•Throws cleric out of aircraft after boarding
•My self-esteem is shattered, says victim
From Aloysius Attah, Onitsha
A physically challenged Ghanaian Pastor, Clement Ofori, yesterday narrated his harrowing experience in the hands of officials of Africa World Airline at Kotoka International Airport, Ghana.
He was en route to Onitsha, Nigeria, on an evangelical mission when the incident occurred.
Ofori, 37, the General Overseer of House of the Rock Ministry, Ghana, moves around with the aid of a wheelchair and crutches, after losing his legs in mysterious circumstances at the age of 12.
He was duly booked for the air travel through Africa World Airline on Tuesday, April 25, from Ghana to Lagos to honour an invitation from his friend, Dr. Ejike Onuogu, a consultant psychiatrist based in the United States but with a family house in Onitsha.
Narrating his experience at the airport to Daily Sun in Onitsha, Pastor Ofori expressed bitterness that he could be treated shabbily, forced to disembark from an aircraft where he had already checked in and molested at the airport simply because of his disability.
He said the last experience was the third time he had suffered the same fate while travelling even though he had paid for the flight like other travellers. He wondered why airline and airport officials in Ghana had chosen to be unfriendly with the physically challenged people.
However, Ofori noted that the story was different in Nigeria, as Nigerian airlines usually treat him with dignity and respect while the airport officials in Lagos even offer him special protection whenever he touches down from the flight till his Nigerian hosts receive him.
“It was a terrible experience for me and it still hurts even as I speak. I was billed to travel through Africa World Airline on April 25. The flight, AW226 was slated for 5pm and I was at the airport by 2pm. They checked my ticket, gave me a boarding pass duly stamped and I had already entered the plane and sat on my allocated seat 5A. I even took pictures while sitting inside the aircraft waiting for our departure. Then suddenly one of the airline officials told me to come down.
“I asked him what the problem was, and he said that the flight had been cancelled because of bad weather. I felt bad but I had to comply since the issue of weather was beyond human control. I didn’t know that a shocker was waiting for me.
Ofori said he was already heading to the terminal on a wheelchair to know whether they had rescheduled his flight for the next day or whether his fare would be refunded when he suddenly heard from the public address system that the same flight he was asked to disembark from was boarding and that passengers should proceed immediately to Gate 4 to board.
“I told the person pushing me to take me back since the flight was boarding, but the man dropped the shocker and told me that I was brought down not because the flight was cancelled but because the airline people through the pilot said that they didn’t have any facility to carry a disabled person. It was raining then and they left me in the cold,” the pastor said.
Pastor Ofori said he was stranded, as the airline officials also took away the wheelchair from him and he was left staring in space for almost three hours. He said when he later got to the counter for a refund, he was told that he could only get a refund in Lagos, which was the point of purchase of his ticket.
Narrating how he eventually made it to Nigeria, Ofori said it was his host, Dr. Ejike who made a fresh flight arrangement and he eventually flew to Nigeria the next morning through Air Peace. He described his experience this time as a direct opposite of what he suffered in the hands of officials of the Ghanaian Airline. Describing Air Peace as an airline that was very friendly with people living with disability, he said he was treated like a prince on the flight.
“Nigerian people are very kind and hospitable. At the airport in Lagos, they gave me police escort till the time Dr. Ejike arrived to pick me. I’ve been to Nigeria up to five times and I’ve always enjoyed my trip from here. But it has been a different story from my own people in Ghana and this is unfortunate.”
Asked what he expected from the airline and the Ghanaian airport authorities over the shabby treatment meted to him, Pastor Ofori said it was time for him to speak up and for God to use him to end all kinds of discriminatory treatment against the physically challenged in Ghana.
“I want the public to come to our aid so that this thing can stop. I felt bad that I said I didn’t want to fly any more if this is what I will continue to experience. I don’t have any facility in any aircraft and they treat me bad in my country. It’s very sad. The public should know that disability is not inability. We all have our God-given potential and they should not discriminate against us. I have a wife, three children and the church with pastors under me. I’m a responsible person, so if I’m treated this way, what then happens to others? The Ghanaian President should hear this because we the disabled need our freedom too in Ghana,” he asserted.
Pastor Ofori’s host in Onitsha, Dr. Onuogu in a chat with Daily Sun described his visitor’s experience as shocking. He said the Onitsha trip was planned for Pastor Ofori as a short vacation out of his busy and tight schedules in Ghana only for him to be subjected to that kind of treatment.
“He had visited different parts of the world before but his visit to Onitsha this time was tumultuous. I understood that what actually happened was that somebody paid a higher fee to take over his seat on that flight and that was why they dumped him down from the flight because he was physically challenged. When we called the airline when this drama was going on, the manager of the airline told me flatly on phone that the airline would not carry people with disabilities.
“This is a disturbing event given that Ghana is one of Africa’s oldest democracies. It is a sad day on the continent of Africa that a democracy older than Nigeria is still in an age where people with disabilities are treated like trash and are not accorded the type of respect we accord them here in Nigeria. This should be a starting point for us to sound an alarm and make a statement about it. We should sound a note about this to the government in Ghana to look into this matter because this is very serious. It is an affront to humanity; debasing and dehumanising. I feel his sense of self esteem has been shattered. This is a high functioning person in terms of his intellect; he preaches in many places across the world and he is not somebody who can be put down because of his disability. We are going to seek redress over this,” he said.
A legal practitioner, Noel Onyekwelu, Barrister of the Supreme Court of Nigeria and Solicitor, England and Wales, also commented on the issue. He said said the situation was pathetic, describing the treatment meted out to Pastor Ofori as a violation of international and community laws.
“The aviation company has violated the Civil Aviation 2012 and 2016 laws, which stipulated that people with disabilities have to be given priority attention. The Montreal Convention, which Ghana is a party to, and Ghanaian Civil Aviation Act Section 25 states that it is the duty of the airport authorities to take care of such disabled people. I don’t know why the authorities are keeping quiet while such things are happening there. If I get my Ghanaian allies in London for them to fight it and they are not forthcoming, I will fight it from the international level,” he said.
When Daily Sun reporter contacted the African World Airline officials for its reaction, a staff who identified herself as Alberta Kwatshi apologised profusely about the incident.
“I sincerely apologise for the inconvenience, but when it comes to our aircraft, ours is a jet so it is very small. So, when somebody calls for reservation, we normally ask if the passenger will require any special assistance while travelling, like a wheelchair. If that is the case, we accept passengers who can climb the aircraft by themselves because ours is very small. But I apologise sincerely the way the passenger was treated.”
When reminded that the passenger had already boarded the flight before he was asked to come down, she promised to follow up the matter to find out what actually led to the unfortunate incident.