A trip to Jerusalem for Christian pilgrimage leaves a sour taste in the mouth of pilgrims who complain of shabby treatment and accuse the Nigerian Christian Pilgrims Commission of extortion
It is an expectation that turned awry. That was what happened to Efunbola Coker, a legal practitioner, when she went on a pilgrimage to the old Jerusalem, Israel in 2012.
Although she embarked on the trip to Israel full of high expectations, Coker said all her hopes to experience the best of Israel soon fell like a pack of cards. A well-travelled woman, Coker is angry that the quality of treatment she got from the tour agency that handled her trip was not commensurate with the huge payments she made.
Her troubles started in the hands of officials of the Nigerian Christian Pilgrims Commission, NCPC, shortly after purchasing her forms. According to the payment receipts from UBA and emails she sent to NCPC, which Coker made available to the magazine, she paid for a package that included accommodation in a four or five-star hotel. Therefore, her joy knew no bounds when, on October 17, 2012, she received a text message from the NCPC confirming her flight to Israel on October 31, 2012. However, things started fluctuating when she received a call from a male staff of NCPC on Monday October 29, 2012, informing her that he was not sure if her visa was ready.
Confused about how a traveller’s flight can be confirmed without procuring a visa, Coker prodded the NCPC official for explanations, which the official promised would come in 45 minutes. Sad enough, no explanation was provided until the evening of the following day, less than 24 hours to the time she was advised to get to the airport. And the only information provided was that her visa was not ready.
However, another text message from NCPC on November 4, 2012 confirmed Friday November 9, 2012 as her departure date. But on getting to the airport, another waiting game ensued, as she and other pilgrims were kept in the dark about what was going on, since not even a single staff of NCPC was around to keep them abreast of issues. The only thing they got was a text message at 9.45pm informing that a certain Ben Okoh was held up in traffic and would soon be at the airport. He eventually turned up and the group took off after 3am on Saturday, November 10, 2012, with no apologies for the delay or refreshments whilst at the airport.
As it turned out, the pre-departure disappointments paled into insignificance when compared with what happened on their arrival at Tel Aviv, Israel. To start with, Coker and her co-travellers had to embark on more than two hours road journey to get to a hotel in Galilee. Unknown to the pilgrims, a rude shock awaited them at Sayyonei Hagalili, the hotel they were booked in. “Apart from their lack of courtesy, I will never forget the feeling of despair that overwhelmed me as we walked into the filthy reception of the hotel. There were cats cuddling up on the dirty chairs and everywhere. The wood floor was terribly dirty and the entire furniture was terribly unclean,” Coker said, backing up her claims with snapshots of the hotel.
Disappointed, she refused to sleep in the hotel, registering her protest to Tonte Ojogbo, NCPC representative on the trip. “I did not pay for a motel; I knew what I paid for and I knew too well Savyonei Hagalil was far from it,” she told Ojogbo. An argument ensued but Coker was later persuaded to stay in the hotel when Ojogbo reported the matter to the NCPC in Nigeria and one Henry Ezike, head of operations, NCPC, spoke with her over the phone, assuring that the matter would be resolved the following day. As it turned out, that was one promise never kept.
After enduring the hotel for two days, Coker said she had to check into another hotel, Kfar Giladi, where she stayed till the team left Galilee. Similar stories of complaints dogged the experience of the pilgrims in the other three hotels used by pilgrims from Nigeria. Confirming the shabby treatment the travellers received, Jubril Adamu, one of the pilgrims on Efunbola’s team, said the hotel was not what he expected. “The meals were a routine. What we eat today is the same thing we’ll eat tomorrow,” he said, while also complaining about the filthy environment. And when he was told the amount budgeted for each person per day on accommodation and feeding, he retorted that it was not in any way commensurate with the accommodation provided.
Adamu, who wondered if the NCPC was a profit-making organisation said, “The fact that we are going to seek God does not mean that we should not be able to experience some level of comfort.” Another pilgrim who pleaded anonymity shared the concerns of Coker and Adamu. He confirmed that they had a terrible experience on accommodation. “I am not complaining about any other thing other than the fact that what we were told was not what we met on the ground, especially as far accommodation is concerned. We expected that one of the representatives of NCPC would have briefed us on what to expect and what not to expect before we got there, but nothing like that was done,” he said.
But Olajide Oshunbun, head of media, NCPC, countered all the claims, especially allegations of exploitation. He told the magazine that the total package for each traveller for 10 days’ pilgrimage was N406,150, inclusive of flight, accommodation, three meals daily, and transportation to holy sites. Giving a breakdown of the expenses, Oshunbun said, “flight fees take $1,600 which amounted to N248,000 at an exchange rate of N155 per dollar. That leaves us with N158,150 to manage them for 10 days.” According to Oshunbun’s calculation, N15,800 was budgeted for a day on logistics to and from holy sites, and three meals – all of which were buffet.
This explanation however came after Coker had returned to Nigeria with a feeling that she had been robbed, and so she called the NCPC to complain. Again, what she got was a shocker. Coker said she spoke with a female staff of the commission who told her that pilgrimage was not about comfort and that while she was complaining, some people actually called to thank the commission.
Dissatisfied with the whole trip, Coker is demanding compensation for what she described as poor services she received during the 2012 trip to Israel. “NCPC failed to fulfil its obligations to me; I did not get what I paid for and should be grateful to be compensated, accordingly,” she said.