A Nigerian medical student returning to school in Ukraine tells the story of how he nearly died at the hands of Egypt Air officials who wrongly routed him to Moldova, never gave him food for days and called him bloody Nigerian before deporting him back to Lagos
We serve you the story as written by JOSHUA KUNLE ABDUL-AZEEZ, the student who is lucky to be alive and whose ordeal should interest Nigerians.
On Friday, August 15, 2014 my mother and I went to Egypt Air head office at 22B Idowu Taylor Street, Victoria Island, Lagos to book a return ticket for me to go back to school to continue my studies at Dnepropetrovsk Medical Academy, Dnepropetrovsk Ukraine. This was about 11:15 am.
On entering the Egypt air office we met Mr. Tony Nzan on counter 1 to attend to us and we asked to book a ticket to Kiev, Ukraine. Mr. Tony Nzan explained to us the itinerary for the flight going to Ukraine after which we went to the bank to withdraw money and returned to pay for the ticket and obtained two printouts, so that my mother could have my return itinerary from Kiev next year.
We reviewed the ticket itinerary before leaving Egypt air’s office and immediately observed that the airport code indicated on it was different from what we were familiar with, having traveled to Kiev before. The ticket indicated an unfamiliar airport code.
We immediately brought this discovery to another ticketing officer’s attention who was seated at Counter 2, as we were informed that his colleague, Mr. Nzan, had stepped out of the office. This ticketing officer restated that the ticket was full economy and for Kiev, Ukraine with all the segments confirmed. However, we remained unconvinced, given that our prior experience indicated that the airport code for Kiev, Ukraine would usually read “KBP”.
On my scheduled date of departure (18th August, 2014) my mother and I arrived for check-in at 10.30am. Given our apprehension, we once again mentioned our concern to the agent at the check-in counter and requested that she reconfirm the final travel destination indicated on my ticket. She confirmed that the ticket indicated “KIV” and was bound for Kiev, Ukraine. My mother then told her it should read Borispol International Airport KBP not KIV or Chisinahu as was indicated on the ticket.
Given our insistence over this and the fact that there was now a queue building up behind us she called her supervisor, one Mr Lucas to check the ticket. He asked us what the matter was and we explained to him that we believed the routing on my ticket was wrong. We also told him we had complained about this, the day the ticket was purchased but that we were repeatedly told that the routing was to Kiev.
We also mentioned to him that we went back to Egypt Air’s Victoria Island office on Saturday morning (16th August ) still very concerned about the ticket. The place was closed for business. My mum then asked that I show Mr. Lucas and his colleague my residence and study permits for Ukraine and reaffirm my intended destination to be Kiev in Ukraine and not the place indicated on the ticket, which appeared to be “Chisinahu.”
Mr. Lucas proceeded to telephone Mr. Tony who issued the ticket to reconfirm routing but Mr. Tony insisted that the code (KIV) was Egypt air’s code for Ukraine.
Mr. Tony also became nonchalant and abusive and said that my mother “was just being troublesome”. My mother then directed that I get the boarding passes which had earlier been printed for me since they were insisting it was Egypt Air’s code for Ukraine and that they were representatives of the airline. She warned Mr. Lucas that for the airline’s sake, she hoped that they were right and we were wrong. I checked in my two suit cases with a total weight of 47.5kg and went to the departure gate and boarded the flight.
I arrived Cairo shortly after 10pm same day and was compelled to remain in the transit area for 14 hours, without feeding. No accommodation was provided by the airline. I presented myself for boarding at the boarding gate at 9am the following morning (August 19th) and was the third passenger on queue for boarding to Istanbul. When it was my turn, the Egypt air boarding staff insisted that I present my Ukrainian visa before processing my boarding pass. She did not ask same of the passengers ahead of me. I explained that I had a permit because I school there and presented the permit stamp on my passport, whilst explaining that the document was in my hand luggage. Still, she insisted that I moved aside and present the original document. I then retrieved it from the luggage.
Having seen my permit, the staff still refused to allow me through and insisted I remain at the corner I was in. I complied and watched closely to see if she would follow the same procedure for all other passengers boarding, but to my surprise, not once did she do so. I remained there until everyone else had boarded before she came round to scrutinise the original permit and eventually allowed me to board the flight. We departed Cairo for Istanbul at 10.50am.
