By Dominic Ayegba Okoliko
The sunlight could be said to be angry. Earlier, it had stood high hovering like a hawk ready to take its pound on a prey. Although now the evening had crawled in gradually, the warmth from the day’s sun could still be felt.
“Áñyá bi ϙmá ki nà’godà, àgo ch’okàhàh!” Arome whispered to himself, or he thought he did.
“Ehm, Arome, come. You’ve started again eh!” Arome’s gaze was fixed on something both distant and oblivious to the other kids playing in the front yard, so he didn’t notice when his friend walked up to the balcony where he stood, leaning against the rusting protectors of the house. “Will you explain yourself?” Ayo said, patting Arome on the back. “And please come back to us here. Your ancestors aren’t ready to welcome you home yet.”
“It is a wise saying from the Igalas.” The words fell off his lips in an undertone. Then turning slowly in Ayo’s direction, he continued, “it means a horse gives birth so that it can stretch its waist but the waist has stubbornly remained strong”. They both fell into silence as if to let the silence speak more about what he had just interpreted. Arome’s eyes remained frozenly fixed; not on anything in particular though. “Talking about the saying reminds me of an incident with my Mama.” Arome picked up again. “You know how Mamas are concerned about their children. They can go a great length to ensure the faces of their kids beam with smiles as often as possible.” It dawned on Ayo that he was in for a reminiscent discourse. He had known Arome for barely six months now. During this short time, they have both learned to be fond of each other and could easily come across at siblings.
They both walked backward and slouched unto a bench that lined the wall. Ayo took a closer look at his friend again. He noticed his face beam with smiles as the fellow spoke in his usual bits and pieces, the way a hen eats. “There was this day. It must have been a holiday time; that period that is loved by most kids.” Arome lowered his face from the distance to hold his friend’s attention as he continued. “We had plenty of time for play and childhood naughty games. My siblings and I, together with other kids from our neighbourhood had taken turns to do unmarked and unmeasured relays around the house for a great deal of the morning. It was a glowing morning. However, as the noon approached, our tummies began to chorus with funny sounds. As if rehearsed, we all crawled at once to where Mama was in the backyard attending to her chores. She had been busy preparing her Akpo for sales at the Ede market the following day”.
“Ehm, Akpo. What is Akpo?” Ayo interjected. “It’s a cassava product used mainly in processing fufu. I know you go to Iya Oloja to buy it a lot these days.”
“Oh yes. What do you expect of a bachelor like me?”
“A poor one for that matter”, Arome added. Currently, both young men fed from little contract jobs they got once in a while in the Sogal city. Since they both returned from Youth Service in the South-Eastern part of Aboland, they had been in search of a good paying job. “Point of correction, a bachelor with swags. You’re looking at the next billionaire in Aboland”. Arome smirked at his friend, spreading his thick lips which allowed for a display of his teeth. These teeth had been his selling point, they made him very admirable.
“My younger sister intoned the hunger song”, Arome resumed his story. “We all joined her to complete the A Cappella: ‘we’re hungry Mama’. Mama quickly abandoned her work and brought out some beans, announcing: ‘we shall have moimoi for lunch then!’
‘Ehen! Moimoi, great idea’, I responded with the blush of a girl in love”.
“Yea, I can imagine that”, said Ayo. “This love affair between you and moimoi no be today oh”.
“Mama immediately put to task some beans she had collected from the storeroom.” Arome continued his talking, snubbing his friend’s remark and causing him to recoil back into his shell. “With serene dedication, she soon had it ready for the grinding mills. In those days, there were only a few of the mills in our neighbourhood and one would have to walk about 3 km to access the nearest. Mama called out to my sister ‘Ojima, please take this to Agbo’s compound and have it grinded’.
“Ah, mama, is it only me here?” Ojima replied grumblingly. OJ, as we fondly call her, later went for the errand while the rest of us kept other things going. About an hour later, all things were set awaiting OJ’s arrival”.
“Eish buddy, that’s a long time of waiting for your tummies’ love”. Ayo interrupted again.
“Ayo-mi-de!” He called out with a big grin on his face, giving each syllable its own weight. “Damn it. You don’t have to say my name as though you’re romancing the words” they both bursted into laughter.
“When she finally came however, our eyes could hardly believe what we saw.”
“Ah, Ayo! OJ of course. My sister. She was all tears and had her whole body drenched in a mixture of mud and grinded beans. You could mistake her for a young lad out on a festival of colours. Upon seeing her first, I called out: ‘Ah, OJ, what’s it? What had happened to you?’ Mama soon sprang from her place in the kitchen calling out. “Ęnę lę ke? Ojima. ele le le le! Ę ñwu lę ke?” (Who’s it? Ojima! What happened to you?)
