30th November, 2012
The Executive Secretary
Nigerian Christian Pilgrims Commission
... (via e-mail)
Dear Mr. J. K. Opara,
RE: LETTER OF COMPLAINT
This is the last thing I should be doing after a supposed ‘pilgrimage’.
I saw UCB’s advertisement of Holy Land Tours in one of the issues of Word for Today which I got from the United Kingdom. I started to contact a gentleman called Chris for information. Of course, he was extremely responsive and helpful. In the course of getting myself ready to go with UCB I found out that I had to get a visa to Jordan as the Tour includes Jordan. In a nutshell, I contacted my Jordanian friend Nisreen who was willing to help, but advised as someone who had once worked in Jordan’s Ministry of Tourism, that it was better to go with a tour company from one’s country. I heeded Nisreen’s advise.
My first port of call was the Lagos State Pilgrims Welfare Board, Alausa (LASPWB). I was so excited I could not wait till the Forms became available. I purchased mine on 21st March, 2012, shortly after I got the news that the Forms were available. I was the 74th person who purchased the Forms. I have attached a copy of the Lagos State Government Treasury Receipt (No.02730135), to this letter.
I encouraged an elderly couple in my church Deacon Bola and Mrs. Ronke Balogun who had told me they wanted to go to Israel to purchase their Forms from the LASPWB. Shortly after they did they were told that the Federal Government is the co-coordinator of the all Pilgrimage exercises in the nation; Deacon and Mrs. Balogun were thus encouraged to abandon all plans to go with the Lagos State Government and go to Israel with the Federal Government of Nigeria. I remember Deacon Balogun calling me rooting for the Nigerian Christian Pilgrims Commission (NCPC). Needless to say I went online conducted a search on Google and got some information about the NCPC. I printed out the Forms and later paid for it at the Ikosi Branch of Diamond Bank.
I started to have troubles with NCPC as soon as I bought the Forms; I found I was calling NCPC all the time making enquiries, seeking information that ordinarily should be available even on the NCPC website. I found that quite harrowing, to say the least. I still have a text 2
message on my handset telling a staff of NCPC that I hoped I would not regret going with NCPC to Israel. NCPC should learn from the likes of Chris (above).
A friend of mine told me sometime in December, 2011 year that she could get us to go to Israel on the bill of the Government. I was not interested in that at all, I simply did not want to be at anyone’s mercy. The Lord provided and I was able to pay for the package Four Hundred and Six Thousand One Hundred and Fifty Naira (N406,150.00). I also paid the sum of One Hundred and Eight Thousand Seven Hundred and Fifty Naira (N108,750) for the Seven Hundred and Fifty United States Dollars (US$750.00) Traveler’s Allowance. I sent an e-mail to a female staff of NCPC forwarding copies of the receipts from UBA and included a note reiterating things NCPC through its staff had made me understand that were included in the package I had paid for. The list of things included payment for accommodation in 4* and 5* hotels. I have attached a copy of the e-mail to this letter.
I encouraged friends to come along with me, thank God none of them did. I also thank God Deacon & Mrs. Balogun did not go as well.
On 17th October, 2012 I received a text message from NCPC noting in its words ‘a final confirmation’ of my flight to Israel on 31st October, 2012. On Monday 29th November, 2012 I received a call from a male staff of NCPC telling me that he was not sure if my visa was ready… I cannot describe my shock and confusion at the time. In order to understand what the man said I said to him, ‘I don’t understand’. The man retorted ‘what part don’t you understand’. I thought that was extremely rude, but I guess he is one of those people who are by nature tactless. I simply needed him to explain why NCPC had confirmed my flight if it had not received the result of the visa application, in whatever form, it must have made to the Israeli Government. He told me he would call me back forty five (45) minutes after our conversation to confirm the status of my visa. He did not call back till the evening of the following day (less than 24 hours to the time I had been advised to get to the airport) to tell me I couldn’t travel because my visa was not ready. I received another text on 4th November, 2012 confirming Friday, 9th November, 2012 for departure. I then sent a text message to a staff of NCPC to confirm if my visa had been issued, I never got a response. Well, by the text message of 4th November, 2012 we were advised to get to the airport by 4pm, Friday, 9th November, 2012.
