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‘No banking day protest’ was relatively successful


Sola Salako

Sola Salako

Sola Salako is the founder and president of Consumer Advocacy Foundation of Nigeria (CAFON), a non-profit organisation that organized the recent one-day bank boycott. The protest has witnessed the return of some unlawful deductions by some banks to their customers. In this interview with DANIEL ANAZIA, she spoke on the success and challenges of the of the “No Banking Day” protest
How successful was the ‘No Banking Day Protest’?
We think we were very unsuccessful given the fact that our campaign had no budget. We depended only on the consumers’ will and the social media to create the awareness that we got, and of course the conventional media that helped us to beam searchlight on it and make it a topical national issue. But considering what we had at our disposal to make the protest happen, we think the protest was more of a success that we could even have imagined.

So many consumers claimed they were not aware of the boycott as they came out in their numbers to do transactions. Did your organisation take this into consideration before embarking on the boycott?
Yes, but first, let me explain the kind of protest that we embarked on; it is not the usual protest that Nigerians are used to or know as they are used to protests that require forceful compliance. For instance, when the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) calls for a boycott, it ensures that such boycott is enforced by shutting down the system, including the banks, and making it impossible for individuals to move around in order to enforce the compliance to the protest.

What we had was consumer rights protest, and when you are protesting as consumer, you also do not want to violate the rights of the other consumers to choice. We could actually call for a protest that would ensure the banks are shut down, but if we do that we might be violating somebody else’s right, who may decide not to participate in the protest. Majority of the people who went to the banks were those who didn’t get to hear about the protest.

In fact, I heard someone on TV saying if he knew that there was a boycott, he would have obeyed it because he was angry about the banks’ activities. There was not anyone of them that said there was no reason for the boycott. The low compliance was a function of lack of enough awareness, and that we already envisaged because we knew that a call for a boycott that did not have any jingle running on the electronic media, posters, advert in the papers, and all of that of course, will definitely not reach the whole of Nigeria.

Our target when we were mobilising for the protest, we were of the viewpoint that even if we got 20 per cent compliance, it would be a symbolic action. It was the first time that we wanted the banks and the CBN as the regulator to know that Nigerians as consumers have rights and it should be respected. We wanted them to understand that as consumers, if we pool ourselves together, we can actually make an impact and that we matter. So, first, we wanted to create awareness for the issues, we succeeded in doing that; second, we wanted Nigerians to know that as consumers we are powerful and can decide to boycott a service, and the service will feel the pinch of the boycott, we succeeded in that. Third, we wanted the service providers to know that as consumers we can if we pool together insist on our rights, we succeeded in that.

The targets we set for the protest were actually exceeded because the CBN put out two press releases during that week. If we were inconsequential and what we were calling for in the banks were not necessary, why were they responding? In terms of being successful, personally I will say the boycott was a success as it trended massively on twitter. It was the number one hastag; it trended for about nine hours beginning from morning until about 2:00pm; it started dropping at about 3pm. We had a team that was monitoring the trend; people were following and sharing information with each other on Facebook. They posted their experiences, feelings, hurts and anger about banks. So, it succeeded because the Nigerian consumers were able to draw attention to the hurting and anger that nobody was paying any attention to that time.

Did you think it would have been possible for everybody to boycott the banks that day?
Getting everybody to boycott was not even our primary goal, because when we put the notice for the protest, what we told the people was that if their transaction is a matter of life and death or they cannot wait till the next day, they can go ahead and do the transaction. Nothing less than 60 per cent of Nigerian consumers who heard about the protest complied with the boycott. There are reports to validate this. I had a cheque dated February 28 and it hit my account on March 1, unfortunately, I didn’t fund the account before the ‘No Banking Day’ came, it threw the account into a debit. I could easily have gone online to do the transaction, but because I was observing the boycott. By the end of the day, the bank cheque returned and charged me N1, 000. A lot people’s stories were like that.

What are some of the issues?
There are quite a number of them, which we have put out in the public before the boycott, and a lot of Nigerians are complaining bitterly about it. The federal government came up with the cashless policy with a view of getting more people (the unbanked) to be banked in order to help boost the economy, monitor how money moves in and out of the country, yet the CBN is churning out all manners of charges that are affecting the people.

We admit to the fact there is service rendered by the banks, but when charges for the service is absurd and excessive, I will react, that is what is happening now in the banking industry. The CBN have its own issues, while the banks also have their own issues. Yes, the banks are enabled by law to charge you for services rendered, but they have devised strategies to keep making money from every transaction you make with them.

For instance, you walk into bank and want to do transfer of money from account A to B in the same bank, and you request the transfer form, you will be charged N210. This is aside the account maintenance fee, debit card maintenance fee, SMS charges that they sent to wish you a happy birthday and the deductions made on every withdrawal through the Automated Teller Machine (ATM).

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