Sunday, August 23, 2015
REVEALED: Towns Where Banks Don’t Open Except Customers See Armoured Tanks
She sat on one edge of the gutter that runs through the frontage of the bank, looking unsettled, whilst defying the scorching sun. The black nylon bag in her left hand seemed like a treasure that she needed to guard with her life, thus, she held tightly to it, occasionally placing it between her legs.
She needed to use the bank; deposit a large sum of money, which was the proceeds of her sales in her beer parlour the previous night, but the banks would not open that early, even at 10:00am. But in order not to spend the whole day on the queue, she needed to come early and sit around until 11am when the banks would open. It was the same experience at the frontage of most of the other banks within the premises.
On a brief enquiry why there were so many people standing outside, she said, “Banks don’t open early in Ijebu Ode o, unless they see Armoured Personnel Carrier. That is why we are here waiting for the policemen so the banks can open.”
At short intervals, Mrs. Akomolede Victoria, as she later introduced herself, kept checking her wristwatch, while the number of other customers arriving and waiting for the bank to open kept increasing.
An Armoured Personnel Carrier parked close
to the banks
While some stood in their twos and threes, lamenting what had become of the town in terms of commercial activities, some others who appeared indifferent, exchanged banter as a few others sought where they could relax until it was time. Time check was 10:30am.
Hawkers of food items and sellers of edible items in nearby shops took advantage of the crowd to make some money as they moved from one bank to the other with their wares.
As the morning slowly fades out into noontime, evidenced by the increasing human and vehicular movement and the early morning sun, the number of customers gathering in front of all the commercial banks on the popular Ibadan Road, which is about the commercial nerve centre of the ancient city of Ijebu Ode, kept increasing.
As the time inched closer to 11am, with about 10 minutes remaining, the customers, in their hundreds, hurriedly stood up and inched closer to the entrance of the banks, all set for the quick rush that was to take place thereafter. The siren that would signal the arrival of the armoured tank was all they were waiting for and it was what the banks also needed before they could open their doors to customers.
True to their expectation and the amazement of our correspondent, at 11:01am, the faint sound of siren heralded the arrival of the APC. It grew louder and became almost deafening as it moved around with fierce-looking, gun-brandishing policemen until it parked opposite the Zenith Bank, its usual parking spot, as our correspondent later found out.
Customers waiting at the entrance of a bank
pending the arrival of armoured personnel carrier
Spontaneously, the banks’ workers, who had resumed at 8am but had remained inside for fear of being robbed, rolled up their sleeves and prepared for the day’s work. They began opening their doors but the rush that followed was incredible!
To say the least, it was shocking to any visitor but a norm to other residents. Both the old and young threw caution to the wind as they made to join the queue at the entrance of the bank. The reason for the rush was simple; the banks would only operate for three hours and close at 2pm when the APC leaves the premises.
There were minor injuries but they didn’t seem bothered by that. All that mattered to them at that moment was to enter the bank and they did everything possible to achieve that.
As strange as it sounds, this is the reality of the helpless residents of Ijebu Ode in Ogun State, where banking activities only run from 11am to 2pm, and only if there is the armoured personnel carrier. It was gathered that in the absence of the APC, none of the 15 banks in the town would open, apart from the two branches of the First City Monument Bank in the town, which, it was learnt, had consistently operated within the normal working hours.
“There were times the banks will not even open at all, once they don’t see the APC and we would have no choice than to either use the automated teller machine, which rarely works, or we go to Sagamu,” a resident told Saturday PUNCH.
The crowded banking halls
When our correspondent entered one of the banks around 12pm, the banking hall was filled to capacity with queues. The crowd and the attendant long queues were simply unsettling, and the tellers, customer care officers, and other members of staff saddled with the responsibility of attending to people, were all red-faced due to the pressure from the teeming customers.
“Please be fast o, because it will soon be 2:00pm,” some customers occasionally reminded the workers, since the banks usually close around 2pm when the APC leaves the town.
Customers besiege one of the banks after
it opened for operation
Across the counter, a cashier who, appeared to have lost touch with the need to smile to her customers, grudgingly answered a question posed by our correspondent on when they would close to customers since they didn’t open early enough. She answered, “Oga, we close by 2pm. These three hours is like working from 8am to 4pm or even more than that. You can see the crowd. Once the APC leaves, we shut the door and we will only attend to those that are already inside.”
