By Emmanuel Onwubiko.
Yesterday being December 23rd 2021 is a date I set out of my house in Abuja to head to the Airport to catch my long scheduled flight to Owerri, Imo State, via the Airline that is known as Airpeace but has become anything but peaceful and lawful.
On my way in an Uber hired taxi, I was busy on my phone as early as 8am hoping to catch the long scheduled 10.30am flight and from my phone I was reading through a story of how the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has been hijacked by forces working for the Federal Government and part of this very thought provoking story is this video that has gone viral concerning a senior investigation officer (Detective) of the EFCC who is a Northerner but apparently works in Lagos and the contents of this video is better imagined than heard.
I say this with all sense of concern and duty as someone who during my acting days as a newspaper reporter worked as a journalist with specialty in covering law enforcement agencies and the judiciary for The Guardian long time ago in Abuja when the then President Chief Olusegun Obasanjo set up both the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to battle the entrenched scourge of Corruption and economic crimes tearing down the economic walls of Nigeria and affecting the global rating and respect of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
I have therefore become fixated with and passionate about reading and researching on issues and developments that have to do with these two anti-graft institutions-: EFCC, ICPC.
So yesterday as said, I listened as this senior personnel of the EFCC spoke with another politically exposed person and their discussion was on how to scuttle and undermine an ongoing investigation involving a former Chief Accountant of the Nigerian Air Force in whose private and personal accounts were discovered humongous amount of cash in foreign and local denominations.
During the course of this scandalously recorded phone conversation, the fellow in the EFCC informed the man on the other end that Abubakar Malami; the Federal Attorney General and Minister of Justice who railroaded the young Abdulrasheed Bawa into office as substantive Executive Chairman despite a cacophony of protests, is actually the person pulling the strings from behind and that his words to the EFCC are laws in the ears of the hierarchy of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
Whilst reflecting on how terrible and bad things have become with institutions that are key to battling corruption and was worried that these institutions are themselves have become victims of corruption and lawlessness, little did I know what awaited me at the boarding desk of the Airpeace Airline at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport in Abuja.
On getting to the Airport around 9.20am I headed to the boarding desks but the entire boarding hall looked like Oshodi market with a lot of crowds battling to secure their boarding pass. Sadly, a majority of these desperate travelers are without face mask just as the boarding hall was packed to capacity to an extent that dozens of kids were seen wailing due to discomfort and congestion.
Amidst this clearly choreographed disorder, I managed to squeeze my way through to the boarding desk of this Airpeace Airline (Business class) and low and behold the lady manning this desk, a bit bulky in size but with apparently unfriendly looks and then I gave her my boarding particulars and she shouted that I was late and that they have closed the boarding doors.
She was saying this even when she was busy getting boarding passes for other passengers who apparently bribed their ways to beat the barricades dividing or separating the huge crowds of travelers from the staff of AirPeace and these are also passengers heading the same direction as I’m. But she spoke with such bitterness as if we have previously had quarrel of a pre-marital kind. I was shocked beyond comprehension.
I asked her to explain to me why I’m late when it was clear I was there at their desk clearly an hour before the scheduled take off time of the flight to Owerri from Abuja but she simply ignored me. I did not cause commotion as advised by some passengers who told me that the only way to get them to attend to me is to cause commotion or bribe them. I took none of those disruptive steps even though I needed to be in Owerri that faithful day.
I was then advised by another sympathetic staff of the same disorganised Airpeace Airline to go meet the manager but seeing the so- called manager was as difficult as a Camel passing through the eye of a needle.
I couldn’t be lucky to meet the Almighty manager of Airpeace despite every efforts amidst the surging crowds so I went to another desk where they sell tickets and gave the first person- a young man seated at the beginning of the desks, he went through the system and saw that my flight was even rescheduled to 12.10am. This rescheduling wasn’t even communicated to me.
I then asked what could be done. He said I have to see their manager. I told him since you now confirmed that the 10.30am flight I’m to travel with is now rescheduled for 12.10pm so why is your colleague not checking me in? He said nothing plausible but rather asked that I see the same manager the other lady asked that I see but who couldn’t even be accessed. This was how one of the staff confided in me that there is every likelihood that my ticket has been resold.
I kept hovering from one desk to the other without any success and had to leave around 1pm back home to bite my teeth in pains and agony that Airpeace staff who are now daylight robbers have robbed me of the opportunity of not spending Christmas outside of Arondizuogu for the first time in the last 30 years. Airpeace effectively frustrated and sabotaged by year 2021 Christmas celebrations. How sad!
I couldn’t hit the road for fear of Armed Fulani terrorists and kidnappers who have taken over the roads and kidnap travelers at will since 2015.
When I narrated my experience to friends on the social media, I got over 70 responses from persons who similarly underwent same criminality that has become the modus operandi at the boarding passes of Airpeace Airline in Nigeria. It seems the private airline is now fearless and lawless to the extent that there is no longer any hope that the relevant aviation regulatory authorities are capable of calling the airline to order.
