Saturday, 27 September 2014


A 17 year old Nigerian medical student, Joshua Kunle Abdulazeez, returning to school in Ukraine, recently gave an account of how he nearly died at the hands of Egypt Air officials who wrongly routed him to Moldova, never gave him food for days, treated him like a criminal, calling Nigerians bloody people before deporting him back to Lagos. In a chat with Saturday Vanguard, the boy’s mother, Madam Favour Anirejuoritse Gbenebichie expresses anger and disappointment at the inhuman treatment meted out on her son by Egypt Air for no fault of his and what should be done to forestall a re-occurrence.
My son’s ordeal with Egypt Air
In the month of June, Joshua had come home on holiday. He’s a medical student in Ukraine and he hadn’t been to Nigeria in the past nine years. He grew up in Zambia. In the past five years, he’s been wanting to come to Nigeria and I promised him that if he made a five-point CGPA, we would allow him come. He got it and so he came. He was here for seven weeks and then he was ready to go back to school.
Most of the airlines were fully booked because students were resuming school and Ukraine is a route that is not patronised by all the airlines, so we were advised by Turkish Airline (since they had no seat) to go to Egypt Air and we did. We purchased the tickets and reviewed the ticket itinerary and immediately observed that the airport code indicated on it was different from what we were familiar with. The ticket indicated an unfamiliar airport code.
We immediately brought this discovery to a ticketing officer’s attention who 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”. My son boarded the flight and I warned the Egypt Air Staff, that for their sake I hope they were right.