In four other banks visited by our correspondent, the story was the same, and in some cases, people had to wait outside because the banking halls were full. Not even Ijebu Igbo that is about 20mins away could offer a robust alternative because there are just three banks in the community with one bank having two branches.
In fact, when our correspondent visited the community, there was also a stationed APC adjacent one of the banks in the town. Even at Ago Iwoye that is about 15minutes from Ijebu Igbo, not all the banks in the community are working, all because of the fear of armed robbers.
Some customers in Ijebu Ode who spoke to our correspondent lamented the difficulty they had been going through because of the skeletal mode of operation by the banks, saying it had been a tortuous experience. A civil servant, Mrs. Obafemi Esther, said she was already planning to move to a neighbouring town where banking operations would be relatively better.
She said, “You can imagine that I don’t have access to my salary anytime I wish to, because sometimes the queue in the bank could be tiring and they operate within a specified time. If not for the increased armed robbery incidents on the Sagamu Road, I would have been going to Sagamu for my banking activities, because even the ATMs are not reliable.”
The crumbling business activities
Those who claim to be the worst hit in the situation are business owners, who described their experience as painful. They said the irregular banking activities had negatively affected their businesses, noting that since there was no stable banking operation in the community; people would rather go to Sagamu to withdraw money and buy whatever they needed from there instead of carrying cash around.
When our correspondent made to enter a shop, where paints and some household items were being sold, the attendant, who, seemingly out of boredom, had slept off, suddenly sprang to life and jumped to his feet. To him, a customer had finally come, but he felt disappointed when our correspondent told him that the mission was just to make an enquiry.
Bayo Ajayi, as he later introduced himself, lamented that the banking situation had made business very dull. He said, “In fact, my boss is considering closing down this place, and he has stopped buying items, hoping we would be able to dispose our old stock, because the business is not moving again.
“He used to complain that he couldn’t be paying rent and salary out of no sales. We used to be two but he sacked my colleague about four months ago because he said he was no longer making money and could not be paying salary. So, it’s that bad.”
In another shop that is just a stone throw from the paint shop, a plumbing materials shop, manned by a young lady in her late 20s, the story was the same. Rachael, as she summarily introduced herself, said the bulk of her sales in recent times were little items that might not even be up to N2,000 in a day.
She said, “The spirit of Ijebu Ode has gone. Everything is now dull. This city has lost life. In the past, Ijebu Ode was the centre of commercial activities and people from all the neighbouring communities used to come here and buy things. But now, when people need to withdraw money to buy things, the banks will not be available, as long as there is no APC, even if there are 200,000 policemen. Apart from the fact that these ATMs are not reliable, when it comes to collecting huge sum of money, people don’t really want to use ATM because of the fear of being robbed. So, people now go to Sagamu for their transaction and they buy things from there, and that has affected us greatly.”
At the centre of the town, a foam seller, Mrs. Ojo Abike, wore a gloomy look as she welcomed our correspondent into her shop. Almost all the foams in the shop appeared dusty as if they had been there for a while. Abike wasted no time in calling on the governor of the state to help the community restore its glory.
“How can a community like this not have banks that are fully operational? Apart from the two FCMB branches that work from 9am to 4pm, others work only when there is APC and once it leaves, they shut their doors.
“As you can imagine, business has been very slow. I can’t even remember the last time I sold goods worth N20,000, and I have to pay rent and the salary of my workers. In the last one year, I have had to tell two of my workers to go because there was no need keeping them. So, it’s really a serious situation,” she said.
Once upon a vibrant community
As the second largest city in Ogun State, taking after Abeokuta, the state capital, Ijebu Ode used to be the trade centre of the entire area, until a few years ago when armed robbery incidents almost brought the commercial activities in the town to its knee. In fact, it’s on record that Ijebu Ode and its environs have the highest rate of bank robberies in the state, and not even the setting up of a local vigilance group could totally check the scourge.
The sad occurrence which has now metamorphosed into a rude awakening that the residents now battle with today, dates back to 2009 when armed robbers invaded some banks at the Folagbade area on the popular Ibadan Road, carting away millions of naira whilst wasting innocent lives.
After the incident, which forced most of the banks to close for several months, there have been series of attempts by these robbers to carry out robbery operations in the area again, putting the town under severe fear of attack. Hence, the commercial advantage that the town used to boast of is gradually eroding due to these attacks and the failed attempts.
