Covid-19: Customers’ ordeals at banks, telecom coys



PAUL OKAH takes a look at customers’ ordeals in banks, telecommunication companies and other organisations as they try to gain access to the premises to carry out transactions. Customers often have to bribe security agents as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic which has placed emphasis on restriction of numbers.

As one of the measures to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, federal and state governments restricted movements, locked down people at home and even banned interstate travels.

However, determined Nigerians, who were not even among those carrying out or offering essential services or exempted from the restriction in movement, had to find means to still travel out of their places of abode.

 It was an open secret that security agents either brazenly extorted motorists at checkpoints or motorists openly bribed security agents to be allowed to proceed on their journeys, sometimes with passengers hidden inside vehicles.

But with the lifting of the ban on interstate travels in June, the brazen extortion of motorists and bribing of security agents have drastically reduced, with attention now being shifted to business enterprises and their customers.

Banks

One of the conditions given to business concerns by government, especially banks, ahead of full-scale services (banks offered skeletal services during the lockdown) was for them to only admit few customers, who must wear facemasks, obey social distancing rules, among other stipulations.

As a result of these conditions, instead of admitting everyone into banking halls for transactions, only ten or twenty people are admitted at a go, leading to alleged bribery and corruption orchestrated by security agents to allow customers to be attended to well ahead of others who had arrived before them.

How it works

Since banks are expected to admit less than 100 people at a time, security agents are mandated by bank managements to restrict the number of people entering the banking hall. This unfortunately led security agents to devise means of printing and issuing numbers to customers on first come, first served basis.

 At different bank branches visited by Blueprint Weekend in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), GLT is the type of number issued to those wishing to deposit or withdraw money inside the banking hall, while CIRS is for those wishing to interface with customer service representatives, either for the application of ATM cards, opening of accounts, removal of restriction on accounts, lodging of complaints on transactions, among others.

Also, from investigations carried out by this reporter at different banks in the FCT, since banks open officially at 8am to admit customers, many customers arrive at the bank premises as early as 6am, 7am or few minutes to 8am in order to pick numbers to enjoy the benefit of being early birds.

However, those who arrive a few minutes after the banking hall is opened would have to queue and wait hours to be attended to, as more than 100 people, comprising GLT and CIRS, would already be grumbling, after standing for hours.

Bribery

Many weeks of investigations by Blueprint Weekend at different banks in the FCT revealed that many “smart” customers liaise with security agents by paying N500, N1, 000 or unspecified amount to be granted access to banking halls, no matter the time of the day and even well ahead of those who came hours before the bank opened for the day’s business.

Telecoms coys

Similarly, when our reporter visited an MTN office in Maitama, FCT, many customers were seen waiting for turns at the gate in order to gain access to the premises to do business. However, many “well connected” customers simply had to speak “privately” with security agents to be allowed access promptly, obviously with money exchanging hands, even without being issued numbers to join other customers waiting to be attended to.

Ironically, many “agents” were running after or calling after customers for patronage, trying every means possible to convince them that they can offer the same service as the officials in the halls. They even promise willing ones to pay certain amounts to security agents to facilitate entrance and prompt attention.

Customers’ lamentations

In a chat with this reporter, a customer, who identified herself simply as Mrs Bello, said she lost all her savings because of bank protocols as she was forced to wait for hours to be attended to. She said she had even complained to security agents that she came to block her account, after being robbed by “one chance” operators, whom she said forced her to reveal her ATM card PIN at gunpoint.

She said, “God will punish the robbers and the bank. I was robbed on a Friday evening, with my phones and ATM stolen at gunpoint at Berger. There was no way I could contact the bank, though I knew the robbers would withdraw the money in my account as they confirmed my PIN with POS before pushing me out of the car.

 “I am a widow, so my God will judge them. Even up to Monday morning, the robbers were still withdrawing from my account. Yet, when I came to report at First Bank in Wuse for the account to be blocked, I was forced to wait in a queue. The security men are so heartless. Even when I complained to them that my account was under attack, I had to wait for hours before I could be attended to. By then, everything was gone. Meanwhile, many people were being allowed access even without joining the queue. In fact, only God will judge the bank.”

Also, a customer at a bank in Wuse, Mr. Fidelis Okafor, told Blueprint Weekend that he was frustrated for days when he visited the branch at Aminu Kano Crescent to open a current account for his business.

He said, “I had a terrible experience when I came to this bank on July 1 to open an account for my company. Though I arrived before 8am, I was already number 65 and had to wait for my turn to be attended to. When at 11am they had not got to my number, I had to leave for another branch at AP Plaza, only to meet an intimidating crowd. I picked number 85 there, so I had to return to the Aminu Kano branch.

“Unfortunately, they had passed my number there, so I was told to wait for the next batch, which took eternity because I ended up gaining access to the bank few minutes past 1pm. This is for a man that came to the bank even before 8am. More annoying is the fact that I had to stand in a queue as the bank could not even provide chairs for waiting customers. Even when it got to my turn, I was told to produce different documents.”

Bank official speaks

Speaking with this reporter, a bank manager in one of the banks at Banex, who pleaded anonymity, said they have to abide by the rules stipulated by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on Covid-19 and for customers to endure as “banks are business entities on the look out to make money and not to be closed down by government for infractions.”

He said, “I may not disagree with you that security agents grant certain privileges to customers, but it is neither here nor there. What you should be aware of is that government sends taskforce to monitor compliance with Covid-19 protocols and we wouldn’t like to default, as we are here for business.

“Nevertheless, I would like to plead with customers to obey the protocols stipulated for gaining access into our hall. You can agree with me that the virus is real and that we have to take precautions. Staying a few minutes to be attended to should not be something difficult. What we do in our branches is to make sure that every customer is satisfied, no matter how long it takes.” 

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