The following day, he was supposed to be in Istanbul, so we didn’t follow him up. But on the third day, we knew he should be in school in Ukraine, so we started calling his number and it wasn’t going through. I left Lagos for Ibadan, on my way to Ibadan, I had three missed calls and any time I answered the call, I heard a foreign language I didn’t understand. My daughter, Joshua’s elder sister told me that Joshua called her and said he’s been deported from Moldova and he was at Istanbul and that we should buy a ticket from here, so he can go to Ukraine. We tried calling the foreign number back, but unfortunately, I think it was an answering machine in Turkish Language.
My son later called to say he was in Moldova and that he was told there was no way he would get to Ukraine from there. So he was given a form to fill and a deportation letter. He hoped that when he got to Istanbul, he would buy a ticket to Kiev from there. He couldn’t get the ticket in Istanbul and I had to call my Office in Ukraine, because I’m an Education Consultant. I actually take students from Africa to Ukraine for studies. So I called my office and asked them to help him get a ticket. Fortunately, we were able to buy one, but the Egypt Air staff in Istanbul absolutely refused, even though Immigration agreed. They said that no matter what happened
they were bringing Joshua back to Lagos. Joshua later sent a text to say that they had put him in seclusion in a cell and at that point, he hadn’t eaten for three days and he was already sick. He said he was told that he would be on the flight to Lagos the following day and that I should meet him at the airport.
Very early, the next day, I went to the Egypt Air Office in Lagos from Ibadan and requested to see the overall head. After waiting for a long while and he wasn’t forthcoming, I began to shout and scream, because I didn’t know what condition my son was in and that was the fourth day. The General Manager, Mr. Khalid was so nonchalant and very abusive. He brought a wrong itinerary which was different from the ticket they sold to my son. I insisted that it wasn’t the ticket and that they should stop covering up, because I had copies of the one they sold to my son. They later printed out the actual itinerary. I told him to call and find out if my son was fine. When he did, he was told that my son was already on a flight back to Lagos.
We went to the airport and truly, Joshua was on that flight, his passport had been torn by an Egypt Air Staff in Istanbul. He was looking very pale, his eyes were sunken, he could barely talk or stand. At that point, I was broken and I wept from the airport to the hospital. I couldn’t believe human beings could be that wicked. This happened within 20th to 22nd of August and he just turned 17 on the 16th of August. We are talking about an under-aged boy, a minor. He had his Ukraine Residence Permit, Ukraine Visa and Student’s documents. Everything was there for anyone to know he was genuine and help him and to see that he got to school as easily as possible. The primary thing for me at that time was to get him to the hospital. One luggage came back, the other didn’t. He had two. The one that came back was vandalised, half of the things inside were gone. The suitcase that had his clothes didn’t come back, he came back with only the clothes on his back. He was stinking like a pig and looked very sick. He just kept coughing and each time he coughed, there was a yellowish discharge coming out. I remember that when I pointed it out to Mr. Khalid, that how could anyone have locked up this child in this physical condition in a cell? He told me that their Group General Manager in Egypt had said because he’s a Nigerian and he’s coming from Lagos, he was locked up for fear of Ebola. It’s so sad. It’s unbelievable.
We rushed him to the hospital and they quickly put him on intravenous fluids, because he was dehydrated. The doctor said that due to the fact that his mouth hadn’t been active, some bacteria had worked and his gums were swollen. He couldn’t eat and had developed a horrible mouth odour. I don’t think it’s normal for any human being to be that wicked, the way Egypt Air, the Egyptians and everyone involved was to my child. It’s very pathetic.
As a mother, what was going through your mind while all these were going on, before you eventually saw him?
Panic! I was very scared. We’ve heard so many stories about prisons and cells, how people get beaten up, assaulted sexually and all that. I was scared that my child shouldn’t be beaten up or sexually assaulted. I couldn’t sleep from the point when I got to know he was in a prison cell in Cairo.
No doubt this is pathetic. What should the government do about this?
I personally regret having gone to Egypt Air. It’s a first time and it’s definitely the last. It’s an airline that I didn’t even know much about, but we were sent there by Turkish Air, because most of the airlines were fully booked. It was like a last resort. They ply the route Joshua was going to, which most airlines do not. I don’t recommend it for anyone and I definitely would not use that airline again. In this age and time and with the amount of civilization in the world today, I don’t think anyone should be that barbaric and inhuman. When you see Joshua, you see an innocent child. He’s had a sheltered life. It’s very sad. I remember when he was leaving the hospital, he said to me, “Mummy, I don’t want to go back. Can I go to school in Nigeria? I don’t want to travel again”. It took my younger brother and I a long while to convince him, before he agreed to go back to Ukraine. He just didn’t want to go in an aircraft. A lot of damage has been done to my son psychologically. We were just unlucky to pick the wrong airline. Egypt Air is a wrong one. If justice be done, their license to fly in this country should be revoked.
Why didn’t you make a case with the police immediately you learnt his passport was torn?
The Egypt Air Manager at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Mr. Ahmed had done damage control. He pal-lied with the immigrations people at the airport. One of the immigration guys at the airport gave us a letter to Passport Office in Alausa for the passport to be done for us the following day. That was how he was able to travel back within two days. The passport was replaced, but we still have the torn one. It was torn on both sides and Joshua said the Egypt Air staff who tore it said, ‘These Bloody Nigerians!’.
Have you made efforts to contact the human rights commission?
We haven’t, because we have handed the case over to a lawyer and we thought it best that he handles it, the way the law demands.
How far do you want to take this issue legally?
To the extent the law would allow that justice be done. I wouldn’t say more than that, so that I don’t pre-empt whatever actions our lawyer is already taking. But we have handed the case over to a lawyer for legal redress.
Would you want the government to be involved?
Definitely, because if firm action is not seen to be taken, then this would repeat itself over and over. It’s an affront that a Nigerian passport is torn. Who would dare tear an American passport even if it’s being held by a mad person or the poorest person. No-one would have the guts to tear an American passport, because they know the implications. The world sees Nigerians as a people nobody fights for and they believe they can get away with anything they do against Nigerians. Oftentimes, we travel and we are not treated well, just because you have a Nigerian passport, you’re delayed unnecessarily, foul languages are used on you and you can’t do anything, because you need to go to these places for some reasons. I think it’s high time our government stood up for us and fought our cause. Maybe if they do it this time, it won’t repeat itself. Compared to Nigeria, Egypt is so small. For an Egyptian to have the guts to tear a Nigerian passport says a lot.
Why did you choose Ukraine for your son’s studies?
For the medical courses, Russia (the old USSR) is the best location for Medicine. Ukraine used to be part of the USSR until between 1990 and 1993. For medicine and aviation, Ukraine is one of the best in the world, that’s why we chose it.
You said your son grew up in Zambia, when did he move to the place?
They relocated in January 2006, because I had started a business in Lusaka. He was born here in Nigeria, but he was about seven years old, when we relocated. He left Nigeria when he was going into Primary Two, so all of his growing years had been outside Nigeria – his primary and high school education was in Lusaka.
Was this his first trip to Nigeria since then?
Yes, it was his first since he left in 2006 for Lusaka. In the last five years, he’s been wanting to come. He would learn Nigerian songs even without knowing their meanings and he would come to ask me their meanings. He just wanted to come to Nigeria and I promised him that if he had a C.G.P.A of five points which is the maximum, then he could come. He worked hard for it, got it and I allowed him come to Nigeria.
Would you say we Nigerians share the blame in what happened to your son?
Yes, in the sense that Joshua isn’t the first that such a thing has happened to. He just happened to be the first that has come to light. I read the commentaries and I saw that a lot of people have suffered, maybe not so drastic incidents, but a lot of them have in one way or the other been abused. It’s the system, I guess. Even when you speak up, no-one is going to take it up. So everyone just believes, why talk? I think it’s time and it should start with our government.
What do you think is responsible for the ill-treatment and abuse Nigerians suffer in foreign lands?
Vices perpetrated by some Nigerians. Everything has a spill over effect. In times past, we had issues of 419, our ladies being quoted to be prostitutes in places like Italy and so on. But in recent years, our image has improved, because you don’t find Nigerians being mentioned in many of those things as they were before. Probably, the animosity towards us as a people was as a result of these. But then, why should innocent people suffer, because that is what’s happening. Everyone is suffering from the mistakes of a few people.
Where are you from?
I’m from the Niger-Delta, Itsekiri. But Joshua is Yoruba.
-Source: Vanguard

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