Not even the neighbouring communities like Ijebu Igbo and Ago Iwoye have been spared of the attacks, as some robbers, said to be armed to the teeth, also invaded a bank in Ijebu Igbo in October 2009, killing the manager of the bank and a security man while carting away millions of naira.
Also, on October 26, 2010, about 20 armed robbers stormed Ijebu Ode with a rocket launcher and sophisticated weapons to rob some banks but the operation was foiled by policemen who were able to kill two of the robbers.
In 2011, several students were killed at Olabisi Onabanjo University when about 12 armed robbers attacked the banks within the school premises. The list of these attacks and the several attempts seem endless, which have considerably implanted serious fear in the banks, forcing them to either shut their doors or operate in a skeletal manner.
Some students of OOU who spoke to Saturday Punch said that in spite of the numerous banks in the town, there were times they had been stranded, pointing out that the ATMs that should have been an alternative, do not work all the time.
The evasive but affordable solution
As disturbing as the situation is for the residents of these troubled areas, they argue that the solution to the incessant armed robberies in the areas would be to increase the number of available APCs in the affected areas.
A security man in one of the banks noted that since the banks would not open unless they see an APC, the state government should make more APCs available and make sure they stay from 8am to 4pm so the banks can work fully.
“It is only during riot that you see them bringing out the APCs. The governor bought one for us before the election and the banking situation here improved, but since after the election, we didn’t see it again. It was alleged that he withdrew it because people in Ijebu Ode didn’t vote for him. That is not fair. Let him or the police authorities buy more APCs to secure the banks here and things will get better for us,” he said.
Meanwhile, a senior executive in Skye Bank, who spoke with our correspondent on the condition of anonymity, explained that the banks in Ijebu Ode had not been able to operate normally because of the spate of armed robberies in the axis in the past, adding that the banks would need more than promises by the police to be assured.
He said, “The robbery attacks in Ijebu Ode axis in the past was one too many and they happened in quick succession. So, that the banks only operate if there is APC in site is traceable to security.
“However, what will fasttrack normal operation by the banks is if the bankers’ council in the area can meet with the police authorities in the area and there is an assurance of a 24-hour security. Until then, I’m not sure any bank wants to take the risk.
Ekiti residents sing same song
While the residents of Ijebu Ode and its environs continue to lick their wounds, people in Oye-Ekiti and some other neighbouring towns in Ekiti State sure have similar story to tell. The only major bank in the community (with the other being a cash centre) may not need an APC before it operates, but since armed robbers ransacked the bank few years ago, it has had to limit its operations.
When our correspondent visited the communities to verify the claims by some residents that withdrawals from the bank serving them could take longer than imagined, it was a sorry situation. It also used to be a vibrant bank, until it was robbed sometime ago, forcing it to streamline its activities.
Because of the fear of robbers, it was learnt that the bank no longer take cash delivery either from its main branch in Ado-Ekiti or the Central Bank of Nigeria, as it sometimes relies on cash deposit from customers to pay those who want to withdraw. Thus, withdrawing a lump sum from the bank may be a problem.
On visiting the bank one Tuesday morning, around 9:45am, the long queue at the entrance was unsettling while the one at the ATM was also worrisome. It was a waiting game for all.
Even though the banking hall cries for expansion, our correspondent squeezed his way through the angry but patient customers to the cashier and sought to withdraw N200,000. The cashier, apparently dazed, knowing such money was not available at that moment, simply asked if it was an urgent withdrawal “because we don’t have up to that yet. So, if it’s urgent you can go to Ado, but if it’s not, you can wait till around 2pm.”
The cashier’s response underscores the situation in the bank, whereby customers who wish to make large withdrawals either exercise patience or go to the state capital, which is about 45 minutes drive.
On stepping out of the bank for some fresh air, there she was at a corner, looking very unsettled as she sat on the pavement at the entrance of the bank. Even though she had lectures to attend in school; Federal University Oye-Ekiti, Muinat Adewole, 28, had other pressing things in mind and going for lectures was the last thing on her mind at that time.
Adewole needed to withdraw N150,000 that she would deposit for the caesarean operation that was to be carried out on her sister at a nearby private hospital where she was waiting in the labour room. But on getting to the bank, having travelled from Iye-Ekiti in Ilejemeje Local Government for about 30 minutes, she was told there was no cash and that she should either wait or go to Ado.
Since the hospital did not have a POS terminal and all she had was a cheque and then again, the bank had no money at that time, she cried, apparently for the sake of her sister.
