Beneficiaries protest as banks begin COVID-19 loan recovery

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Commercial banks have commenced a massive recovery of the loans disbursed to Nigerians to cushion the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Several beneficiaries have been jolted by the deductions of thousands of naira from their bank accounts without any notice from the banks.

The loan was disbursed to households and Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises affected by the COVID-19 pandemic by the Central Bank of Nigeria through the commercial banks in 2021.

The fund, which was managed by the NIRSAL Microfinance Bank, received thousands of applications, charged at five per cent with a moratorium that lasted till February 28, 2021.

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According to the guidelines released by the Central Bank of Nigeria, those who were to benefit from the fund were households with verifiable evidence of livelihood adversely impacted by COVID-19; existing enterprises with verifiable evidence of business activities adversely affected as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and enterprises with bankable plans.

Beneficiaries, who spoke with our correspondents, expressed surprise over the deduction of money from their bank accounts.

A customer, who identified herself as Aunty Yinka, complained that a commercial bank allegedly removed N750,000 from the accounts operated by her and her son, noting that she received only N200,000 COVID-19 grant.

The aggrieved customer stated that she was yet to come to terms with the development, adding that the bank’s action had rendered her ‘financially insolvent.’

In a telephone interview on Tuesday, she said, “What happened is that last Friday around 4.48 pm, I checked my phone and saw a debit alert of N380,000. What was written was Global Standing Instruction.

‘’Initially, I thought it was from fraudsters and had to freeze my account. When I complained to customer care, they asked me if I had taken a loan or given out my Bank Verification Number during COVID-19.

“I didn’t take any loan but I gave out my BVN and that of my son to some friends and we got N200,000 and they told us it was a grant.

“But the surprising thing is that the bank removed N380,000 from my account and N370,000 from my son’s account, making a total of N750,000. I didn’t even spend the money I was debited, but I have reached out to those I gave my BVN during that time to know if they used my account to receive money.

“At least, if I had collected the money, I would be happy to refund it but I didn’t take it. I have also heard in my area that some people’s money has been removed too.”

Another beneficiary of the loan, Mr Success, said his account was debited to the tune of N305,754, to his consternation.

‘’I received about N473,500 COVID-19 grant but I was surprised that they deducted N305,754 from my bank account last Friday. It was tagged GSI recovery. I never applied for a loan; what I got was a COVID-19 grant and it is not supposed to be repaid,’’ he insisted.

The xpokesperson for NIRSAL, Halimat Lawal, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday but a director confirmed the loan recovery move by the bank.

He emphatically stated that the disbursement was a loan and not a grant as widely reported.

The official said, “Of course, the bank has started getting back its loans. Already, there is a campaign we are running to recover our loans from defaulting customers. The money given is a loan and this was stated from the beginning.  There were terms and conditions stated in the loan and they signed it because it was done electronically.”

A check on the bank’s website revealed that it expects to recover N2.1bn from 3,523 small-medium businesses and N14.3bn disbursed to 31,462 households in its non-interest-bearing deposit package.

It will also recover N112.5bn loaned to 114,476 small and medium enterprises and N261.4bn disbursed to 643,486 households under its targeted credit facility package.

However, some beneficiaries admitted to receiving the loans without the proper documentation and were charged at least 25 per cent of the capital before disbursement with the promise that the loan was not to be repaid.

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