Tomorrow, banks in Nigeria could be empty. Not because there will be a public holiday but because customers are tired of losing money to the banks that they entrusted funds to for safe keeping. They want to remind the banks that without the customers they would be out of business. The protest is being led by the Consumer Advocacy Foundation of Nigeria (CAFON), a not-for-profit group dedicated to advocacy for consumer rights and protection in Africa’s largest consumer market.
A note to Nigerian banks consumers on the organisation’s website, signed by President Sola Salako, reads: “For many years now, consumers of banking services have been subject to series of poor and unsatisfactory transaction and relationship terms.
“We have endured excessive charges, illegal fees and unfair contracts that only protects the bank but does not protect the consumers. Banks debit our accounts at will for charges we never agreed to or were not aware of; they charge us for every little service; we pay for getting our statements; introduction letters; and now, some banks are charging N200 for the use of deposit and transfer forms!”
She, therefore, called on Nigerians to boycott all banking services in protest of these excessive charges and policies. To press home their demand, Salako urged them not to visit any bank or branches to transact any business, use the ATM, log in to any online bank account or make any online transaction, issue any cheques or banking instruments dated March 1, 2016 and avoid any financial transactions on March 1. “…if you must, avoid the banks!” pleads Salako.
Nigerians banks are guilty of illegally deducting money from customers’ accounts. Last year, banks illegally deducted more than N6.2 billion from customers’ account. This sum is from the verifiable deductions after the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) investigated over 6,000 complaints. Most of the victims of the unethical practice, however, do not complain to the banks or report to the central bank. The central bank recently urged Customers to forward their complaints to the Director, Consumer Protection Department of the apex bank (firstname.lastname@example.org), but Nigerians hardly take action, especially when they feel the amount being taken illegally does not really affect them. Despite the importance of Salako’s campaign, a petition she started on change.org has only gotten 546 supporters, just a little over half of his 1000 signatures target.
Since the central bank announced that it would start enforcing its stamp duties law on financial transactions across commercial banks, some commercial banks in Nigeria have made it a new way of fleecing customers. According to a customer of StanbicIBTC Bank, he has been charged N50 on several transactions on a Savings account.
“The bank sends a text saying I have been charged N50 for stamp duty. I thought the duty only applies to current accounts,” says Charles, an IT specialist based in Lagos, Nigeria before forwarding the SMS to me.
The CBN had on January 19 said in a circular that Deposit Money Banks (DMBs) and other financial institutions should immediately start charging N50 ($0.2513) on all receipts given by any bank or other financial institution in respect of electronic transfer and teller deposits from N1,000 ($5) and above.
The circular stated that payments, deposits or transfers to personal accounts by self (whether interbank or intrabank) are exempted from imposition of Stamp Duties. Any form of withdrawals or transfers from savings account is also not involved, and charges are only payable by receiving accounts.
For Mr Charles, StanbicIBTC breached the law. “The transfers were to personal accounts,” he said. “And they were savings accounts.”
Another bank customer who asked not to be named said he was charged N1,000 by Guaranty Trust Bank on a transfer of N90,000 he received. “Even if the transfer was from a current account, I read the CBN circular, it states clearly that N50 should be charged on each transaction,” he said.
Mrs Isimahome couldn’t care less what she is charged in as much as it is not significant enough to affect her. “I must have been charged illegally a couple of times,” she told me.
None of the affected bank customers have asked their banks why they were charged. They have also not reported to the CBN. These are the people Salako is hoping would join him in saying ‘No’ to illegal and excessive bank charges. As far as I can tell, a lot of Nigerian customers will be waiting at the door of their banks before 8:00am tomorrow, waiting to be allowed entry. Discussions around whether Ms. Salako took the right approach for the campaign can come after the No Banking Day fails, because it will. Nigerians will ensure it does. They will visit the banks, use the ATMs and online banking portals.
Nigerian banks know their customers very well; they will not panic and will expect March 1 to be like other banking days. They will make more illegal deductions because they know we don’t ask questions. They will fleece us over and over again. But for what is worth, CAFON would call attention to the excesses of Nigerian banks and hopefully things will change.