“The cashier told me that all I could get at that moment was N40,000 and that I would need to wait till around 1pm or I should go to Ado,” she said.
Confused and lost as to what to do, coupled with the fact that she had little cash left, she resorted to crying, hoping someone would either come into the bank to deposit a large sum or someone would help her with the transport fare to travel to Ado. At about 2:34pm, when she realised that waiting was not the way to go, and with the help of few sympathisers who helped her with a little cash, she left the premises for the state capital.
As Adewole would later tell our correspondent on the phone, even though she met a long queue at the bank, occasioned by travellers from other towns who had no option than to travel to the state capital for their transactions, she was able to make the payment.
She said, “When I was in the bus, I had to resort to prayers because one of the nurses in the hospital told me that they wouldn’t do anything until they saw the evidence of deposit. She told me they had done such before and it became a problem because the patient and her family failed to pay the money later.”
The bank, which used to be the last resort for people in the area, seems to have lost its sparkle since the armed robbery incident, in which large sums of money was reportedly carted away by the robbers. It was learnt that the bank was out of operation for some time after the incident.
An official of the bank who spoke to Saturday Punch on the condition of anonymity explained that the bank had to reduce its cash reserve to dissuade robbers from attacking it again.
He said, “We had to reduce our cash reserve since the time we were robbed in 2013 and one of the ways to do that was to reduce the cash we receive from Ado. Sometimes, we only use what we get from customers as deposits to pay those who are withdrawing. Of course, it was a tough decision, knowing that it would affect our operations, but it was necessary, otherwise we could have been robbed again. This is a very small branch, and it is just like a subsidiary of the one at Ado. So, people have to bear with us.”
Many banks forced into oblivion by armed robbers
Interestingly, there are many banks in the neighbouring communities of Oye-Ekiti, including a Spring Bank in the town itself, First Bank at Ikole-Ekiti, First Bank and FCMB in Ifaki-Ekiti. But then, some of them have reportedly been forced to either remain closed or risk being robbed. One of the banks had to relocate to the state capital, and when our correspondent visited the premises, there was a ‘To Let’ board on the gate already.
Notably, the First Bank in Ikole-Ekiti, which had been closed since it was robbed sometime in 2014, just reopened about five days ago. Before it was opened, people in the community were compelled to travel to the state capital for their banking operations because not even the new bank in the community could provide a robust alternative due to the endless queues.
Also at Ifaki-Ekiti, the First Bank has remained closed since it was robbed sometime ago. The bank was first robbed in 2012, but after the second robbery incident, the bank had refused to open its doors to customers. Hence, residents of the community also have to travel to the state capital to do any banking transaction.
Commenting on the situation, the Police Public Relations Officer, Ekiti State Command, DSP Albert Adeyemi, while responding to the issue of bank closure in the state over fears of armed robberies, dismissed the claim, saying there was adequate security in the state such that any bank that wanted to open for business could do so without any fear.
He added, “The state is secure. If the banks are not working, perhaps there are other issues they need to resolve, but definitely not because of insecurity or the fear of being robbed. So, banks should stop using insecurity as an excuse, because there is security in Ekiti State. When they are ready to open, they should inform us and we will post policemen there.”
Also, his Ogun State counterpart, Muyiwa Adejobi, pointed out that with the security arrangement the police had put in place in Ijebu axis, there should be nothing to worry about. He urged the banks to believe in the police and go about their normal duties.
He said, “I’m not aware that banks are not operating fully in that axis. All I know is that everything is well in Ijebu Ode because we have adequate security on ground there. There are three Armoured Personnel Carriers in Ijebu axis alone; one in each of Ijebu Ode, Ijebu Igbo and Ago Iwoye, and we have over 100 mobile policemen there.
“Also, the state commissioner of police has mandated the area commanders to have Bank Convoy Patrol, which comprises about seven patrol teams and each of the teams comprises seven armed-to-the-teeth men, who are on constant patrol in those three towns, mainly to protect banks.
“Even if the APC in Ijebu Ode is not enough, the distance from there to Ijebu Igbo is about 20 minutes and an APC could move as fast as 400km/h. So, that distance won’t take an APC more than 10 minutes.
“So, if with all those arrangement, banks still operate like that, maybe they have psychological projection. They just believe that there is no security without an APC, which is wrong. I think the bankers should just believe in the police and the security arrangement we have on ground that nothing will happen.”
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