We arrived at Istanbul at 2pm on 19th August and I was again compelled to remain in transit for another 17 hours, without accommodation, food or water. At 7am on 20th August, I boarded the flight in Istanbul, expecting to arrive Ukraine at 6am local time. Once onboard the flight, I slept off due to fatigue and hunger – having been deprived of good sleep and food for 2 days at the time. When I woke up, the flight hostesses had already served refreshment and passed me by. I then requested for my meal but was told it was too late to be served.
Once we landed, believing I was in Ukraine, I proceeded to immigration and presented my travel documents. The immigration officer asked that I wait at his desk, left and then returned with a local police officer. Both officers then explained to me in Russian language that I was not in Ukraine but in Moldova (a distinct country) and that the best they could do was to send me back to Istanbul, where I could then buy a new ticket to Kiev.
My passport was then handed over to the pilot of the next flight to Istanbul and I was given my baggage tags for my two suit cases that had by now been placed in the main cabin of the plane.
When I boarded the plane and sat on seat (23E) assigned to me, a male member of the cabin crew ordered me to stand up, sent me to the back of the plane and told me not to move. Another member of the cabin crew sat with me for the entire duration of the flight. I felt so degraded at being treated like a criminal. I was given neither food nor drink throughout the flight back to Istanbul. This was now my third day without food or water. I had now developed a cough and my gums were all swollen.
We arrived at Istanbul and I was immediately taken to the deportation office, where my passport was handed to the officer on duty. The officer interrogated me on what happened and I explained to him how the airline had ticketed me to a wrong destination. I asked if I could be allowed to buy a ticket to Ukraine from there (with my school fees in my possession), which was my intended destination all along.
The officer agreed to my purchasing a new ticket to Kiev and I was placed in a room for over four hours. After two hours of not knowing what was going on or what was being done with my documents, I requested to use the toilet, in the hope that I would find a cell phone to borrow and call my family to inform them of what was happening, but the officer posted outside the room refused and ordered me to sit down.
I continued asking to use the toilet for over 10 minutes until she finally allowed me to go and answer the call of nature. I eventually found a telephone and then called my elder sister in Nigeria, explained the situation to her and asked her to inform my mother. Once my mother was informed, she contacted my university and her Ukrainian liaison agent in Kiev and requested that they assist by purchasing a ticket on my behalf for Kiev, which would enable me to leave for Ukraine from Istanbul.
The ticket was swiftly purchased and I was forwarded the “PNR number” by phone. I then proceeded to Egypt air’s transit desk and explained what had happened. I gave the lady on duty the PNR number for new ticket and requested her to assist me check-in for the flight to Ukraine. She refused to entertain my explanation and told me they would send me back to Nigeria, no matter what I did.
Another Egypt airline official joined us and to my utter shock and dismay, picked up my passport and tore it, saying “these bloody Nigerians”. I looked at the man expecting an apology, but got none. He ordered me to stand up, saying that I was getting on a flight to Cairo.
At about 6pm I was taken to the boarding gate for the flight to Cairo and my documents were handed over to the cabin crew. I was once again treated like a criminal and taken to the back of the plane. A cabin crew member gave me some water and handed me only one baggage tag and informed me that one had gotten missing.
I arrived Cairo at 8pm on 20thAugust 2014. My documents were again passed from the cabin crew of the Egypt Air flight I arrived with to another Egypt air ground official. Yet again, I tried to explain the situation and my grueling ordeal over the past last three days to her.
I went as far as showing her my school papers and residence permit for Ukraine expecting some understanding and empathy, whilst hoping against hope that she may be different from the others and finally listen and hopefully help me get on a flight to school. Instead, she handed me over to Egyptian police officers, who locked me up in a deportation cell without explanation. I waited in there for about one hour and then knocked on the door to inquire why I was locked-up in the cell like a common criminal.
However, I was kept there for over 12 hours, till the following morning (21st August), degraded, dehumanised and with no food or water for three full days. At this point I was very weak physically, developed sores all over my mouth, my gum was painfully swollen all round, and I had begun coughing terribly, with thick yellow discharges.
