Airtel is stealing from customers in Nigeria but is refusing to accept it is doing so.
Last year, around August, I purchased an Airtel mobile network sim card, registered it instantly at the vendor who sold it and slotted it in my new tablet phone. I never expected to have any troubles with the network. But less than four weeks after that, I realised I was wrong.
The first ugly experience I had was a series of airtime deductions on my line. I noticed a ₦15 deduction, then another ₦15 and another ₦15. I got disturbed and felt cheated. I rang Airtel customer care centre to report the problem, but there was no talk of settlement. The customer service officer that answered my call explained that there was a mobile dating service subscribed for on my line. I told him I never subscribed for any service and I use the line for night browsing, not even calls. He claimed the company was not responsible for it either. I insisted on getting my airtime refunded since I did not subscribe for the service by choice. The officer said I could not get an airtime refund because the service was already delivered. He offered to disable the service for me. I also complained about the flash messages that pop-up at very centre of the phone screen asking you to subscribe for several Airtel added mobile services with a ‘Cancel’ and ‘Ok’ button hanging at the end which may result to accidental subscription to any of those services. He offered to remove that too. I hung up feeling much more disappointed however.
A few weeks later, Airtel was back at me again. I subscribed for Airtel SmartTrybe night browsing service at around 12:55am. The service is available to customers as from 12am. I subscribed for the 1.5G at ₦50 package and the charge was deducted from my airtime balance. All was fine till I connected to the internet via my laptop and opened the internet browser. The Google search homepage loaded on screen and I typed a url and hit the ‘Enter’ button on the keyboard. Instead of the page loading on the screen, the browser displayed a message on the screen that read:
‘No internet connection.’
I rebooted my laptop and phone, reconnected to the internet again and it was the same. I was disappointed by Airtel again. I went on browsing on my regular mobile data on Etisalat network. I tried browsing with the Airtel later again before 5am when the night browsing service would expire, but still no internet. Later that day, I called the customer care centre to report the problem. The customer care officer told me that the record on their system shows that I subscribed for 1.5GB data on the night browsing service and used it up. I was shocked. The officer said I could not get a refund because the service was delivered. Those same words. I did not want to hear those words this time around. I asked that I must be refunded. But the officer said nothing could be done. I promised to blow the whistle on the whole matter for the whole public to be aware and for action to be taken.
I had no strong hope on reporting to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the regulatory body responsible for controlling telecommunication services and providers in Nigeria, because corruption has compromised most regulatory agencies in the country already.
Just three days ago, another Airtel added mobile service named SOCCCER7 was subscribed on my line and I did not know how or when I made such subscription. I only got an SMS notification that I had subscribed for the service and charged ₦40 for 7 days access. I called the customer care centre immediately to complain and reverse the subscription. The customer care officer that I spoke to said that ‘the service was already delivered’ and no refund. This was just less than 90 seconds after I got the SMS notification. He asked if I wanted him to help me stop the service but I asked him to leave it so that the service can actually be delivered. To my surprise, two days went by and I never got any soccer message. After another two days, I got an SMS informing me that the SOCCER7 service subscribed on my phone would be renewed on a certain date (the 7th day of the subscription, I believe) except I stop the service.
I am not the only one experiencing these kind of problems with Airtel. There is a large community of dissatisfied, robbed and helpless Airtel customers our there. I did some research and discovered that several other Nigerians using Airtel mobile network have been victims of similar problems. Click here to see a long thread of discussions about similar cases by different people on a Nigerian online forum. Click here to see a very recent thread of discussions.
The population of mobile phone users in Nigeria has grown to about 94 million of the over 170 million total population of people in the country. Now let us do the maths. If at least 20-30% of the 94 million mobile phone users are Airtel customers. Imagine just how much extra money Airtel would make from recurrently charging a sixth or tenth of its customers for services that were never delivered or for services subscribed without customer knowledge.
There is no assurance that I or the other victims could get a fair settlement anytime soon or ever even if these cases were reported to appropriate regulatory agencies. But blowing the whistle publicly will surely spur the kind of collective awareness, both locally and globally, that will in turn compel the people and government to take proper actions against Airtel’s strategic stealing from customers.