By James Emejo in Abuja
The federal government has dragged Turkish Airlines before a Federal High Court in Abuja over the alleged criminal violation of the enabling law of the Consumer Protection Council (CPC) and for impunity.
The Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami (SAN), filed a three-count charge against the airline and two of its principal officers, Liker Ayci and Rasak Shobowale, the airline’s board chairman and commercial manager, respectively, before court.
The prosecution came on the heels of the refusal by Turkish Airlines to respond to the lawful requests from CPC for a full situation report on the airline’s alleged shoddy treatment of passengers on Flight TK 623 from Istanbul to Abuja on 25th and 31st of December 2015 and 9th of January 2016, which prompted the council to approach the Office of the Attorney General for the prosecution of the airline.
According to the charge sheet, the federal government alleged that the three accused persons between the 20th December 2015 and March 2016 “without sufficient cause refused to provide the Consumer Protection Council documents on Turkish Airlines’ policy on delayed baggage”, thereby committing an offence punishable under Section 18 of the CPC Act.
The accused persons were also arraigned before the court for allegedly neglecting, without sufficient cause, to attend and testify before CPC on the number of passengers aboard Turkish Airlines Flight TK 623 from Istanbul to Abuja on 25th and 31st of December 2015 as well as 9th of January 2016, who were affected by its untimely delivery of baggage, thereby committing an offence punishable under Section 18 of the CPC’s enabling law.
The federal government also accused the airline and its two principal officers of violating the same section of the CPC Act by neglecting, without sufficient cause, to attend and testify before the consumer protection agency on the detailed steps taken by the airline to provide redress and compensation to passengers aboard its Flight TK 623 on the said dates, who were affected by its untimely delivery of baggage.
The prosecution of the airline and its principal officers followed a warning by the federal government to the airline to respond within 21 days to CPC’s request for a full situation report on the airline’s alleged shoddy treatment of passengers on Flight TK 623 of Sunday December 20, 2015 and other subsequent flights during the yuletide or face prosecution.
The AGF had in a letter of March 17, 2016, signed on his behalf by the Director of Public Prosecution of the Federation, Mohammed Saidu Diri, threatened to prosecute Turkish Airlines in the event it failed to respond to the council’s lawful demand for the full situation report, irrespective of the airline’s engagement with any other relevant agency.
He further asserted that after his office’s perusal of the documents submitted by CPC, including the airline’s letter of January 14, 2016 to the council, “it is our considered opinion that you are not in any position to choose which government institution or laws to comply with and which one to disdain”.
“Your refusal, neglect or omission to oblige the CPC detailed information relating to delayed baggage of your passengers from December 2015 to January 2016 as requested is in breach of Section 18 of the Consumer Protection Council Act, 1992, and a deliberate attempt to ridicule a duly constituted authority,” the letter stated.
The Attorney General added: “You are therefore instructed to fully comply with the request of the CPCwithin 21 days of receipt of this letter, otherwise show cause why criminal proceedings should not be commenced against you pursuant to Section 18 of the Consumer Protection Council Act 1992.”
Passengers of the affected flights, some of whom were said to have travelled with minors, including those whose destinations were outside Abuja, were allegedly subjected to untold hardship, as they were forced to repeatedly check the airport in Abuja on the fate of their baggage, thereby incurring extra and unbudgeted expenses, including hotel accommodation without any form of support from the airline.
Following the report of the incident, CPC, in a letter to the airline, dated December 29, 2015, signed by its Director General, Mrs. Dupe Atoki, requested the airline to provide it with a full situation report of the said events, including Turkish Airlines’ policy on delayed baggage, particularly as regards the compensation of affected passengers, the number of affected passengers, the number of those yet to receive their baggage, and when same was expected to arrive, including steps, if any, that had been taken to provide appropriate redress to the affected passengers.
But the CPC, in a statement by its spokesman, Mr. Abiodun Obimuyiwa said the airline in a belated response to CPC failed to give any useful information on the issues raised by the council, stating instead that it had attended several meetings with different agencies of government in connection with the matter.
The airline also claimed that it had resolved the situation completely, contrary to new complaints received by CPC indicating that another batch of baggage failed to arrive with the passengers on January 9, 2016.
In addition, reports of the airline not compensating the passengers affected in the earlier incidents continued to pour into the council unabated.