At least five million bank accounts were deactivated by Deposit Money Banks operating in the country on Saturday night following the October 31, 2015 deadline set by the Central Bank of Nigeria for bank customers to register and obtain their Bank Verification Numbers, findings by our correspondents showed on Monday.
The affected customers were, among other things, barred from withdrawing cash and transferring funds through Automated Teller Machines, Internet banking platforms and over-the-counter in the banking halls.
The development created chaos in the banking halls across the country on Monday as angry customers besieged several branches to get their suspended accounts reactivated.
Long queues were seen in various banking halls when one our correspondents visited some branches in Lagos.
Similar situations were recorded in Abuja, Port Harcourt and other major cities across the country.
Findings showed that a significant number of the five million customers whose accounts were suspended had obtained their BVNs but failed to link it with their account numbers.
Branches of First Bank of Nigeria Limited, Guaranty Trust Bank Plc and Access Bank Plc visited in Surulere, Yaba, Isolo and Oshodi in Lagos all had long queues of customers filling forms to verify their BVNs.
Majority of the customers expressed anger as they filled the verification forms given to them by bank officials.
However, some of the customers, who had obtained the BVNs but failed to link them up with the account numbers, had their accounts reactivated immediately.
It was observed that majority of the customers that failed to lodge their complaints were those who had obtained the BVNs but failed to visit their banks to link the number up with their accounts.
Due to the high number of people in the banking halls, majority of the customers who filled the BVN verification form were asked to drop it in anticipation that the banks would reactivate the accounts later.
The spokespersons for First Bank, GTBank, Access Bank Plc, Diamond Bank Plc, Fidelity Bank Plc and Skye Bank Plc declined to give the number of bank accounts they deactivated on Saturday night.
However, officials of some banks, the CBN and the Nigeria Interbank Settlement System Plc said at least five million bank accounts were deactivated by the DMBs on Saturday night when the CBN deadline expired.
The Managing Director, NIBSS, Mr. Ayo Shonubi, had early last month said only 14 million BVNs had been linked to customers’ bank accounts.
As of the time, he said 19 million customers had registered and obtained their BVNs, indicating that six millions customers had yet to get their BVNs linked to their respective bank accounts.
On Monday, the Head, Corporate Communications, NIBSS, Mrs. Lilian Phido, could not readily provide the number of the BVNs that had been linked to the customers’ accounts.
She told one of our correspondents that the figure would be provided later when the agency had obtained the data from relevant stakeholders.
Phido also said details of the total number of customers who had registered as of Monday would be provided later.
Meanwhile, customers and stakeholders on Monday berated the CBN and the NIBSS over the BVN project, saying customer education on the project was poor.
They said the CBN and the NIBSS had done well on the project but failed to handle the customer enlightenment campaign effectively.
“Most of the customers are not aware that they have to go to their various banks to link the BVN with their accounts. Imagine the number of customers whose bank accounts were deactivated over the weekend on the ground that they did not know they had to link them up,” a customer who identified himself as Dr. Kelvin Ibeh told one of our correspondents at a First Bank branch in Akoka, Lagos.
Some bank officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the CBN and the NIBSS did not handle some aspects of the BVN projects very well.
They are of the opinion that the linking of bank accounts with the BVN ought to have been done by the NIBSS since it had the data base of those who registered under the project, rather than asking the customers to do so.
The CBN on Monday night extended the timeline for Nigerian bank customers in the Diaspora to enrol for their BVN to January 31, 2016.
It also said that no bank customer would be allowed to make withdrawals from their accounts without completing the BVN registration exercise.
In a statement made available by the Director, Corporate Communications, Mr. Ibrahim Mu’azu, the CBN explained that the extension was to enable customers in the Diaspora to complete the enrolment as well as link the BVN to their respective accounts.
While emphasising that the extension was only for customers outside the country, the statement advised the DMBs to ensure that the exemption was utilised by the targeted group.
The statement read in part, “The CBN has also expressed satisfaction with the progress made in the implementation of the BVN project, especially for accounts operated by residents of Nigeria.
“However, with the expiration of the October 31 enrolment deadline, the CBN has directed that bank accounts of Nigeria residents without the BVN would henceforth be operated as ‘No customer initiated debit accounts until the account holders obtain and attach the BVNs to the accounts.
“This means that a customer may not be allowed to withdraw money from his or her account until the BVN has been acquired and linked to the account.”
The statement clarified that accounts of Nigeria residents without the BVN would continue to receive cash and electronic credit inflows, and would neither be deactivated nor confiscated.
It, therefore, advised the banks to educate their customers accordingly.
It also advised the banks to remind their customers of the need to link the BVNs with their accounts if they had done the enrolment at another bank.