By Dulue Mbachu
When the news broke some weeks ago that Zenith Bank had declared an annual profit of 230.5 billion naira for 2020, it crossed my mind that my 148,354 naira withheld by the bank for the past year may have been counted as gain.
On February 10, 2020, I used my Zenith Bank app to settle a bill to Quickteller (owned by Interswitch) for an Arik Air ticket priced 47,111.00 naira. Though my Zenith Bank account was charged, Arik didn’t issue the ticket because, it said, the money didn’t get to it.
Interswitch confirmed it received the payment and due to some glitch it didn’t go through to Arik. So I paid for a fresh ticket while Interswitch promised to reverse the transaction, with the funds due in my account by February 20. Interswitch then sent me evidence it had initiated the payment reversal, and copied me in an email sent to no less than 14 people and units in Zenith Bank, including their key reconciliation officials, providing them the reversal instructions.
Well, nothing happened. As at April 24, 2021, the money hasn’t been refunded. And that’s just my problem number one.
My problem number two began on March 12, 2020, when I went to the Abuja office of Africa World Airlines to pay for a one way ticket for Abuja to Kumasi, Ghana. The ticket cost 101,243.00 naira, which I paid for with my Zenith Bank Visa card, using a point of sale machine.
Before the actual trip that was due on March 30, 2020, Africa World Airlines sent an email to say the flight was cancelled as Nigeria and most countries went on lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic. Given the option of rebooking or getting a refund, I chose a refund, not knowing when the lockdown would end.
For reasons best known to it (I hear airlines generally hate refunds, and some more than others) Africa World Airline told me they reversed the transaction rather than simply giving me back my money. Africa World Airline punished me for asking for a refund by subjecting me to the Zenith Bank rigmarole. I’ve been on it ever since.
And it’s not for want of trying. When the matter of Quickteller (Interswitch) occurred, I engaged Zenith Bank through a private message on its Twitter handle, which I was told was an effective means. Initially it promised to resolve the matter quickly, then it said in the last message on March 20, 2020: “ Rest assured that feedback will be provided once received.” And that was it, I’ve been resting without any assurance ever since.
While the lockdown lasted, I could neither follow up the matters physically with Africa World Airline and Zenith Bank. When eventually I got the chance to visit the airline, the ticketing official said the reversal was effected in March 2020, that I should query Zenith Bank.
On January 21, 2021, I went to one of the branches on Usuma Street, Abuja, to complain. I was referred to a lady by name Annie Ukpong, who took down my details and promised to write to the relevant departments and get back to me. On March 11 she called to apologize and ask me to exercise patience, that she was still working on the two cases. What she didn’t explain was why it was taking longer than it takes to walk from the North Pole to the South Pole, in the age of computers and instant communication! There’s must be something fishy.
When I called Ukpong on April 23, more than three months after I reported at her Zenith branch, she had no news for me. She was apologetic, sounded helpless, but promised nothing. And it’s more than 14 months since these failed transactions were trapped in some limbo apparently nurtured inside Zenith Bank for the purpose of denying customers their due.
On the last business day of every month, there’s frenzy at all Zenith Bank branches as they work toward a deadline to balance their books. So the bank is aware of these stray funds, which don’t belong to it, but which it has decided to keep. Can anyone tell me the proper name for such behaviour?
The even sadder part is that one can’t count on the support of the banking sector regulator, the Central Bank of Nigeria. The last time I checked, the consumer affairs department said bank customers can bring any troubling issues to its attention if they’ve tried to resolve it unsuccessfully for two weeks. To bring it to the Central Bank, the bank concerned must raise a ticket, and you must include the ticket number in your complaint.
Most banks won’t raise any ticket for you on any of these issues. A complaint I wrote without a ticket, got only an automated response from the Central Bank’s consumer affairs unit; there was no follow up treatment.
As another resort, I wrote to the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission to complain about the behaviour of Zenith Bank. In fairness to the agency, the response was prompt and professional. It promised to look into the matter and get back to me as soon as possible.
If it fails, then it will be obvious there’s no institution out there to protect us from the rampant impunity of the banks.
• Dulue Mbachu, a veteran Nigerian journalist, is a team member of Nairaweb.ng.