By Omoh Gabriel
LAGOS—The Consumer Protection Council weekend summoned the management of First City Monument Bank Plc to answer queries on an allegation by the Bauchi State Government, accusing the bank of charging N1.86billion excess interest on its account.
A statement by the CPC yesterday said the Bauchi State Government sent the petition to the Council after the Central Bank of Nigeria declined further adjudication on the case through a letter dated July 15, 2015 to the petitioner, asking it to “seek alternative means of redress as the case is hereby deemed closed.”
The statement, signed by the Head, Media, CPC, Mr. Abiodun Obimuyiwa, said the CPC waded into the lingering disagreement between the bank and its consumer with a letter, dated August 20, 2015, requesting the bank to respond to the allegations contained in the complaint within seven days.
Response to letter
The Council said, as at the time of issuing a statement on the allegation, the bank had not responded to the letter. The statement said: “The state government had alleged that the bank, without any prior information, charged 21 per cent interest rate per annum on two loans of N10 billion and N3 billion, which the bank granted it on January 22, 2009 and June 15, 2011 respectively both at the rate of 13 per cent interest per annum, and that this has resulted in excess interest charges on its account, amounting to the sum of N1,864,188,594.78 as at February 2014.”
“The Council’s letter also stated that the state government further alleged that a review of its account with the bank showed inconsistencies in the application of interest rate with the rate going up as high as 54.46 per cent in some cases.”
The CPC said, in its letter to FCMB that “these allegations are very weighty because they suggest unscrupulous exploitation of the customer contrary to the Consumer Protection Council Act Cap. C25 Laws of the Federation 2004 and other enactments for the protection of consumers.”
Meanwhile, in a notice of investigation, dated September 3, 2015, the Council has required officers or representatives of the bank “with sufficient knowledge of the facts surrounding the alleged violations to attend and testify before the Council on September 17, 2015.”
According to the CPC, the bank’s representatives “are required to bring along print-out of the customer’s statement of account, loan agreement and/or any relevant documents, invoices, contracts, agreements, records or information that will assist in responding to the aforementioned concerns.”
The Debt Management Agency of the Bauchi State Government, through its consultants, 3M Consulting Limited, had brought the issue to the notice of the Council, stating that “in recognition of the role of the Consumer Protection Council, we deemed it expedient to present this petition and seek the guidance and assistance of the CPC on this matter.”
DMA and issue before the Council
The state’s Debt Management Agency alleged that it decided to bring the issue before the Council because several attempts at reconciling the account with the bank had failed, pointing out that the CBN had also declined further adjudication on the case, advising the state government to seek alternative means of redress.
The state government, therefore, pleaded with CPC to intervene on the issue “as it originated from a bank-customer relationship and its non-resolution creates a confidence risk among the banking public and consumers at large.”
“The Council’s action is in line with the dictates of its mandate, which empowers it to provide speedy redress to consumer complaints, ensure that consumers’ interest receive due consideration at appropriate forum and provide redress to obnoxious practices or the unscrupulous exploitation of consumers by companies, firms, trade associations or individuals,” the statement said, adding
that “the Council is mandated to implement any enactment whatsoever for the protection of consumers in the country.”