Recent happenings in Edo state where customers are victims of voodoo financial houses, especially, micro-finance banks, as well as savings and loans enterprises, who defraud them of their hard-earned money’ are fast recreating the inglorious era of voodoo banks. PATRICK AHANOR reports
When the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) begun its bold reforms targeted at strengthening Micro-Finance Banks (MFBs) through the minimum paid-up capital by 500 percent to #100 million in 2006, hope had risen for millions of micro-entrepreneurs and low income households depositors who have become victims of all sought of “wonder banks” who often disguised as Micro/Community banks.
Besides, the reform was geared towards enhancing the micro-entrepreneurs and low income households to financial services required to expand and modernize their operations in order to contribute to rapid economic growth.
And in apparent move towards tightening the noose around some fraudulent banks who in some instance promise unsuspecting customer unimaginable deposit interest, the CBN in a circular dated; 4th December, 2007 directed banks to submit the account details of 28 fake finance companies/ fund managers also known as wonder banks
The directive which was contained in a circular issued to all banks and signed by Mr. T. A. Ikuyeju for the Banking Supervision department read in parts: “You are please requested to forward to us the account details of these companies from December, 2007 to date.”
“The details should include the account numbers, number of accounts held, branches they where opened, names and addresses of the signatories to the accounts, the balances as at 4/12/2007.
Tales of woes
However, despite the noble policies geared at protecting unsuspecting depositors, tales of woes from victims suggest that most Nigerians get little or no sensitization about financial institutions.
For instance, a case in point is heart-rending ordeal of 50-year-old childless woman whose life savings of N5.7million has disappeared under mysterious circumstance.
The victim, Mrs. Josephine Okoruwa plans to adopt a child soon because according to her, she has no husband and no child.
And as part of preparation towards the adoption of the child, Mrs. Okoruwa began a daily savings contribution with a Micro-Finance bank (name withheld) in 2014.
She had also opened a fixed deposit account with the bank wherein her daily contributions would be gathered at the end of every month and paid into her savings account.
The cash according to Okoruwa had risen to about #5.7million as at July 2007.
She said her purpose of saving the money was to ensure she have a decent place for the child she planned to adopt, adding that her hope now appeared dimmed as her entire money in the bank has disappeared.
Mrs. Okoruwa said since she learnt about the disappearance of her money in August, she has been admitted at the hospital for high blood pressure five times.
Complicit bank officials
The bank officials were said to have made matters worse for her as they said she withdrew all the money in her account whereas, her savings account booklet and fixed account certificate were collected by a staff of the bank identified as Faith Egbi
The said Faith it was gathered has since absconded.
Narrating her ordeal, Mrs. Okoruwa said she started her business in Lagos until she relocated to Benin to continue with selling drinks and provisions.
According to her, she was introduced to the bank by a friend and when she see that she could save money on a daily basis, she opted for it.
She said she had no education and as such trusted the persons the bank assigned to be collecting money from her on a daily basis.
Okoruwa stated; “They have assigned four persons to me since I started with them. Faith is the last person before the problem started. I do not know her house or anything about her. I only know her as Faith.
“The problem started in July when Faith introduced one Ese to me as the new person assigned to me. Faith said she has been transferred to another area.
“It was not long, Faith came to tell me that my fixed account was due that I should bring the papers so that the bank can update the account.
“I gave her the papers without knowing that Faith has been sacked three months back. She has been doing it for me. Most times, when I have money in my store, I will call Faith, she will come and collect the money. The next day, she will bring the tellers.
“She has been doing that with the fixed deposit account. I trusted her because I think the bank will not send bad person to people.
“After Faith collected the papers, one of their staff and Ese came and asked me how much I have in my account, I told them and she said she will call me back but she never did.
“I was disturbed so I went to the bank where I was told that Faith has been sacked. I asked the bank manager why didn’t he informed me, he said he was sorry. When I asked Ese, she said it was the bank responsibility to tell me about its staff.
“I have been keeping the money for certain reasons. I don’t have any husband and I don’t have a child. My business is now down and my brain is no longer working properly anytime I remember about the money.
“I want to adopt a child. You know they will come to check the place you want to take the child to. I was told Faith has ran away leaving an eight months old baby.
“In this area, Faith was still coming to collect money from people after she was sacked and the bank did not tell us.”
In her bid to recover her money, Mrs. Okoruwa petitioned the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) through her lawyer, Barr. H. U. Ogoanah of the Etete Law firm stating that the money in both her savings and fixed deposit accounts were N3million and N2.7m respectively.
According to the petition, “It is a trite policy in banking sector and in accordance with banking regulations that our client has to be notified at all status of her transaction.
“We have exhausted our patience and we discovered that the bank is treating this matter with levity. We decided to take proper action to get our client’s money back.
“We demand the bank manager and his bank to produce Mrs. Faith whom they have sacked without the knowledge of our client of a disclaimer to also provide our client’s fixed deposit certificate, savings account booklet in her possession and for the back to pay our client’s money in full.
Managing Director of the bank, Mr. Victor Ohuoba, in his reaction admitted that the woman had a fixed deposit and savings accounts with the bank.
He however stated that Mrs. Okoruwa gave an instruction that the money in her fixed deposit account be paid into her saving account from where she withdrew the entire sum.
Asked what date was the money withdrawn, Mr. Ohuoba said he does not discuss customers transaction with third party.
Ohuoba further disclosed that Faith Egbi was a staff of the bank adding that the bank discovered there were some transactions she did that were irregular which made the bank management to hand her over to the police when it discovered the fraudulent transactions.