The management of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) on Tuesday said that the protesting retirees outside their Lagos Island headquarters are “enjoying democracy dividends”.
Dozens of the 1991 retirees returned to the Marina headquarters to continue their protest over non-payment of their retirement emoluments.
“They have a right to protest. This is Nigeria,” said Michael Ajayi, NPA’s General Manager, Public Affairs.
“They are not disturbing our work. We are working. They are outside enjoying democracy dividend,” Mr. Ajayi told PREMIUM TIMES.
Democracy dividend, however, is a commodity that is in very limited supply to the elderly protesters who had defied the morning drizzle and the noon sun to continue to press home their demands.
The retirees stood outside the multi storey NPA building, armed with a megaphone, and screamed their demands – laced with visible rage and insults – to Suleiman Omar, NPA’s Managing Director.
“We are not beggars. It is our money. What you are doing to us will be visited upon your children’s children,” one elderly woman screamed into the megaphone.
A protracted controversy
The subject of controversy – how much is payable to the retirees as retirement benefits – has continued to bring the retirees and successive NPA managements at loggerheads.
After more than 3,000 of their workers were laid off in June 1991 without benefits; the disgruntled workers headed to court.
A Lagos High, in 1996, ruled that the retrenched workers who had served the ports authority between five and ten years were entitled to gratuity and other retirement benefits.
The court also ruled that those who had worked for more than ten years were entitled to gratuity, pension, and other retirement benefits.
NPA’s well-oiled legal machinery challenged the ruling at the Court of Appeal but lost.
Undaunted, they took the matter to the Supreme Court.
In May 2007, the Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu led court entered a ruling in favour of the retirees, in tandem with the rulings of the lower courts.
However, Mr. Ajayi insisted that NPA had complied with the Supreme Court’s directive on the retirees.
“NPA is guided by the Supreme Court and we are subject to their ruling,” Mr. Ajayi said.
The NPA’s computation of the retirees’ emoluments stirred another controversy
Mr. Ajayi denied knowledge of the sum that was paid to each retiree but the ex-workers said they were being paid between N10,000 and N60,000.
“How can they say they want to pay us peanuts after 21 years and use yesterday’s monetary value for today?” asked Olayiwola Jagun, one of the retirees.
Documents obtained by PREMIUM TIMES show that despite concerted efforts by the office of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) to bring amicable resolution to the dispute, the NPA appears not to be interested.
In July 2010, the AGF’s office wrote to the NPA management inviting them to a three day meeting at the Federal Ministry of Justice, Lagos.
In the letter, signed by H.A Tahir, the NPA was asked to come along with a calculation of each category of retrenched staff as well as evidence of payment for those that had been paid.
After NPA’s failure to resolve the issue, the AGF’s office wrote again, one year later, telling the NPA that the Supreme Court’s ruling is “devoid of any ambiguity”.
“It is expected that the statement of how much is payable to the ex-employees can be cured by administrative mechanisms instead of going back to court against the background that so much time has been lost and a lot of hardship suffered by the deserving ex-employees,” read the letter signed Rhona Dimude for the AGF.
Four months later with no response from the NPA, Mrs. Dimude forwarded them a reminder.
By May this year, and with no response still from the NPA management, the office of the AGF wrote a second reminder warning the NPA that their “failure to implement an existing, non-ambiguous” judgment of the Supreme Court has “very serious legal consequences”.
Andrew Okon, the National Chairman of the 1991 retrenched staff, said that there are “cabals” within the NPA who are responsible for their plight.
Mr. Okon added that they intend to continue their protest at the headquarters until they receive their entitlements.
“We will not leave until they invite us to a meeting that will settle this issue,” said Mr. Okon.