“When OJ became calm enough, we learnt from her that while she was returning, she had dodged a drifting Okada into a terrain of muds along the pathway and found herself tripped. At once, we knew our hopes for moimoi that afternoon were dashed. It was then that Mama heaved a sigh of disappointment, saying: ‘Áñyá bi ϙmá ki nà’godà, àgo ch’okàhàh!’.
“Ah! Ore mi! Sorry for your lossi-oh! But ehm, what has this got to do with the long face you had when I came by. You were looking 40 years older than your age”
“Hmm, my brother! I just got back from the bank oh” his cheeks flushed with worries.
“Oh yes. You told me when I rang you earlier. Isn’t it the Reyna Bank branch by Oribi round about?”
“Yeah. I was there to rectify the bank’s app on my phone – the one I had before was malfunctioning and had failed me in completing financial transactions”. Ayo who felt sympathetic for his friend said: “Eya! And I know how you feel about being up there, friend.”
“Exactly. But instead of giving in to that familiar hatred of being in the bank, I kept singing to myself while on the way, ‘it’s just a simple single issue. You should be out of there soon buddy’. Did I know that I was going to confront a pale drama that would make me sigh my Mama’s sigh?”
“‘Your account is frozen’. Those words shot straight from a girly lady across the desk pierced my loins too bad! ‘But how come?’ I reacted in bewilderment. I followed it up with series of exasperating interrogations that yielded back and forth responses. At the end, they left in me more cause for disappointment and annoyance.”
Ayo further learnt from his friend that the reason for freezing the account was because the bank could not verify his residential address.
“It is the usual practice sanctioned by Central Bank oh.” Ayo remarked.
“Ayo-mi-de. My worry was not about the Central Bank’s order or its application to me. It is about this particular bank and how it carried out the order without due process. Is this not a slap on Baba Due Process whose reign is doing everything to ensure discipline in all creeks of our land? Did you know that about a month before this incident, I had walked to the same branch of the bank to notify them of a change in my address and to request updates of my details with them? This was entirely initiated by me as a move to prevent any ugly episode arising with my account. The staff promised to have it verified and effected.”
“Ehm, maybe they tried to locate your place and couldn’t. You know how I complain about this our Sogal city. Authorities have done little to give proper identification to new suburbs springing up here and there. Ours isn’t left out you know?”
Arome was sweating and becoming impatient. “No.” He stretched out his hand and waved his friend to silence. “Not at all. They didn’t do any search. As they fed me, some contractors were used – isn’t it Sogal? Do you not know how this thing works? How could they trust some fellow’s words without checking it out? These guys could have been somewhere cooling off before feeding them the lie.”
“Ayo, the problem here is communication. What has come over our banks? They see no fault in sending you a text message whenever there is a bank charge to be deducted but not on this kind of issue. Did you know that the silly bank took in my deposit early this morning? So much of a frozen account! I actually did that to allow me to do smooth transfer into my little sister’s account for her school fees after I would have rectified my mobile app. Don’t I look like a horse whose act of giving birth had failed to ease its waist pain?”
“Man! I feel you. I do bro.”
“Come to think of it, Ayo. How much of ease has banking brought to lives in Aboland?
“Ehm, Arome. Sorry about your tit-for-tat experience with Reyna Bank, but surely, you can’t raise that question.”
“Ayo-mi-de, why not?”
“The Aboland banking sector has gone through lots of refinements that have made it a formidable force influencing social economic change at different levels today bro”, Ayo answered him.
“You remember Gov. Charlie Solugo’s recapitalisation and consolidation of financial sectors in 2004 right?” Arome listened on with a puzzled face. “Did we not learn that the exercise ushered in the emergence of stronger banking system in Aboland? The official account has it that by the end of the following year, the financial system which had about 89 fragile banks was forced to produce 25 banks positioned to serve Abos better. And you may recall yet another reform; the one which targeted corporate governance in the sector. E-ehm. It was undertaken by Gov. Salahu Lami Salahu, the now Tonga of Kario Kingdom. While the Soludo’s reform weeded weaker banks, the latter thrashed perceived ineptitude in financial corporate governance in the banking system.”
Arome briskly rose, took some steps back and forth. “I know about these reforms of course”, he vented. “I also know that some commentators have credited them for some improvements in the area of corporate governance and risk management, lending capacity resulting from the consolidation exercise, and the confidence level of investors and customers.” Ayo felt encouraged, and perceiving that he was winning in the debate, he spoke once more. “Even the e-banking of which you’re a fan; wasn’t it a fruit from the reforms? More people now use automated teller machines (ATMs), point of sale (POS) systems, mobile phones and personal computers for banking transactions.”
