The scale of unethical practices in Nigerian banks is worrisome. Daily, complaints about illegal deductions either through ATM  or directly from customers’ bank accounts abound.

Almost all the commercial banks in the country are involved in these sharp practices. Recently, a customer with one of the banks who had N10 million in his account, received a text message on his mobile phone that he had just withdrawn N8 million from his Lagos bank account.

Surprised, the customer scurried to the bank to lodge a complaint. He was about leaving the bank’s premises when he received another SMS that the remaining N2 million had just been withdrawn from his account. The N2 million was returned to the account after he rushed back to the banking hall to lodge a second complaint. Till date, the customer has not been able to get back his stolen N8 million. The bank only told him that it was investigating the matter and that whoever was reponsible for the illegal withdrawal would be punished.

Equally, a military officer in Kaduna State received an SMS that he had just withdrawn some hundreds of thousands from his account in Lagos State. The officer who had not visited Lagos for sometime is still trying to get his money back. A lot of other customers are victims of such sharp practices prevalent in banks today.

Last week, a customer of one of the banks in Opebi in Ikeja Lagos realised that N500 had been deducted from his bank account but did not receive a notification from the bank even though he had filled a form three years ago that each time his account is either credited or debited, he must be notified.

The customer went to the banking hall to lodge a complaint and was told by the bank manager that it was his SMS notification fee for the month of April. The manager’s explanation was that since the money was SMS fee for the month of April, it was not necessary for the bank to notify the customer again and charged him another N10. The customer found the argument illogical since a N10 text message is worth it when N500 is being deducted from an account.

Sharp practices are not only limited to illegal deductions. Customers are now forced by banks to use their ATM cards. Customers who refuse to use the ATM cards are asked to pay N100 each time they go to the banking hall to withdraw some money. Some customers do not want to use ATM cards for security reasons. Other customers are illiterate or too old to remember their passwords, but banks do not seem to buy all these logical arguments.

Moreover, banks now force their customers to go to their ATM machines each time they withdraw less than N60,000 or N40,000, depending on the bank. But the ATM machines can only pay in N1000 denominations. For example, a customer cannot withdraw N700 from an ATM machine. A customer who wants to withdraw N700 is forced to withdraw N1000. This is unacceptable.

Besides, some banks that recently upgraded their ATM cards from Interswitch to Visa or Mastercard are deducting between N500 to N1000 from their customers’ accounts even though the cards they are using are still valid. It is illogical for a bank to fleece its customer with a valid ATM card on the basis that they are upgrading their system.

Moreover, banks that are changing their ATM cards did not ensure that compatible ATM machines were provided before embarking on the changes. For instance, a bank that recently changed its ATM card from Interswitch to Mastercard, did not ensure that the Mastercard machines were available. Customers of that bank cannot only use their ATM cards on the ATM machines of that bank. This is not right. Banks claim that they are only obeying directives from the Central Bank.  An ATM card is provided so that a customer can use it anywhere and any time.

We believe that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Mr. Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, who embarked on a sanitization exercice immediately he took office, must now investigate and sanction fraudulent bankers and their banks.  It is dishonest and even illegal for bankers who are already well paid to defraud hard working Nigerians of their hard earned incomes.  The CBN boss must make it clear that the use of ATM is optional and customers must not be compelled to use it under any guise whatsoever.