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The Federal Government has expressed regret over the reported deaths of some workers of the defunct Nigerian Airways occasioned by the delay in the payment of their entitlements.

The defunct national carrier was liquidated by former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime in 2005, and the workers had been embarking on protests nationwide over their unpaid entitlements.

The Minister of State for Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika, however, told State House correspondents after the meeting of the Federal Executive Council (FEC), that N45 billion had been approved for the settlement of the ex-workers’ entitlements.

“Governments, in the past, decided just to liquidate Nigerian airways without tending to the issue of the entitlements of the workers and they have been struggling to get that paid and we came in government and we took it very seriously.

“I’m happy to announce that Mr President has approved N45 billion which has been confirmed to be the entitlements of these workers and Ministry of Finance has been instructed to pay and the ministry has written to me last week, to say that they have received the instruction to pay these workers, and therefore, they are setting up the modalities to pay.

“You should know it won’t pay through my ministry before somebody will say I take some of it. It will be paid by finance through a process, and that process will commence very soon,’’ he said.

The Minister disclosed that the Council approved the procurement of operational vehicles for Nigeria Port Authority (NPA) and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).

Sirika also revealed that he briefed the council on the certifications of the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos and the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet), noting that both certificates were huge achievements toward security and safety in the aviation sector.

He noted that the airport was the first international Airport in Nigeria to meet the requirement by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and NCAA regulations.

On Aviation’s workers opposition to the concessioning of the nation’s airports, the minister assured that the process would be transparently carried out, saying that the workers would also be engaged in the process.

The Air Transport Service Senior Staff Association, (ATSSAN) and the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), had vowed to resist the plan, saying, if necessary, the workers would mobilize and buy over the airports themselves.

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Sirika, who dismissed social media reports that he “stole or intend to spend N635 million’’ on the concessioning project, said the workers in the aviation sector would be actively involved in the process so as to address all labour issues.

The minister stated that the government could not fund infrastructure in the aviation sector through public budget, saying that government would continue to partner with the private sector in financing such infrastructural facilities in the sector.

The author of “Nigerian Aviation Fact Book,” Mike Chikeka, said it had become impossible for government to continue to fund airport development.

He warned that airport facilities would become obsolete and possibly jeopardise safety if the private sector was not allowed to rescue the aviation sector.

The Assistant General Secretary of NUATE, Mr. Olayinka Abioye, said government was not putting the interest of the workers into consideration and threatened that the workers would resist the plan to concession the airports.

Abioye recalled that when the defunct national carrier was liquidated, workers were left to die without their pay off or their pensions.

However, the minister stated the concession of the airports would continue in line with the policy of the current government.

“We don’t have the money to invest and develop these airports. In our opinion as a government and the policy has been done that we will go through concession to give some individuals who would build; who would operate; who would maintain, sustain, make money and government will also make money in the process and return back to government after certain number of years (20 to 25 years).’’

Sirika disclosed that the concession of all the nation’s airports had since been approved by President Muhammadu Buhari as well as the Federal Executive Council.

The minister also revealed that the council had approved the hosting of International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) World Aviation Conference, to be held between Nov. 20 and 22.

He said the conference, which would be first outside Canada, was meant to deliberate on aviation infrastructure and other related aviation matters.

The Minister of Labour and Employment, Mr Chris Ngige, said he briefed the council on the outcomes of the various industrial actions embarked upon by some trade unions in the country.

The minister dismissed the insinuation that he once described United Labour Congress (ULC) as an illegal labour union, saying that the congress had since applied for registration as a labour centre or labour federation.

He commended the Academic Staff Union of Universities and the Resident Doctors’ Association for suspending their strike actions.

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