In what will come across as a really startling development, it has been revealed that relief is far for cash-strapped Nigerians as more banks shut their branches yesterday.
The banks hinged their actions on lack of cash and safety, it was learnt.
Banks like Zenith, Sterling and Fidelity have had some of their branches in Lagos, Ibadan, Abeokuta and Benin shut for three days after being stormed by angry customers.
Two Tier-1 banks in Lagos left notes at their banking premises indicating they had server challenges.
Nigerians have for some days been restive due to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) naira redesign policy that has made both the old and new naira notes scarce.
The situation is made worse by severe challenges in carrying out transactions online due to poor connectivity.
In many of the banks’ branches on Victoria Island, Lekki and Folomo axis of Lagos, security men were given clear instructions not to allow any customer demanding cash transactions into the banking halls.
Only customers needing interbank or intra-bank transfers, ATM activation, new account opening, and forex transactions, among others, were allowed into the halls.
An official of FirstBank Lekki Phase 1 said: “We do not have the cash to pay anyone. We were told not to dispense cash at all. That’s the instruction the bank gave us.”
But the official did not say if it was the CBN or First Bank authorities that gave the instruction
Inside the banking halls, many customers queued to activate their ATM cards and also carry out e-payment transactions.
One of the customers in her early 60s, of the First Bank Lekki Phase 1 branch, who was turned back, said: “We are now prisoners in our own country. I cannot believe that a bank I have been its customer for over 40 years is denying me entry. It is very sad.”
At the Awolowo Road branch of GTBank, Lotus Bank, and Standard Chartered Bank, which had one ATM point dispensing cash, there were over 4,000 customers in line to make cash withdrawals.
A customer, Michael Otu, said he lives at Obalande, but was told that the three banks’ ATMs were dispensing cash.
“I was told by one of my friends that the three banks’ ATMs were dispensing cash. I had to rush to see if I can get cash to settle some obligations,” he said.
Aside from no cash transactions in many of the banks’ branches, several other branches were not open for business.
Fidelity Bank Ibeju-Lekki branch has not opened for the past two days. A customer told The Nation yesterday that she nearly slept there on Wednesday.
“The ATMs are not dispensing cash; the banks are also not open for business. How can I access my funds to meet my obligations to my family?” she asked.
When contacted, the security man at the bank said the branch did not open because of server issues.
The Dopemu Branch of Sterling Bank near Iyana Ipaja was shut to customers, some of who turned up as early as 7am.
The customers, who were given numbers, waited in vain for the ATM to be loaded with cash. As of 2pm when our reporter left the branch, none of the two ATMs was dispensing cash.
Some of the customers, who had already waited for over seven hours despite the scorching sun, said they had no choice and would continue waiting.
The UBA branch on Fatai Atere in Matori, Lagos, though open, did not pay either over the counter or via ATM.
The plight of residents of Ondo State was made worse by the fact that ATMs did not dispense cash.
Although the banks, especially along Oba Adesida Road and at Alagbaka, were shut, many customers waited beyond 6pm in the hope that luck might still smile on them.
One of the customers, who gave his name as Jimoh, said he was at one of the banks as early as 7:30 am.
Jimoh said security personnel informed him that the banks were shut due to fear of attacks.
In Ikare-Akoko, Akoko Northeast Local Government area, the situation was the same.
Ikare-Akoko serves as the commercial nerve of the four local government areas in Akokoland.
Farmers and traders who were in Ikare for banking transactions from distant places like Ikakumo Afin Ipesi Igasi and Eriall were disappointed.
A businessman, Sunday Omogboye, who came from Ikakumo to withdraw money, said many people were suffering in the villages due to a lack of cash.
The situation was a little different in Abuja where most banks opened their branches to customers. Only Zenith had many branches still locked.
Three things were, however, common among the bank branches: They paid out mostly mutilated old notes in the banking halls and closed before the official time.
When The Nation visited the Wema Bank branch in the Central Business District, a large but orderly crowd was seen making withdrawals of old notes from its ATMs.
In the banking hall, customers were paid N3,000 only over the counter in dirty N50 denominations.
At the Stanbic IBTC branch in the area, the ATMs were down but customers were allowed freely in the banking hall where they had a rare opportunity to withdraw as much as N25,000 in mutilated N50 notes.
At Garki Areas 7 and 8, the banks all had their fair share of crowds at the ATMs while the banking halls had few crowds transacting over the counter.
In Ibadan, Oyo State, banks did not work to their full capacity due to the scarcity of the new naira notes.
At the Sterling Bank branch in Agodi, Ibadan, all customers were allowed into the banking hall where the tellers rationed the amounts paid to them.
But at the Access Bank branch in Bodija, customers that wanted to withdraw were not allowed into the banking ball.
The few ATMs that worked in most parts of the city had hundreds of forlorn-looking customers in queues for hours.
Some of the customers lamented the hardship the scarcity of the naira had caused them.
Abimbola Onalaja said she arrived at the First Bank branch at Agodi, at 6:30 am and left around 4 pm without making a withdrawal through the ATM.
“I got here at 6.30 am, yet, I couldn’t collect a dime. Look at the time now. It’s 4 pm and I’m yet to eat anything.
“The last money on me was what I used to come here, this hardship is getting too much.”
Residents of Osogbo, the Osun State capital, were stranded as banks failed to load their ATMs.
ATM stands at Ogo-Oluwa, Station road, Fakunle, Igbonna, Power Line and Aregbe were deserted as they are not dispensing cash.
Customers who came from distant locations could also not make withdrawals over the counter.
In Owerri, Imo State, many people waited for hours outside the banks’ premises for officials to open the doors to their banking halls.
At Douglas Road, some of them complained that they were “tired of suffering”
One of the customers, Echesona Judex, said: “It is not really a good experience though it made our purchases reduce. We cannot go to the places we want to go or buy food items.”
Another was overheard in front of one of the banks threatening to burn it down if the officials did not allow him into the premises. At Shoprite along Egbu Road, all UBA ATMs did not work.
But Benin, Edo State residents had a breather as the CBN made available new notes to banks to dispense through their counters and ATMs.
Point of Sale (PoS) operators also started reducing their charges and paying new naira.
A customer, Maureen Douglas, was paid N20,000 across the counter.
CBN’s Director of Risk Management from Abuja, Blaise Ijebor, and the Benin office branch Controller, Renner Jumbo, monitored the banks.
The situation was also a bit smooth in parts of Jos, the Plateau State capital, where banks let in customers who were able to make withdrawals.