It was a tale of woes for unsuspecting traders who fell prey to the antics of a fake microfinance bank and lost millions of Naira in the process. Some of the Lagos-based traders, who disclosed their ordeal to The Guardian, said they were lured into parting with substantial amounts of money, contributed through daily savings with marketers of the bank.
The bank was said to have lured the victims, the majority of which were market women, into saving millions of Naira sequel to securing some phantom mouth-watering loans.
The loan seekers were, however, disappointed when, after months of pooling funds together, they discovered to their chagrin, that the said microfinance bank had pulled the wool over their eyes; the financial institution smartly closed shops, with its staff gone into hiding after four months of dubious banking operations.
Three of the victims – Mrs. Helen Eboh, Mrs. Anifowose and Mr. Abdul hammed – described the development as painful.
“They collected money from almost every trader in Akute area, and all of a sudden, they stopped coming. They closed down the office they rented around the place, even their head office, said Eboh, who had saved N30,000 before the disappearance of the bank’s officials.
“They actually had a branch in our area, and because everybody knew their office, people were contributing daily – some people N2,500; others N4,000. At a point they were coming everyday, but suddenly they stopped coming for a week. When I tried the mobile number they gave me, they were not picking up the calls. It was not until I sent terrible text messages that they called back to inquire who I was, but they stopped picking up my calls afterwards.
A check at the Other Financial Institutions Department (OFID) of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in Lagos, however, revealed that the bank neither applied for a microfinance bank licence nor was listed as one of such. A senior official of the department, in a telephone interview, said the CBN would “do the needful” by addressing the issue.
On why the regulatory body was not able to nip the problem in the bud, he said that it was the expectation of the department that customers would do due diligence before entering into a contract with any microfinance bank. Such precautionary measures, he said, include requesting for the bank’s licence, which is statutorily hung in the banking hall of every CBN approved microfinance institution.
“Members of the public are advised not to transact business with such banks that are not licensed. They are also advised to demand to see the licence of the banks they want to do business with. Such licences are supposed to be supposed to be displayed in their premises. If they do not see it, then they should not transact business with them,” he said.
The official, however, declined comments on the possibility of such documents being forged by desperate swindlers.
When The Guardian visited the premises of the bank’s head office on Ayo-Alabi Street, Oke-Ira, Ogba, on Thursday, the only sign of banking business in the one-storey building was a loosely hanging notice on the outer wall of the building. With the inscription: PS Microfinance Bank Limited, the notice appears to attract passers-by to the deserted flat newly painted in radiant green.
Sources in the neighbourhood said the officials were last seen a month ago. According to them, depositors of the bank have been streaming in to request for their money only to meet an empty office.
“An old man, who claimed to have contributed over a N100,000 came here yesterday (Wednesday) and cried his hearts out,” said one of the residents in the area.
“I was deeply touched, because the man said it was all he has got. People have been coming here to challenge us and we do tell them that they are no longer coming.”
“I know them very well, there are two managers, a man and a woman, who also had a lot of staff working with them. Sometimes, I see them passing by but they no longer come to the office,” another lady said.
Efforts to reach most of the marketers did not yield much fruits, as most them did not pick their calls. A lady who eventually responded to one of such calls said the owner of the handset was not available and promised to deliver the message to him.
Further investigation, however, pointed to a disagreement between the Managing Director of the bank, and the Chairman over embezzlement of funds collected from contributors.
” It was not our fault as marketers. There is a kind of mismanagement of funds between the managing director and the chairman of the bank. This led to some form of discouragement. If we had known, we would have let our customers know about the development before it went out of hand. Now, we are hiding as common criminals,” said another marketer who spoke to The Guardian on the issue.