I got to the airport on Friday, 9th November, 2012 and waited endlessly for at least one of the staff of the NCPC to tell us what was happening. I got a ‘lucky break’ when I received a text message at 9.45 pm informing us that a certain Ben Okoh was held up in traffic and would soon be at the airport. I lost track of time afterwards, Ben Okoh eventually turned up and asked those of us that had been waiting to confirm if our visas were ready. 3
It happened that the list in which the names of self sponsored persons was not available. Mr. Ben Okoh contacted his colleagues who advised him to check I think his e-mail and print the same out. We eventually took off after 3 am on Saturday, 10th November, 2012. No apologies, no reasons for the delay, no information about take off time except when I asked, no refreshments whilst at the airport, nothing! We picked up passengers from Abuja and left Nigeria after 6 am on Saturday, 10th November, 2012.
We arrived Tel Aviv, Israel and traveled some two hours to our ‘motel’ in Galilee. I will never forget the words of my room mate Mrs. Dupe Ojo when someone announced ‘this is the hotel’ and we looked at this place… She said ‘maybe the hotel is behind this building… She was wrong, it was our motel! I will also never forget the feeling of despair that overwhelmed me as we walked into the reception; the place was filthy, for want of a better word. There were cats everywhere, including the reception, cuddling up on the dirty chairs, the wood floor was terribly dirty and the entire furniture and place were terribly unclean. I have enough pictures in proof.
Mr. Raphael Ben-Hur of RBH Tourism/Israel Holy Land Travel ‘welcomed’ the group in a dirty room and handed out bags with tee shirts, face caps and a pamphlet of the sites of interest. The bags never went round the 57 people in our group; at least I did not get any.
I did not attend Mr. Ben-Hur’s welcome speech and remained in the reception waiting for the meeting to end; I took my time to take pictures of the dingy motel the NCPC put us in. I cannot for the life of me remember when the rest of the group went to have dinner nor do I remember when they returned to the reception and went to their rooms. I remember too well that I protested and told the NCPC representative Mr. Tonte Ojogbo that I would not sleep in the place because I did not pay for a motel; I knew what I paid for and I knew too well Savyonei Hagalil was far from it.
If I may mention at this point by God Israel was about the eighteenth (18th) country I had traveled to so I have a very good idea about holiday packages, including hotels; what I pay for and what to expect for what I paid. That night I stated that if I had paid to sleep on a floor I jolly would have slept on the floor!
Mr. Ben-Hur offered the Queen Suite in the motel but I refused to sleep in it, I did not eat the dinner I just protested and threatened to sleep in the reception till the following morning, when I would decide on the next course of action. Mr. Ojogbo called NCPC in Nigeria and reported the matter; well I heard a bit of his conversation. A certain Henry Ezike spoke with me over the phone he told me he was head of operations at NCPC. He asked me about the hotel and I was quite surprised that the head of operations of NCPC 4
would ask a question like that, especially after Mr. Ojogbo had reported the matter to Abuja. I was upset. Mr. Ojobo persuaded to sleep in the motel and said NCPC should resolve the issue the following day. I remember waking up the following morning and weeping; I felt horrible it woke my roommate up. We returned to the motel really late the following day, so I still slept in it. We never heard a word from NCPC on the matter. Well, the group spent four (4) days in the dingy motel eating in a dinning room where the foods (no cereal) were angrily displayed on grimy tables as if the kitchen staff were expecting the cats and not human being to dine; where bread was displayed on a dirty barrel after a piece of cloth was placed on top of the barrel, where milk was served in sachets ‘reminiscence’ of our pure water sachets, where tea had to be drunk with plastic spoons, amongst other demeaning circumstances. The bed linens were filthy and the pillow cases in the room I slept in were terribly stained. Some people said there were mosquitoes in their bedroom! I had no way of confirming that. I have attached some pictures of the motel called Savyonei Hagalil…
I have had time to check Savyonei Hagalil up on TripAdvisor and one guest’s review is my sentiment exactly:
This is a run down hotel which should be advertised as a cheap motel! The whole building is in need of renovation, simplistic breakfeast (sic) served in a nearby building & staff at reception were(sic) inefficient, You won't see me there again!
