By Josef Omorotionwan
TO all those born after the 1970s, towards the twilight of the 20th century, today’s opening will certainly sound Greek.
We have come a long way from the dark ages where a simple withdrawal from the bank, of even the smallest amount, was an entire day’s job. At that time, we worked at Abudu and did our banking at Agbor – a distance of some 20 kilometres.
On a banking day, we left Abudu around 8:00 a.m. on a bicycle and on arrival at Agbor, we met a full banking hall. We were assigned numbers and in most cases, it did not get to our turn until around 2:00 p.m. Banking was really an ordeal.
On a day that we were fairly unlucky, we spent the entire day in the cranky banking hall, without food and water, only to be told at last that the bank had run out of cash. We returned home empty-handed and continued the transaction the following day – sometimes, all in an attempt to withdraw as little as N10!
This was the rough route we travelled to the present day where, depending on how fast you can speak the language to the Automated Teller Machine, ATM, in split seconds, you are done with your banking transaction – without seeing any manager or cashier.
All the same, it is not yet Uhuru in the banking world. If anything, banks may have perfected their stealing techniques and smoother ways of ripping off the poor customers.
In essence, the banks are killing us. There is no better time to begin to cry out than now, at the advent of the new Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele. This piece is a double barrel as it also affords us the opportunity to congratulate this illustrious son of Agbor land – Agbor n’ igidi.
We see Emefiele as a young man destined for history. He must immediately begin to make a difference in his world, starting with the small things.
The Commission On Turnover, COT, is as old as the banking industry itself. The COT is a direct charge on the customer. It has, therefore, become a major revenue source to the bank.
We want to concern ourselves at this point with an item, “VAT on COT”, which is a debit on the customer at the end of the month. COT is revenue to the bank while, like every other tax, VAT on COT is revenue to government.
Our principal worry here is on why banks collect the COT from their customers and still pass the tax burden on the COT to the customer. Put differently, the customer drinks analgesic for the bank’s headache.
The bank earns the revenue while the customer pays the tax. This is stealing by trick and a height of economic injustice. Banks should pay tax on the revenue they earn.
We can only challenge the component of the COT. This is a nebulous charge on the customer at the end of every month. But in the course of the month, the customer pays for virtually every service rendered to him by the bank – he pays for inter- and intra-bank transfers, stamp duty, statement of account, alert charges, etc.
Whereas elsewhere, cheque books are given to customers as inducement, Nigeria remains, perhaps, the only country where customers must buy for their cheque books at very exorbitant costs. Even where secondary and tertiary institutions of learning are able to offer those bulky answer papers free to their students, our banks must charge heavily for those pieces of paper called cheques.
Policy issues affecting banks/customers relations are considered in the Bankers’ Committee. Only those who are deaf to history and who have forgotten the major cause of the American War of Independence where the colonists asserted that: “Taxation without representation is a tyranny” would not lament the fate of the bank customer at the composition of the Bankers’ Committee: The CBN Governor is chairman; all the commercial banks are members; Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation, NDIC, (member); Chartered Institute of Bankers (member); Financial Institutions Training Centre, FITC(member); and Banking Supervision Department of CBN (Secretary).
The consumer is left totally unprotected and unrepresented on a body in which he is a major stakeholder. Equity demands the quick inclusion of the Association of Bank Customers of Nigeria on the Bankers’ Committee.
Originally, banks were supposed to be places where people sent their money for safe-keeping but many of them have become “stealing centres”, to borrow the elegant phraseology of our former President, Olusegun Obasanjo. Apart from the direct pilfering done openly by the banks, plus other miscellaneous hidden charges, there are countless cases of people who were robbed on their way to and from the banks, perhaps, not without the active connivance of the bank employees.
We are also not in a hurry to forget the aspect of corporate prostitution, which has become a way of life for many of the new generation banks, so called.
There is still another evil lurking around – the open sale of new Naira notes on our streets. The banks have become places for morbid, tattered and deformed notes, fit only for cremation. The crisp Naira notes called variously by such names as mint, chassis, etc, have since migrated to the market place and other social gatherings, where they are sold to sprayers at exorbitant prices.
This is embarrassing. We wonder what the licensing fees for these ones are. Our visiting American friends who saw the show of shame around Oba Ovonramwen Square, Benin City, the other day kept wondering into which category of banking these ones belong; and their possible implication for inflation.
From every standpoint, the law-abiding citizen in Nigeria is on his own. Nobody cares for him; and this easily leaves the impression that crime pays. Most civil society organisations exist to protect criminal elements – from the point of arrest to the court; down to the prisons and even post incarceration arrangements for rehabilitation!