By Suleiman Hassan Gimba Esq
Since the novelist and playwright, Edward Bulwer-Lytton coined the metonymic adage “the pen is mightier than the sword”, the world has come to accept it as an indicator of the new age where wars are fought and won through subtler means. It has always been the way of the world, for the strong few to feast on the many weak. Times then changed but not by much, the smart few took over and started feasting on the rest. Those were all times of great darkness. The world has changed now, we are not in Utopia but the world is becoming fairer. People are being held to account with the government relying on the cooperation of the majority to maintain power or to succeed. So it is quite shocking that in this era, one could take his pen, sword, or whatever weapon and go on the offensive against 14,000 people, expecting it to die quietly.
For the past few days, with my mind worried by the disgrace that happened at the Yobe Microfinance Bank (YBMFB), I began to see the whole act as something I have seen before, probably as performance on stage or as a novel from say a social critique like Charles Dickens. His use of paradox to open his celebrated story A Tale of Two Cities does in a way describe what we are witnessing in Yobe: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…”
This is certainly the best of times for the few that have ransacked YBMFB’s vaults, literally, and in every sense, it is the worst of times for those 14,000 persons, their dependents, and every concerned Yobe indigene. You can go through all the phrases and you will see it as the tale of two people; the bereft and the sadistic acted in broad daylight on the Yobe stage. And while the bereft are still licking their wounds, the sadistic are off again on the lookout for other people to inflict misery on.
In this tragicomedy with pens clattering against each other – some against 14,000 participants of the Special Public Works (SPW) and others for them, it kind of begs the question “when a pen is against another pen as against the sword analogy, which will be seen as mightier?”
Those against gave the first blow, with a swift application of a signature they ordered charges of N2,500 to be meted on each of the 14,000 participants and account holders at YBMFB; before that, misuse of their pen had given the green light to the disqualification of about 2,000 persons from an initial list of 16,000 approved to be handled by YBMFB; then the pens keep talking to defend the defenseless by going about to state that the charges were agreed to by the participants. This sounds like a good reason – if the threat of financial duress is not taking into account – but a mightier pen (the CBN) had written long before this (on 1st January 2020 in its “Guide to Charges by Banks, other Financial and Non-Bank Financial Institutions) that charges for bulk payment is 50 Naira and is paid for by the sender and YBMFB had only one job, to comply.
After it became apparent that Dr. Sheriff Almuhajjir cannot be defended logically or on reliance on legal provisions, their pen came out with another excuse, that the Dr from whatever-school-saw-it-fit to award him a doctorate has added publicity for the bank, confusing publicity with performance. To distinguish the two, payments were made to the participants of SURE-P by his predecessors without much ado; that is performance. As for YBMFB being in the news recently, it is for all the wrong reasons. People are now wary about depositing their money with the bank. If anything, “commercials banks” (shoutout to BUGON) detest negative publicity and would have sacked any management staff that brings it upon the bank because they are out to make profit from attracting customers not relying on governments to send beneficiaries their way to swindle. Customers also have full autonomy over their accounts, no one withdraws their money for them to go sharing it to them whether they want to withdraw it or not.
In further violation of the provisions of CBN, YBMFB employs solely Adhoc staff with neither banking experience nor sufficient training to carry out the job. This alone attracts a fine of N5,000,000 because CBN doesn’t want banks to be making the kinds of mistakes amateurs make like that of the YBMFB not verifying BVNs before opening bank accounts. You can see how this Dr keeps endangering the bank. If this is how banks operate and charge customers, everyone will buy a piggy bank, which is better than being swindled by incompetent bankers.
YBMFB didn’t do this alone, it couldn’t have done it alone. It needed the support of a strong ally and that came in the form of Hon. Goni Bukar Lawan, the Chairman of the Selection Committee of the SPW program. On a normal day, he will try to check the excesses of the bank and ensure those selected were paid fully but he was – without even going with the formality of appointing an investigative committee – disgracing himself on a video trying to defend their loot. Speaking quixotically about bank tax like some fancy folk schooling toddlers, complaining about the inadequate number of staff. If the staff are inadequate, why then did they change the bank from the “commercials banks” to YBMFB, he has an answer to that too, leaving it to “commercials banks” would ensure the participants get only in the region of N12,000.
He was on the defensive with the enthusiasm of a kid trying so hard to be bitten by a spider because he has seen in some movie that it could make him a superhero, one could then be forgiven for thinking our dear BUGON only did what he had to do to get another paycheck to carry him through retirement. The incompetency and greed he displayed prove his people were right not to re-elect him into the House of Representatives.
By creating a mode of operation of channeling beneficiaries’ money through the bank, they think they are the last wonders of the world but in truth with every action, we are seeing a form of organized crime right at the heart of governance. And it is not even a secret, it is in the open for everyone to see. I don’t want either of them to go the way of Cecelia Ibru or to go live comfortably with Uncle Joshua Dariye but it looks like that is the path they want to thread.
Yet with every explanation, they look like they have been doused in truth serum, leaving clues for pens that have sworn to defend the innocent to put the jigsaw together. Our pens, a troubadour they traverse, to unearth what has been interred against a people with little interest in the affairs of government but are only worried about the next meal. They know the true value of a Naira, more than either of us and people must look at their plight from the lens of humanity. To them N100 could be the difference between having a meal or not, N500 could be the reason when their children walk 15 miles to the nearest school they wouldn’t be sent back home for nonpayment of PTA and Medical Levy.
So far Dr. Sheriff Almuhajjir and Honourable Goni Bukar Lawan are the Kryptonites standing in their way but like Superman, there is always a way around the kryptonite and I can only pray for these people to find it. The culprits can still repent, refund people’s money and resign because “the light is coming to give back everything the darkness stole.” It hurts to be good when you are not used to it, I know, but it hurts, even more, to be the good father trying to put a plate on his children’s table only to be shortchanged by acts of greed from those ordinarily don’t need the money. Oh, there is a word it is called; kleptomania, is it?