people arising from the drop in standards, suffocating poverty, absence of basic amenities and infrastructures; not to mention a degraded and poisoned environment.
The fact that the President Buhari has shown and will continue to demonstrate unparalleled patriotism and commitment on the subject matter should give the implementers of this project enough encouragement to go the whole hog.
Eleven years ago, the Nigerian Government decided, in an uncivilised manner, to voluntarily liquidate Nigeria Airways Limited by forcefully ejecting all the staff of the airline from their homes and offices. The government used four lorry-loads of mobile policemen, who beat up the staff and tear-gassed them, to carry out the action.
Unfortunately and quite regrettably, successive governments appear to have resolved to deny the pensioners their hard earned entitlements, leaving them instead to wallow in abject poverty and untold hardship. This is not only cruel; it amounts to gross brigandage and arbitrary use of power.
The delay in the payment of the pensioners’ due entitlements also amounts to a flagrant violation of their fundamental human rights. And it has placed the country at the bottom of civilised existence.
It is only logical to opine here that if there is any group of Nigerians that urgently needs a bail-out from their present condition; it should be the traumatised Nigeria Airways pensioners whose legitimately earned entitlements have been withheld for too long.
The condition of the pensioners, numbering more than five thousand, is better imagined than experienced. Since they are in dire straits, this unhealthy situation must be remedied with dispatch and in good faith in order to save their lives.
Finally, the payment of the pension due these embattled ex-staff of the defunct airline will pave the way for the re-birth of a new national carrier, thereby putting Nigeria once again on the map of global aviation players. More so, this country’s detractors from within and abroad will be shamed forever. God bless Nigeria.
Ozegbe sent in this piece from Lagos