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Cashless Nigeria or confused CBN? – 2

By Dele Sobowale
“Having lost our way, we re-doubled our efforts.” Anonymous.
I cannot recollect which one of my classmates wrote that report, when after a Scouts’ Adventure we returned to school at Igbobi College, Yaba and were asked to recount our experience. Mostly, we got totally lost in the forest and it was the benevolent appearance of a hunter which got us out.

The Central Bank of Nigeria and the banks embarked on the cashless adventure for all sort of reasons which work elsewhere, like traffic lights, but, which are totally useless in Nigeria.

When out of exasperation, military President Babangida asked: “why is it that economic policies which work elsewhere don’t work in Nigeria?” My answer to him was simple. “Economic principles and policies are meant for the reasonable person.

The average Nigerian is anything but reasonable. That is why the slightest traffic delay soon turns into a Mexican stand-off in which nobody can move. All the instruments of the cashless economy – credit card, e-payment etc – work in a country where the vast majority of stakeholders are honest and want it to function for the benefit of all. They break down where a significant percentage are out to sabotage it for their own benefit – particularly, the gatekeepers we call bankers.

All the evidence at our disposal would suggest that the vast majority of bank e-frauds are committed by insiders working alone or in syndicates or insiders colluding with outsiders.

Unlike manual and cash based operations, which generally can fetch criminals some, but not all, the deposits of a depositor, e-frauds can result in total loss of deposits within the twinkle of an eye to total strangers. That partly explains why most depositors are mortally afraid of e-payments and why cashless will not soon succeed.

A more important reason is the almost total absence of facilities for e-payments. A recent personal experience will illustrate the point. The last weekend in June found several senior staff of VANGUARD newspaper, as well as well-wishers, at Oviri-Olomu – where the burial of Uncle Sam’s mother was taking place.

But, the reception was scheduled for Sapele – a major town in Delta State. Starting from Lagos, and traveling through Ibadan, Oyo State capital, Akure, Ondo State capital, Benin City, Edo State capital, Sapele, Warri and Ughelli, three major cities in Delta State, I could not find any filling station accepting my credit card.

Granted, I did not go through all the cities. But, I was on the major trade routes and yet could not find a single petrol station to sell fuel to me and accept my cards. The closest to achieving e-payment for fuel was at some TOTAL filling stations – but they only accept TOTAL cards. A top class hotel in Sapele had a POS which functions intermittently and clients are advised to be prepared to pay cash if the machine fails.

This was the final week before CBN decreed that the nation should go “cashless”. Anyone looking for a shop to accept credit cards at Oviri-Olomu, or any of the other rural communities in Ughelli Local Government might as well look for snow flakes in the Sahara desert at noon.

Even here in Lagos, there is a dearth of POS machines which would have encouraged the wholesale adoption of e-payment. I sometimes have to stop at five to eight filling stations – usually the biggest – to find one that would accept credit cards. Outside Lagos, any attempt to make payments at purchase points with cards is an exercise in futility – for the most part. The sooner the CBN understands that it still has a lot of work to do the better for all of us.

Weeks ago, my bank sent a message to me about biometric information. Twice, I went to the branch I normally use – in line with the ‘Know Your Customer’ mantra. Twice, I was told the branch is not ready. The third time, after asking, out of exasperation, I was asked to go to the Headquarters branch, “if you want yours done, Sir.” At least, they were polite enough to add “Sir”.

But, that was not what the CBN intended – or was it? From all the noise the Central Bank had made, one would have expected each branch to have the equipment for biometric data collection and to literally insist on every customer coming to the bank to get registered. In other words, it should be mandatory; not voluntary.

As it turned out, reaching the Headquarters branch would relieve me of N1500 one way. Apparently, the bank and CBN expect me to spend N3000 to provide personal data which is more useful to them than to me. This is not just simple administrative muddle; it is sheer stupidity.

Furthermore, the CBN had not taken into account the fact that there millions of people in Nigeria who don’t want to provide their biometric data for various reasons –mostly because they are engaged in illegal or invisible businesses. About three years ago, during my encounter with Governor Fashola, I mentioned to him that about 40 per cent of Lagosians earning income are engaged in criminal activities – if we are to strictly apply our laws. He disputed the high figure.

Fashola, did not know that I had been asked to conduct a survey for an investor into the sources of income of the petty gamblers patronizing “Baba Ijebu”. Most of the male gamblers were illicit drug peddlers, pick pockets and armed robbers as well as “agberos” touts, con men, forgers and operators of illegal beer parlous and hotels. The females, if not too old, were street traders, and mostly part or full time prostitutes.

This class of citizens dreads having to expose themselves to the authorities through the biometric data gathering process. And, as much as possible, they will stay out of the banks with their money. They don’t want credit cards and the few who do have obtained them with false identities.

Those who will prove to be most difficult to bring into the fold are the big time criminals – drug dealers, fire arms runners and smugglers. They make billions for which they don’t want to account to anybody – least of all government and the CBN.

I started for Oviri-Olomu two hours before the rest of the people left the mortuary at Sapele. Driving myself provided me with the opportunity to stop at two rural communities before Oviri itself. Claiming ignorance of how to reach Oviri provided me with the opportunity to sit and share drinks with the locals patronizing beer parlours at that early hour.


Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.