With a mischievous laughter in his voice, Arome responded: “you have your facts right friend. But there are not all that there is to an efficient banking system my dear. Despite increased presence of deposit banks in Aboland, a good number of the populace are still either wholly excluded from banking system or rarely utilise the system due to inconveniences associated with banking services in our country. Amongst many issues with the sector, inadequate coverage is a big one. On February 17, 2012, His Royal Highness, Salahu II revealed this in a lecture at the University of Warwick’s Economic Summit in the UK. At the time, he was still the governor of Central Bank of Aboland. He reported that there were about 24 deposit money banks with 5,789 branches and 816 microfinance banks in Aboland as at December 2011. This makes the total of bank branches in our country at the time to be 6,605. If you do your maths well, that leaves you with one branch to 24, 224 persons. We can safely assume that little has changed since that time really. If that’s true, there you have it bro; many banks in Aboland have their branches overburdened.” Ayo fell silent as it seemed to him that his friend had taken on a larger figure.
Arome went on talking about how it was still a common occurrence to walk into banking halls in Aboland and find pools of customers jolting, sometimes unruly to transact bank businesses. Often times the queues in the banking hall would snake around, curving many times before extending to the outside of the bank building. He considered the weight of loss of labour hours for the numerous able men and women who were often trapped in the unfortunate lines. There are also personal queasy feelings that individuals experience under such ‘avoidable’ conditions. “Ayo-mi-de, this is where my aversion towards visiting the banks lies!”
“Ehm, Arome you are right. But is this not the reason why the advent of e-banking in the country is considered a wonderful relief? Now people can make financial transactions from the comfort of their homes, offices, playgrounds and anywhere using internet-enabled gadgets. Is it not awesome to be able to use ATMs 24/7 for business transactions without having to face banking hall nightmares? My dear, we’ve made progress oh.” Ayo felt his voice again but his friend would not let him speak further.
“You are right friend. After all, e-banking has become a global picture of banking system today and we ought to be proud of the feat Aboland has made in this regard. However, these hopes you painted earlier are poorly met in our country. Consider the ATMs. They still enjoy limited distribution across the nation and this causes almost a replication of the exasperating queues in our banking halls. In cases where you have two or more of the machines, only one is made available to serve customers no matter their numbers. Is it not safe to conclude then that the banking halls have lent their nightmares to the ATM stands?”
“As a matter of fact, I’ve added it also to my list of ‘places to avoid’”.
“Ehm, in that case, you’re left with internet and mobile banking then?”
“That’s correct Ayo. And it was the same reason why I went to rectify my mobile banking app with Reyna Bank. But you are not to think that we’ve gotten internet banking alright yet. Internet usage is limited by internet subscription, IT skills, including mobile phones, remember? And on both areas, many Abos are still disadvantaged.”
“Even if those things are there, Arome, I won’t trust the internet for any financial transaction. I don’t want someone to milk my account dry in a blink eh.”
“I know that fear Ayo. But trust me the security issue isn’t as you fear. Rather, the problem I have observed with some of the bank apps concerns policy frameworks that create bottlenecks for end-users and poor technical designs that sometimes make banking apps very user-unfriendly.”
Ayo exclaimed, “ah, you sef! you have become too critical of everything in Aboland; give them a break abeg-i! We are getting there oh!”
“If we are to get there, Ayo-mi-de, I am convinced; our banking sector still requires attention especially as it is a focal economic institution with enormous influence on the wellbeing of our ailing economy. The banking hall decongestion is crucial but so also is finding effective means of making various e-banking services endearing. We need our ghost ATMs too; they are not supposed to dress bank premises like corpse on a parade. Make deposit ATMs more widespread. Sort out mobile and internet banking to become more user-friendly and develop POS to be readily available at point of sales.”
“Now that you mentioned the POS”, Ayo re-join his friend, “I was shocked to learn from a cashier at a private hospital I visited recently that I must pay N 2,000 to use the device. If the service cost is that high, very few people would want to use it I suppose.”
“That’s what I’m saying ore mi”.
“There’s more to be done really.”
“E don do Arome. No finish the small garri wey I drink with this your talk talk jor.”
“It’s OK. Now that you talked about food, let me go in and do some quick fix before I lose my stamina.”
“Now you’re talking, I’m right behind you buddy”.
Dominic Ayegba Okoliko is a nascent Nigerian writer from Kogi State. He enjoys stories and love spending time creating some. His other interests include poem, humanitarian work and social science research. Some of his works have appeared in Words Rhymes and Rhythm, Nigeria News24, and Poemhunters. Dominic works with Human Rights and Conflict ‘Resolution Centre in Abakaliki and can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @Ayedom1