© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
REPORT: One week after lockdown suspension; banks, customers violate rules on social distance in Abuja
A WEEK after the phased easing of lockdown for residents of Abuja, Lagos and Ogun states to go back to their businesses, The ICIR can report that guidelines issued by Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) to operate were not adhered to by banks and their customers.
Part of the guidelines was for banks to open between the hours of 8:00am and 2:00pm and to observe temperature checks, hand sanitizing protocols as well as the use of face masks for staff and customers.
The guidelines released by Muhammad Bello, Minister of the FCT included that banks limit access by customers in order to allow for safe distancing reasons and limit the number of staff working on their premises to between 30 percent and 50 percent.
Bello then said, residents were encouraged to patronize online banking services as much as possible.
Checks however, by The ICIR across Abuja where banks are located revealed flagrant violation of the guidelines.
From Mpape, one of Abuja’s densely populated satellite towns to Area 3 considered as the headquarters of banks in the nation’s capital, banks and their customers disregarded the laid down rules.
No hand sanitizer, no social distancing, customers flood banks in Mpape
At a branch of Zenith Bank in Mpape, hundreds of customers were observed sitting and standing in front of the bank building, waiting for the security operatives to allow them in.
Customers were issued tally numbers in order to take turn to enter the banking hall and also to maintain the quorum stated in the guideline. The ICIR reporter was issued number 137th tag.
Though, the bank provided a mini tent for the customers with plastic chairs to sit, there was however no observance of social distancing in the sitting arrangement.
Those who could not find space under the tent stood under the scorching sun waiting for the security operatives to either give them tally or allow them in.
A customer who came out of the banking hall during the time of the visit and did not want his name in print disclosed that the laid down rule was that the security operatives should allow three persons to enter at the same time.
However, the crowd inside the banking hall, according to him, meant that majority of people among the hordes of customers waiting outside would have to visit other time.
” I can tell you most of this people need to come back tomorrow as the inside is full already,” he said.
While he confirmed that hand sanitizer was being dispensed before customers gain entrance into the banking hall, he declined to comment on the social distancing, because according to him, he did not understand the meaning.
Security operatives at the bank’s entrance ensured that only customers with facemask were allowed into the main building.
Those without facemasks were directed to use the Automated Teller Machine (ATM) gallery which was, at that moment, overwhelmed. But the bank did not provide equipment to measure the temperature of customers going into the bank’s environment.
Meanwhile, a branch of First Bank at Mpape closed its doors to customers. They were only allowed to use the ATM gallery. But the breakdown of guidelines here was clear as many of the customers did not wear facemask. Social distancing rule was also not adhered to and no bank’s security personnel to enforce it.
As observed, the bank has drawn over 60 square-like shapes on the floor of the gallery, expected to guide the customers to follow the 2 meters social distancing rule, the scorching sun and lack of orientation pushed many to defy the rule.
The bank did not also provide hand sanitizer at the ATM gallery which led to customers using bare fingers to operate ATMs.
A fact-check by The ICIR about the aerosol nature of the virus, revealed that the COVID-19 is not airborne but can spend hours on stainless steel and plastic objects from which it can be contracted.
At about 10:57am when this reporter visited a Polaris Bank branch, he was issued number 97th tag and the security personnel detailed to call in customers just called a customer with tag number 42.
Other customers waited in the sun for their turn as only those with tags were allowed access to the banking hall. But to use the ATM at the gallery, there was no need for customers to wear facemask, sanitizer or hand gloves.
According to a male customer, the security operative allowed seven persons to enter the bank at a same when the bank first opened “but now it is two persons at a time.”
At Zone 3 and Area 3, no social distancing
While banks at Zone 3, Abuja managed to put certain things in place to follow the guidelines, it was lot difficult to enforce social distancing rule among customers.
A a branch of Access Bank, security operatives ushered this reporter into the bank premises with tally number. At that time, this reporter was 166th customer after having his temperature checked.
Aside from this, another important entry pass is your face mask.
But with all these, the bank failed to enforce social distancing-rule just as it did not provide chairs to all customers after the few ones under a canopy provided were fully occupied. Those waiting to be called in were seen sleeping around the flower lawn of the bank while others rested on the tall Logo stand of the bank.
At Ecobank, two canopies provided by the bank were fully occupied by customers which made social distancing impossible. Customers without facemask were seen leaving the bank as they were turned back by security operatives. Others were seeing lurking around the bank’s premises.
At Area 3 which is known as Abuja banking village due to the clusters of banks’ headquarters there, there was a total break down of guidelines for operation.
Customers were all concerned about finding their ways into the banking hall or to the ATM galleries.
There was a horde of customers forming a long queue at the entrance of the GTB branch there. The crowd, about a thousand of customers was beyond the control of the bank’s security personnel.
Though the bank had marked the two meter marks on the floor at the entrance, no one actually followed the marks. Frustrated customers who wanted to get tags to be able to gain entrance into the banking hall accused security personnel of collecting bribes to issue tag.
At a time, a security officer asked the crowd with tally numbers from 200 to 300 to move outside the barricade of the bank’s gate. This order made the customers rush out of the premises.
A customer who pleaded for anonymity, said she had been on the queuefor three hours before the whole noisy situation, alleging that the security operatives were handling the issue based on favouritism.
An old man who also spoke wearing an Ankara fabric face mask said the bank had been negligent of what may cause community spread of COVID-19 as the bank failed to prepare for the enormous number of their customers that turned out.
“Can you see that these people are very very negligent? as old as I am, I came from a far place. They knew they would have hundreds of people coming here and they still fail to prepare for it,” he said.
Checking the ATM gallery of the bank, it was a similar case as it was filled with customers without space for anyone to stand again. This was happening just the second day of the lockdown ease.
The story was no different at Zone 3 branch of UBA. No bank official or a security person was on duty during the time of the visit. Out of the six ATMs at the gallery, only two were active and dispensing. This led to overcrowding at the ATM section.
At the other side leading to the entrance of the bank, customers were provided with no hand sanitizer nor while there was no officer on ground to check their temperature.
Most of the customers interviewed by The ICIR were at the bank to solve one problem or another requiring the attention of the Customers’ Service Officer.They argued that they had waited for the lockdown to be lifted so they could come to the bank and resolve the problems.
With the heavy crowds seen across Abuja banks, the Central Bank Of Nigeria (CBN)’s vision 2020 goal of being among the top 20 economies by the year 2020 with the aim to drive development and modernization in Nigeria’s payment system through the means of cashless policy is far from being a reality.