Another guest wrote:
Very disappointed from maintenance and cleaning rooms and public areas. Breakfast was very poor - the buffet was empty and full of dirt. Workers Milled around doing nothing in the dining room with their mouth full and it seems that the work not really known for them (sic).
After two nights I checked into Kfar Giladi and stayed there till we left Galilee. Savyonei Hagalil was depressing and was defeating my purpose of been in Israel. I attach copies of my receipt to this letter. It cost me One Hundred and Ten Dollars (US$110) to commute to Savyonei Haglil to join the group.
Before I left Savyonei Hagalil I wrote a letter headed ‘Rejection of Hotel Room In Israel’ which I handed to Mr. Ojogbo to sign. He did not sign and his reason for not doing so was that he needed to confirm from NCPC if he could sign the letter. I guess he never got the confirmation he needed. A copy of the letter is attached to this letter. 5
Amiran the gentleman cabby who took me to and from Kfar Hagalil and Savyonei Hagalil had this to say about Savyonei Hagalil, in his very nice Hebrew accent: ‘the hotel very very bad, very very bad.’ He did not understand what I was doing in a place like that. I guess that is what you get if you pay less than Five Thousand Naira (N5,000.00) for a motel. I got the rate from Trip Advisor, I rang the place up with a view of getting prices for group booking, no one picked the phone. Please see link below for prices. It must have cost NCPC a lot less in view of the group booking:
I must not forget that in my room No. 184 (see picture) a sticker read ACCOR HOTEL (please see picture)… I have contacted Accor Hotel and it stated in its e-mail to me that Savyonei Hagalil does not belong to Accor Hotels! I have attached a copy of Accor’s e-mail to this letter.
I do not understand why NCPC and Raphael Ben-Hur a man who once served the Israeli Government in the country’s Ministry of Tourism for 15 years thought that was the perfect place to put Nigerian Pilgrims for four (4) good nights. I was certain we would be lodged in a worse place it happened…
NCPC and Mr. Ben-Hur also must have thought we deserved to stay Bethlehem in the Palestine territory of Israel for five (5) days, inspite of the trouble in Gaza which is about 73km away from Bethlehem. The troubles in Gaza started before we arrived Israel. Mr. Ben-Hur had prior to the morning we left Galilee said we were going to stay in Jerusalem for the rest of our ‘pilgrimage’. I guess the NCPC put cost savings before our safety, notwithstanding that we paid no small amount.
I was petrified the first night we arrived in the $27 per night low budget hotel (cost includes breakfast and dinner). Please see e-mail between the hotel and I, re room rates. The room I was put in (No. 302) was extremely cold the first night. I called the reception to help with the heater; it did not work. The second night when I called the reception to complain about the cold in the room the gentleman who picked up the phone told me the heating in the hotel was faulty and that was it. 6
Sahara Hotel was a notch above Savyonei Hagalil. Trip Advisor ranked it 14th out of 16 hotels in Bethlehem,, as at the time of writing this letter.
NCPC increased the number of nights we stayed in the hotel from 2 nights as Mr. Ben-Hur had earlier informed us to 3 nights, for reasons best known to the NCPC. They also attempted to put three (3) people in some of the rooms till we protested; how much was the NCPC desirous of saving! At $27 per person they still wanted to put three people in a room… ludicrous! I didn’t like the fact that we had to inhale the smoke from cigarettes anytime we were on the ground floor either for breakfast dinner or for any reason whatsoever. It was terrible. The reception was a small area just next to the dinning room.
