The Federal Government has approved the payment of N42.68bn for the payment of retirement benefits to ex-workers of the liquidated Nigeria Airways Limited and the revitalisation of public universities in the country.
Out of the amount, N20bn was released to the education sector as part of the government’s promise to revitalise the public universities and ensure smooth running of the tertiary education system in the country.
The approval for the release of the amount was given by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The Minister of Finance, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, said in Abuja that the release of N20bn was part of the implementation of a bilateral agreement signed in 2013 by the Federal Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities.
She stated, “Regarding funding measures for revitalisation of public universities, you may recall that ASUU signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Federal Government sometimes in 2013 on the terms and conditions on which the government would improve funding for staff welfare and the provision of critical infrastructure in our public universities.
“However, the implementation of this bilateral agreement has had certain challenges due to revenue shortages and other reasons.
“This, our administration, in its determination to revitalise the public universities and ensure smooth running of its education tertiary system in the country, has decided to approve the sum of N20bn for immediate release for the public universities through the revitalisation scheme.
“These funds will be released to the beneficiary universities in line with the established criteria used by the National Universities Commission.”
Ahmed added that the Federal Government would monitor the progress of the implementation of the disbursement with a view to resolving emerging issues and keeping its promises to relevant stakeholders.
Ahmed stated, “Upon my assumption of office as the 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 sectors.
“Consequently, upon this, I am happy to inform you that Mr President has graciously approved the sums of N22.68bn and N20bn to aviation and education sectors, respectively.”
The minister said the initial outstanding retirement benefits due to the ex-workers of the former national carrier based on their submission amounted to N78bn.
She explained that after verification by the Presidential Initiative on Continuous Audit and other relevant stakeholders in line with the condition of service of the liquidated Nigeria Airways, the sum of N45bn was agreed as the total retirement benefits to the affected workers.
The minister stated, “The ex-workers of Nigeria Airways Limited in liquidation were not paid their retirement 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 schools and others have lost their businesses, fallen ill or indeed, passed on
“This unfortunate situation cannot be allowed to continue under a responsible administration.”
To ensure that the presidential directives are duly implemented, the minister has constituted a committee to be headed by the Secretary of PICA, Mohammed Dikwa.
She said the committee would also have representation from the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Ministry of Aviation, Ministry of Finance and the Bureau of Public Enterprises.
Others are Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation, Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate and Budget Office of the Federation.
While reacting to the development, the ASUU President, Prof Biodun Ogunyemi, told one of our correspondents that the union did not usually receive any money from the government, but such funds were usually given to the institutions.
He noted that the N20bn ought to have come since September 2017, but the government was not committed to its agreement with the union.
Ogunyemi said, “Let me correct that impression. ASUU does not collect the money given to universities from the government. We don’t spend or collect any government money. We don’t manage the universities. We only advocate for proper funding. That money was not given to our union.
“That N20bn ought to have been released since September and October 2017. That was why we went on our action for six weeks. We suspended it on September 14, 2017, after signing a memorandum and part of the items was this issue of the N20bn to be released in two tranches.
“There should have been N10bn in September 2017 and N10bn in October 2017, but the government reneged. That N20bn was just to demonstrate the government’s commitment to the agreement as far back as 2013, which brought about our strike action last year.
“Nigerians should not be deceived. It is a way of taking us back to tokenism. Let us just give them something to pacify and placate them; the government’s attitude is wrong.”