By Donu Kogbara
MY late father, Ignatius Kogbara, was a cosmopolitan gentleman, an enormously exposed citizen of the world who went to university abroad at a young age, travelled widely for seven decades, and was almost as familiar with many foreign countries as he was with Nigeria.
One of the observations my Dad often made was that the Nigerian system is inherently sadistic compared to systems in many foreign countries, and specialises in torturing people who live and work here.
One comes across various versions of routine and highly stressful callousness every day; and I’ve just experienced yet another typical Naija scenario in which I was tortured for no good reason.
My son is based in America. He urgently needs $4000 for important bills. So, earlier this week, on Tuesday, I changed my naira equivalent of $4000 into dollars. The insane exchange itself – over N700 for $1!!! – is yet another painful scenario we all have no choice but to tolerate.
It is hard to believe that there was a time (1980, according to Google) when one dollar was equal to 50 kobo or half a naira.
Nowadays, even those who don’t personally have overseas interests still suffer the impact of today’s eye-watering exchange rate via the increased prices of imported goods, of which there are far too many because one of the endless dysfunctions we have to cope with is the fact that we don’t produce enough of the items we use or eat.
OK, so I am not rich enough to spend without thinking, so I gritted my teeth and reluctantly paid a foreign exchange dealer a naira lump sum that seemed humongous to me; and he gave me $4000, which I paid into my domiciliary account at Standard Chartered Bank.
I then used the bank’s app to activate the transfer process. This is something I have successfully done on quite a few occasions in the past. But this time, it didn’t work. Yesterday, 48 hours later, I got a text message telling me that the transfer had failed.
So, I called the bank’s customer care helpline and was told that “maybe it was a network problem” and that I should try again.
Something told me that I should also call my branch in Abuja before I tried again; and I’m glad I followed my instincts because it turns out that the transfer failed NOT because of “network problems” but because the bank automatically rejects international transfers that exceed $1000 unless they are being sent to “a close relative”.
I was then advised, by a branch officer, to send the bank an email explaining that the $4000 was being sent to my son; and because my son and I have different surnames (I am a feminist of sorts and didn’t change my name when I got married), I had to attach a copy of his birth certificate to the email, to prove that I am his mother!
So I’ve meekly followed orders. But though I will be the first to say that Standard Chartered is more sophisticated than most Nigerian banks and is good most of the time, I have a few questions:
1. Why does Standard Chartered not prominently display information about its convoluted international transfer rules and requirements on its app, so everyone knows the score?
2. Why are customer helpline staff not aware of these rules and inadvertently dishing out inaccurate information that delays recipients’ ability to access needed funds as soon as possible?
3. Why all this fuss and bother about not-huge amounts of money? Yes, $4000 is not chicken feed, but it is also not a fortune; and I find it odd that anyone should have to explain why they want to send $4000 to a foreign bank account.
4. Why is it anyone’s business to whom modest amounts of money are being sent? So if I want to send money to a friend rather than my son, I can assist my friend who might be having problems or so my friend can buy me a few things abroad, is that suspicious?
5. I am frequently frisked at airports by overly enthusiastic security personnel; and my luggage is frequently searched; and I always sarcastically ask the security personnel why they are harassing a mature lady who is obviously not linked to Boko Haram…when they should be fixing their eyes on dodgy-looking guys who are far more likely to be suicide bombers than I am.
I also wonder why my bank is so worried about my small, very occasional transfers when money launderers who are screwing up our economy regularly transfer much more than $4000.
6. So, because of my bizarre paranoia about financial crimes that I’m clearly not guilty of, my completely innocent son is being deprived of much-needed funds just before Christmas?
7. Finally, a birth certificate? Seriously?!!!
I AM hearing distressing
stories from employees of Shoprite, the supermarket chain. The disgruntled individuals are saying that instead of giving expired food to staff or the poor and homeless at the end of each day, Shoprite management ruthlessly destroys the food.
I plead with the owners of Shoprite, in the spirit of Christmas, to quit being so hard-nosed and adopt a more compassionate policy.
In a country where so many, including those with modest jobs, are hungry and perpetually anxious about how to feed their children, it is morally unjustifiable to refuse to donate food you cannot sell.
Life is too short for petty cold-heartedness, and there will likely be a posthumous judgement day when we will all have to account to God and each other for our actions on earth.
So please resist the temptation to be part of the widespread sadism that makes Nigeria so difficult. Please use your power to make Nigeria a nicer place.
Merry Christmas everyone!
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