Our food was extremely limited and boring as well, no yogurts, no sweets/desserts. I felt and still feel really cheated. We had a choice between multi-colored cereal I don’t know what it was and a chocolate cereal. I was not impressed and there were some times some food will run out and the kitchen staff will tell you for example ‘we have used all the eggs in the hotel’.
I am also attaching pictures of a typical breakfast setting; we had the same thing throughout our stay.
Though another low budget hotel we were quite happy with Paradise Hotel. The rooms were really nice, but I was not impressed with the limited food; it was just slightly better than Sahara Hotel’s spread. Again, I guess that was what we deserved for $27 per night that is just less than Four Thousand Naira (N4,000.00) at the rate of N145.00 to US$ the rate the Government gave us when we paid for our Allowance. I called Paradise Hotel and spoke with a certain Ahmed who gave the rates for fifty four (54) persons.
The Paradise Hotel was unsafe; we were welcomed with tear gas and gun shots the first night we got to the hotel. I had to turn up the volume of the television when I was about to sleep so as not to hear the gunshots. The second night was worse as the whole area was filled with tear gas even as we got down from the bus. My eyes were affected but I used a scarf to cover my nose and held my breath before I got down from the bus till I got into the reception. It was bad and scary. Some people in the group complained the following morning that they were unable to sleep for fear and for the noise. Some people had also started a fire right in front of our hotel. People asked that we moved to Jerusalem, we were moved and spent the last night in Jerusalem. 7
This was a joke… In a nutshell, the hotel we stayed at in Jerusalem was worse than Savyonei Hagalil so I will leave things to your imagination. It stank like the gutters in Lagos State just after they have been cleared after a long period of time. I am not exaggerating, we all know the smell. I have googled the hotel but Trip Advisor has nothing to say about it, probably because it is not even worthy of mention. It was a nightmare, simply put.
On the last evening we drove to Zion Square, Jerusalem, we stopped on the road some place and our tour guide Nuriel Cimaeh (Uri) got down and went to look for the hotel. People were furious when Uri returned and we were told that we had to walk to the hotel which was a bit of a distance from the place the bus had stopped. We were told that there was no access to the hotel, by bus.
Well, we took our luggage out and some pulled their luggage to the hotel, some people got help from a young man and our Mr. Kehinde Salami who took our things to the hotel. We had to get our suitcases ready for the early morning departure so we took out what we needed for the night and for the next morning and then dragged our suitcases to the bus for storage. It was unfair!
There were no less than 5 persons in my group who were over 70 years old and I cannot imagine the toll the stress had on them. I have pictures (attached to this letter) as well as video of the movement that night.
I feel I have been robbed by NCPC, and should be grateful to receive by return explanation for the treatment we received. I do not understand why my life had to be endangered in Bethlehem because as far as I am concerned some people wanted to make money from us. It was this attitude that cost over two hundred (200) lives to be lost in the Dana air crash, causing families grieve.
I called NCPC and spoke with a female staff who told me that pilgrimage is not about comfort. I know too well that I paid for comfort and NCPC collected money enough to provide me with just that. Again, if I paid to sleep on floors I would have. The lady told me the Legal Department of NCPC is waiting for my letter. I do not know exactly what that meant. She said I was the only one who complained and that some people had actually called to thank her. Now, I do not know of a culture where someone spends her hard earned money gives it to another in trust to provide certain services and the giver picks up a phone to thank a person she (the giver) has patronized! 8
I find the attitude of the NCPC rather worrisome; most of the delegates are people who are sponsored by the government; local, state or federal, or by some other institution or church. NCPC may wish to bear in mind that it may not enjoy the patronage of the government for long and should appreciate people who save money to pay their way.
I have had the opportunity to compare notes with some people who went to Israel and paid the same amount I did; their experience relayed to me confirmed I was cheated. NCPC failed to fulfill its obligations to me; I did not get what I paid for and should be grateful to be compensated, accordingly.
I look forward to receiving your response, soon.
Efunbola O. Coker