Only recently, it was reported that the management of Air Peace had arrested two customers at the Murtala Mohammed Airport, Lagos, after exposing the airline’s poor service.
As reported recently, dozens of passengers heavily criticised the airline for delaying the Lagos-Abuja flight from 07:20 p.m. to past 11:00 p.m.
Multiple videos on social media saw passengers lamenting the delay. Shortly after the videos were shared on social media and several people expressed disappointment over Air Peace’s service, the management called for the arrest of the customers and seized their tickets.
One of them, Lagos-Abuja flight was arrested for capturing the moment customers ranted about their service and shared it on social media.
Ms Okafor explained that while she took the video of customers’ outbursts, one of the airline’s employees immediately told her that she would not be allowed to board.
“They said they asked me not to take videos, and they have people of my age at home and will deal with me,” she stated.
Ms Okafor added, “I was making reservations for another flight when they asked me to get into their van, and they said they were taking us to ‘Tango’ and gave us a form to fill. They threatened to deal with us and charge us to court today (Wednesday).”
She alleged that her boarding pass was seized.
Another individual, Samuel Paul, told Peoples Gazette that the airline initially delayed the flight for 40 minutes, then to 50 minutes, and Air Peace made no other comment until past 11:00 p.m.
“The fight was scheduled for 07:20, later they rescheduled it for 40 minutes, then to 50 minutes and later they didn’t even say anything, they just kept mute,” he said.
Mr Paul explained that the aircraft eventually arrived around 11:00 p.m., but passengers were informed that the pilot had closed for the day and “they have to go look for another pilot and people began shouting.”
He stated that the airline prevented him from boarding the flight after he “went physical” with a male Air Peace worker who did nothing about the situation.
“I asked the man why he was not doing anything, and when he didn’t respond, I pushed him in the face for not saying anything,” Mr Paul admitted. “They called the attention of the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria, and they arrested me and the lady and left us here without any comment from them.”
However, the airline CEO, Allen Onyema, did not return The Gazette’s request seeking comments on the matter. The Chairman seems unconcerned to instill a sense of professionalism and discipline amongst his staff who are now operating as if they are bigger than even the Country itself.
Meanwhile, the spokesperson for the FAAN, Henrietta Yakubu, denied being aware of the situation. “Honestly, I am not aware. FAAN only manages the airport,” she told The Gazette.
Air Peace is often criticised for flight delays just as aviation minister Hadi Sirika had directed airlines to reimburse passengers after a two-hour delay and provide refreshment and telephone calls or text messages for delays beyond one hour.
Air Peace flouted the directives on July 13 by delaying passengers’ flights for five hours without apologising. Scheduled to depart Lagos airport by 8:30 p.m., the flight did not take off until 11:05 p.m.
When I wrote my complaint in my social media page, many people told me that this has become the company’s way of operations because nobody can enforce the regulations on the treatment of passengers by Airlines in Nigeria.
Things have got so bad that companies such as Airpeace operate like Nigeria is one banana Republic. A friend wrote as follows: “I had a similar experience with Airpeace too in Abuja. I booked on the 4th of November for 2.00 pm to Lagos on getting to the airport I was told the flight has been rescheduled to 9.10pm
Considering where I was going in Lagos I choose to reschedule the flight for 10 am on the 5th, getting to the airport by 9.30 I was denied boarding for not meeting the mandatory 45 minutes and was asked to rebook the next available flight leaving by 12 noon, only that I should pay the extra difference… N58,000! for my flight of N29,000 total N87,000!!!
I asked for refund and was given a form which I filled and told it will take 3 months to get the refund.
I lost it that day at the airport, unfortunately no one felt my pain.
I was then rescheduled for another flight at 9pm on 7th of November and paid N5,000 difference making a total of N34,000.
I ate the humble pie and a accepted.
Wait for it… I arrived Lagos safely minus my luggage containing perishable items, I slept at the airport before my luggage came 10 hours later.”
The question to ask is whether Airpeace is bigger than the Nigerian Aviation Authority to such an extent that passengers are now cruelly treated as if they do not have fundamental human rights to protect even when the entire chapter four of the Nigerian Constitution is devoted to the different sets of fundamental rights that Nigerians are entitled to as citizens and as passengers deserving of the courtesy of being served with dignity and respect.
As one of the commentators stated, Airpeace especially during festivities has become air-trouble. It would seem that the Minister of Aviation is not even interested in making sure that private airlines observe global best practices in the treatment of their passengers because the way the management of Air Peace has tolerated touting within their system and the recklessness with which there is no coordination in their ground operations are deliberate criminality put in place to short-change their clients.
It is time that the maltreated passengers come together and take out a class action in the court of law to get the management of this ruthlessly lawless airline to compensate for these cocktails of fraudulent practices tolerated by them.
*Emmanuel Onwubiko is head of the Human Rights Writers Association Of Nigeria and was National Commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission Of Nigeria.
Disclaimer: “The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Emmanuel Onwubiko and do not necessarily reflect those of The World Satellite. The World Satellite will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article.”