Will Nigerians boycott banks tomorrow March 1 in protest against excessive charges by banks as advocated by the Consumer Advocacy Foundation of Nigeria (COFAN), a coalition of Nigerian consumer protection associations and The Ombudsman, a public service and industry watchdog?
If they do, banking halls will be empty, ATM machines will not be operated, and electronic banking transactions will be avoided.
However, a mini survey conducted by this medium on phone and on the streets of some major cities – Lagos, Abuja, Kano, Port Harcourt, Onitsha, Uyo and Calabar – indicates that many people are not aware of this call. They are however in support of any move to compel financial institutions to put an end to excessive charges.
It would be recalled that Godwin Emefiele, governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) recently disclosed that it had compelled banks across the country to refund excess charges of ₦6.2 billion to bank customers, an indication that the allegations over excessive or arbitrary charges are real. Apart from the normal bank charges associated with transactions, bank customers are exploited through hidden and arbitrary charges.
Dejo Ogundipe, a student put the blame on CBN. “Banks cannot exploit their customers without the knowledge of the central bank. A good example is the ATM charges abolished by the former CBN governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, which has been reintroduced by the present governor, Godwin Emefiele,” he said.
James Arunolu, a businessman is more worried about high interest rates. “Banks give very little or nothing on deposits kept with them but charge exorbitant rates on loans if one is lucky enough to get it,” he noted. According to him, banks do not encourage businesses to grow but thrive on arbitrary charges.
Grace Osunkwo, a caterer told Consumer Life she would support any effort to put an end to excessive charges. “I get all kinds of text messages informing me of one debit or another. I don’t even understand many of them. In some instances, you don’t even get any alert that you have been debited for one thing or the other. Some of these banks behave as if they have absolute control over your deposits in their care,” she lamented.
In his defence of banks, Shehu Mikail, National President, Constance Shareholders Association of Nigeria, has defended banks said they are operating in a very difficult environment and incur high operational costs including payment of workers, shareholders and routine maintenance of their facilities. He said most of these costs are transferred to their customers under various charges. Mikail, however, said the banking sector is not the only one affected by unfavourable operating environment and that banks should not use that as excuse to exploit customers.
Meanwhile, the CAFON president has insisted that the protest will go ahead as planned because banks have not put an end to the exploitation of consumers. “For many years now, consumers of banking services have endured excessive charges, illegal fees and unfair contracts that only protect the banks but do not protect the consumers,” she said, adding that “Banks debit customers’ accounts at will for charges they never agreed to or were not aware of; they charge customers for every little service; we pay for getting our statements; introduction letters; and now, some banks are charging ₦200 for the use of deposit and transfer forms.”
She also observed that, “ATM withdrawals that was free now cost ₦65 on 3rd party withdrawals. We pay ₦1000 for debit card issuance and renewals; we pay ₦105 for every online transfer; and they still charge ₦105 as Annual Debit Card Maintenance.”
The consumer advocates expressed disappointment that the apex bank’s policies hurt rather than protect consumers from exploitation, adding that fees hitherto abolished have been reintroduced by the apex bank under new names. “Commission on Transaction (COT) that was supposed to end finally in 2016 is now being reintroduced as 1% of every withdrawal purportedly as monthly current account maintenance fees,” Salako noted.
The consumer advocates thus want bank charges to be reviewed downwards and more protection given to bank customers, among others.