No Service By Taiwo Obe

Dejection. Disappointment. Distraught. Yes: I am.

On Saturday, 25 August, I couldn’t access the Internet on my smartphone for about eight hours. I restarted the phone. Removed and reinserted the SIM card, thinking that, perhaps, it needed its brain refreshed. No dice. I decided to call 111, Airtel’s Call Centre. After the usual wait, a Customer Care officer responded, “I’m Fatima….” Me: “I haven’t been able to surf for the past eight hours.” She listened to my complaint and said she would do the needful, which is to log it in the system for whoever to resolve it.

Very well, Fatima.

Not long after, Fatima called back. “The problem is you don’t have an active data plan.” “What does that mean? I only just renewed my subscription.” “Well, I have checked and you don’t have an active data plan. I’d suggest that you buy a N1,000 recharge card, which will charge 5k per 1kb on Pay-As-You-Go.” I insisted that I had just recharged and had expected that the data plan would renewed automatically. “No, data plan is renewed on the first of every month.” That was the first time I was hearing that. Why would I do a PAYG when I could do a data plan on my Airtel modem? I had not used that since 17 July 2012 when I activated my phone – a birthday gift- for Internet connectivity? She agreed that it was better. But I also requested that she gave me the Surulere Airtel shop number so that I could call the manager and find out why I had no data plan after I had renewed my subscription. She obliged. But that would be tomorrow, Sunday, from 2pm.

As it were, I didn’t activate the modem because not long after I spoke with Fatima, I heard the alert indicating “I got mail.” But Fatima said I had no data plan;and I didn’t remember loading credit, except of course a ghost did. Perhaps, Fatima didn’t know what she was talking about. More mails came in. I could cruise through the cyberspace as well. Perhaps, I had a data plan, after all, since I had, not long ago, renewed my subscription. I concluded that Fatima was wrong. Still, I told myself that first thing Monday morning, I would visit the Airtel shop on Adeniran Ogunsanya Street and the only question I would ask is: why didn’t anyone tell me while I was signing up for the Smartphone surf, as the plan is called, that it’s renewed every first of the month?

Which is what I did the following Monday morning. I was attended to by Mr Fashola (he also asked his female colleague to help with one or two things when an application was not opening on his system).

Well, he didn’t know why I wasn’t told there was a payment cycle. It turned out that I had been on Pay-As-You-Go since the first activation lapsed. Unbelievable. Incredible. Between Fashola and his colleague, there was no consensus on why the data plan didn’t renew automatically, even on the 1st of August. It ought to have, one of them proffered but I should have checked my balance. Why should I make that my business? Why would the operator constantly remind its customer about bill payment date and won’t let the customer know about termination of data plan but the phone would simply switch to PAYG? That is a system that’s skewed against the customer. I requested for what my bill was. It was already more than double what I had ever paid in a billing month. I wish I could scream loud enough to be heard in New Delhi, India.

As soon as I managed to walk out of the shop, I disabled the mobile network and decided I would revert to the modem since I had some N2,000 credit somewhere. But, it would seem Airtel was sent after me, as our people would say: the modem stopped working a day after I got the plan. Up till the time of writing, it has kept telling me that “the connection was terminated by the remote computer before it could be completed.” I rebooted countless times, but I was wasting my time. But I had an active plan. A client notified me he had sent me emails and I had not replied. Which was unlike me. My colleague informed me another client had sent a file, which needed my urgent attention.

Kiss Airtel goodbye

Something had to give.

My colleague advised I should get an MTN Sim card and sign up to an hourly Internet connection, so that I could manage my usage myself. “Start with the 40 hours, which is N1,500,” he advised. Why not? I trust this colleague’s judgment. Wednesday, 29 August, I was at the MTN shop on Bode Thomas Street, Surulere. I didn’t mind how long I would wait: it’s bye to Airtel.  Whistling, a la Andy Griffith (Matlock).

I had noticed that there was not a single person with the lady doing Sim card registration, which was quite unusual. Well, I humoured myself that, perhaps, they knew I was coming and didn’t want me to waste too much time. To compensate me for my time that had been wasted by Airtel. Even inside the shop, there were only three people standing, and it’s because three of the seats were damaged and needed recovery. I told the guy who was issuing ticket numbers to customers why I was there. Emeka told me: “You will buy a Sim card for N100, go outside and register and come back to have your card cut into micro-sim (which is what my phone uses.)” He gave me ticket No 51. I was ready to get this thing sorted as I needed to be back online. I went to the registration desk and the young Catholic lady – the ring on her finger and the rosary somewhere else – was swift with the registration. I was back in and stood for a while before a kind lady offered me her seat. I refused but she insisted. Ah. I sat and about 30 minutes later it was the turn of No 51.

In less than seven minutes, I was through. Oh, by the way, I also got a number that was quite memorable. Emeka had given me a Sim card which number I would never memorise. I pleaded with him to check other cards for a unique number. Luckily, he found one which last four digits are 9922. I felt on top of the world.

But, Humpty Dumpty would soon crash.

Back in the office, I proceeded immediately to load N1,500 credit. My assistant, out on another errand, sent me the voucher number via SMS. As I didn’t know the activation code, I still had to ask another person for that. Any mistake would draw me back, and I didn’t want that. I entered the code and the pin and the hash. Enter. Message: “Your SIM is not yet active. Please visit an MTN Sim Registration Point to register and activate your new SIM. Thank you!” No, I didn’t say, “What the, er, fish?” I simply wondered: what was it I was doing with the Catholic girl? De-registration?

I called my colleague who after listening to my whining told me to call 180 (Customer Care).

Calmly, I did. Press 1. Press 2. After five minutes and no show, I cut it and decided to read, or pretend to read, a newspaper. About an hour later, I called 180. Press 1. Press 2. (Wait. Wait.Wait.) ….”My name is Tobe (apparently abridged from Tobechukwu),” the Customer Care Officer announced herself. “My name is T.Obe…” I decided to amuse her. I ended up amusing myself only: she didn’t seem to get the joke. Oh well. I laid my complaint. “Are you a woman?” she asked. Oh, did the Catholic girl’s camera change my face to that of a woman? Complete with my grey beard. I thought. Or, is it my twin sister whom my beloved mum (bless her soul) used to tell whoever cared to ask, “where’s Kehinde?” had “gone to Saudi to buy clothes,” the one the camera picked instead of me. “I am a man,” I responded gleefully, hoping that Tobe would “see” the glee. “What name did you register with?” “Taiwo Obe.” “Well, that’s not the name I have here…and the person here is a woman…I’m sorry you have to go and register your SIM,” said Tobe. Me, protesting: “But I did….” “I’m sorry you have to go and register. I believe you have a recycled number…” Even if I felt inclined to follow her prompt….it was a minute to 5pm (when the shops close).

It was like “from fry pan to fire.”

But, I am not going to be the one in the frying pan. It’s not yet… “To God be the glory.”

Obe wrote from Lagos

Culled from The Guardian  Sunday, 02 September

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