By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
Any visitor to Warri or Sapele knows how difficult it is to pull out cash from the ATM machines in the town. What is ATM? It is Automated Teller Machine which is ‘an electronic banking outlet that allows customers to complete basic transactions without the aid of a branch representative or teller.” Although the ATM was developed and introduced to reduce the stress of cash withdrawal, in Warri, this great city of international fame, the ATMs have become a source of the-more-you-look-the-less-you-see! In a typical situation, a bank could have five machines. Only one would be dispensing cash. On PTI road for example, where there is a cluster of banks, sometimes, only one bank’s ATM would render service.
The same experience is encountered by customers in Agbor, Sapele in Delta State and in Yenagoa in Bayelsa State. I have decided to write this essay to draw the attention of corporate headquarters of ALL banks in Nigeria which have branches in the towns mentioned above to save the ordinary man from the greed of a few scoundrels. No bank is spared: UBA, First Bank, Zenith, Ecobank- just name all the big and small banks.
This is an example of how we make things difficult for ourselves. This bottleneck is not caused by President Muhammadu Buhari. It is not caused by Governor Ifeanyi Okowa or Governor Seriake Dickson. It is caused by the greed of a few men and women who exploit the citizenry. The ATM was created to reduce the suffering of customers who want some quick cash. Those who did banking in the 1980s and 1990s know the horror of waiting for twenty naira to be paid across the counter. In those days, we could drop our cheques in the bank, go shopping in the market and return after two hours only to find out that your ‘name has not been called’. The banks had chairs where you were expected to wait. And the haughty bank officials made you feel small for coming to claim such a small amount. It was also the days in which we were told that we could only open an account on a special day of the week! How far we have come from those days!
While I was thinking about this dog-eat-dog attitude of my brothers and sisters, I got an insight into the problem from Professor Tosan Blessing. Professor Blessing, a Sapele boy like me, teaches at Ahmadu Bello University Zaria. During the last weeks of December, he visited home as I did. As for me, I have learnt to use the ATM card to make direct purchases. I avoid all the ATM because there are usually such long queues to pull out money from one of the five ATMs. Professor Blessing asserted on his Facebook page that ‘in Sapele, POS dealers charge N900 for 20k and they have N850 to share with the banks”. He went further: “A bank worker who brought me money from a Sapele bank told me they scramble their ATMs so that people can go to POS dealers’. One Jana Queen Izu wrote: “Pathetic situation…almost made me stranded in Sapele. Thank goodness I’m out of that town’. Chief Richmond MacGrey a senior and distinguished Nigerian and a worthy Sapele boy gave his own experience: ‘The manager is right. I’ve been in Sapele for over a month. I don’t bother going to the bank. The POS centres are everywhere, their services are quick and more reliable than banks’. Yet another customer Shedrack Ogaga complained about the spread of the problem: ‘Sapele, Ughelli, Warri and Agbor are worst hit by this mindless robbery’. The clincher in my view came from John Ayebabaralate Okhai: “That’s what we experience in Yenagoa. This na old news. In my area, people sit in front of the ATM machine with their POS to transact business.”
This therefore is a call to action on management of the banks. I expect the inspectorate divisions of banks to quietly send officials to the towns, indeed to towns across the country and report their ATM use experience. It seems that the ATMs are very functional only in the state capitals. This defeats the purpose of the machines. With the ATMs, one does not need to carry huge sums of cash anymore. It has reduced the incidence of home robberies because those bloody robbers now know that people hardly keep cash at home.
The ATMs and POS used in shops and service stores has also reduced the need to carry big cash around. Some market women now have their POS machines. The one that gets me is after making a purchase and the teller says: ‘there is no change! They would then expect you to buy something to cover the change or give a body signal to suggest that as a ‘big man’ you should not make a fuss over four hundred naira! I then ask: If I pay you short by two hundred naira would you let me go with the items? I give a tip when I want to; not when I am compelled to.
I am therefore requesting that national headquarters or regional heads of the banks in the towns I ha e mentioned in the body of the essay to make a difference in the lives of the people. It is so bad that while ATMs claim not to have cash, at a petrol station, you could buy cash from operators of the station. After buying fuel worth ten thousand naira, using the POS, the petrol attendant would give you cash of twenty thousand if you are ready to tip him with a thousand naira. That is not the purpose of the ATM. It is a gross abuse of the banking system. It is destructive to commercial life, injurious to bank customers and dangerous to people who have large sums in their accounts from which they do transactions with POS dealers. The Central Bank is driving a cashless economy. Making use of ATM a nightmare is against the letter and spirit of that drive. The offending banks should be called to order immediately either by their management or CBN.
Hope Eghagha can be reached on 0802 322 0393 or firstname.lastname@example.org