When I felt like using the toilet I knocked on the cell door and an Egyptian policeman came to open the cell from outside. I told the Egyptian policeman that I needed to use the toilet but he declined and forcefully shoved me back into the cell and locked the door again. After few minutes, I, again, repeated the plea to be allowed to use the toilet, and the same officer came to the door. I explained that I was severely pressed and needed to use the toilet. Yet again, he pushed me back into the cell before I could finish pleading and locked the door.
Here I was, 17 years of age, so far away from home with no family communication, hungry, weak, very tired and being treated like a common criminal without any human consideration whatsoever; I became desperately terrified and wondered if I would live through this ordeal or die hopelessly and forgotten in a strange land.
I was eventually deported from Cairo and arrived back in Lagos, after four traumatic days, on 21st August 2014. My luggage which contained all my books, newly acquired clothes, birthday gifts (including a brand new PS4 game console), money to last me through the new semester, and other valuables, remains missing till date – with no explanation whatsoever from the airline, regarding its whereabouts. The luggage that did arrive with me was visibly damaged, and I later discovered when I checked through, that it had been vandalized as several items packed into it before I left home were discovered missing.
On arrival in Lagos, I was straightway rushed off to Rivet Specialist Hospital at Ajao Estate, Lagos, for medical attention as my health had visibly deteriorated substantially and, as the hospital would later confirm my body had become critically emaciated. I was immediately placed on critical watch, administered intravenous fluids, antibiotics and other prescriptive drugs.
A man who was later identified as Khaled El Rafie (General Manager Lagos, Egypt Air), came along with my mother to meet me at the airport on arrival. He showed little sympathy for what his staff and organization had put a 17-year old passenger through. He displayed extreme arrogance and perfunctory remorse about my plight and, to my total dismay, added more insult to injury by saying that his own boss in Egypt commented that “I may have been locked up in a cell in Cairo because of Ebola virus”. When my mum got very angry at his general approach and utterances, he told her “why are you shouting…..?” He wasn’t going to assist on the matter anymore, and then he walked away”. This was all before I was taken to the hospital for medical attention.
Joshua has since returned to school in Ukraine. He flew on KLM flight.
The immigration helped in procuring him with another passport in one day.
Egypt Air reacts
By LAWANI MIKAIRU
Vanguard investigations at Egypt Air Head office where Mr Kunle AbdulAzeez purchased his ticket revealed that there has been palpable fear about what Abdulazeez’s guardians would do next after the visit of his uncle, Mr Toju Gbenebichie, to Egypt Air office.
Vanguard sought to speak with Mr Khaled El Rafie, General Manager, Lagos, Egypt Air, but was told that he traveled and will be back later in the day. But members of staff of Egypt Air told Vanguard that the entire organization was very remorseful about the incident especially as it involved a 17 year old boy.
One of them who begged Vanguard for anonymity , as they have not been mandated to speak on the issue, said it was actually “a mix up” on the part of Egypt Air ticket officer, Mr Tony Nzan.
The officer also said Mr Nzan has been very sober after the incident and he went the extra mile of trying to arrange an alternative ticket through a friend in Turkish Airline to convey Mr Kunle AbdulAzeez to Ukraine.
The officer added that the arrangement to compensate AbdulAzeez with alternative ticket was put on hold after the visit of his uncle to Egypt Air office and after “ raising hell”, and threatened to take Egypt Air to court. Efforts to speak with Mr Tony Nzan proved abortive as he insisted that he has been made to write a report on what actually happened and this has been submitted to the General Manager who now has the authority to address the issue.
NCAA begins investigation
The Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, has begun investigation into the matter. The authority is already in receipt of the official complaint lodged by Toju Gbenebichie, the uncle of Joshua. They have asked for the copies of the ticket, the boarding pass and other relevant documents that could help their case.
A letter signed by Abdulmalik Ifueko for the AGM Flight Operations/Adjudication Unit in the Consumer Protection Directorate yesterday confirmed this.
A source said that among other things “tearing the Nigerian passport is a direct affront on the government and people of Nigeria and will be taken seriously depending on the outcome of the investigations.”