Monday, 4 April 2016

ATM Wahala: The way forward

ATM line in Katsina town. More photos below
By Dr. Ahmed Adamu

It disheartened me to share these photos of hardship in our society, these pictures were captured in Katsina, and it may not be different in other parts of the country. It is the pictures of Automated Teller Machines (ATM) points, showing large crowd of people lining up and suffering trying to withdraw money from the ATM. Some of them travel from long distance places to come to the ATM points, and they may eventually not get the money. This ATM Wahala has lingered for a while, and it keep exacerbating. First, we need to understand the situation and then talk about the solution.

I will use Katsina as a sample in trying to describe the situations. In the state, almost all public servants receive their salaries through their bank accounts, and they all have to come to the ATM machines at the same time (end of the month after government salary) to withdraw money. And because most of the withdrawal are not above N50, 000, they must withdraw it from the ATM mouth, according the new decongestion policy by Central Bank Nigeria (CBN). This means majority have to line up before the ATM machines to get money. However, joining the long ATM lines is not the only point of sympathy, the frustrating thing is to wait on the line, under scorching heat, and only to come to your turn and the ATM will tell you “Unable to dispense cash” or “temporary out of cash” or “issuer inoperative”, and before the machine can come back to work, it might take long time or the next day depending on the bank and its location.

The reason why most Banks cannot maintain constant availability of money is because of the poor quality of the money they receive. Most of the paper money CBN gives to the commercial banks are below the ATM standard, and as such, they cannot be placed on the ATMs. This is why despite money availability in Banks, they cannot fund the ATM machines. And if they place any paper currency that did not meet the ATM standard, the machine will get jammed and stop working. 

Another reason why ATMs fail is because of technical error on the server of the Banks, thereby making it impossible to execute any automated transactions. Many times, one wonders what is the role of the so called ATM Monitoring Team (AMT) and their supervisors, who are instantly alerted of any failure or cash unavailability on the ATMs? Sometimes, there is serious reluctance on the side of the AMT, and since they receive special allowances, then they shall be able to promptly respond and address all ATM issues even on the weekends.

Another limitation of ATMs is that, no ATM can be uploaded with over N1m after 6pm to minimise risks of theft and security breaches. As a result any 10 big customers can exhaust ATM in a night, and then subsequent customers cannot access cash from the same machine. Even if all ATM issues are to be addressed, the number of customers have far outnumbered the ATMs. For example, in Katsina Senatorial District, only Katsina, Jibiya and Dutsinma towns have ATMs, and in most cases customers have to come to Katsina to withdraw little of the salary they receive. These photos illustrate the serious hardship the ATM users undergo. If at all they are lucky to have the money eventually, they will then have to join another long line to take fuel from filling stations.


Now, whether we like it or not, no matter how our society resist change, there are changes that must be embraced. We have to change our payment systems in all payment points or at least provide options for automated payments via Point of Sale (POS), and this shall be provided in all shops, filling stations, restaurants, commercial offices and business, public institutions, educational institutions, etc. I can never ascribe to reverting back to cash down salary system, because, without money in Banks, government will lose its power in controlling the economy. If all payments are done automatic, then there is no need for this long lines on ATMs, because you don’t need cash to live, you only need card to live.

Because, most of Bank customers are not aware of their rights, they are subjected to unnecessary hardships, and the trauma such ATMs and Bank inadequacies caused them are not compensated. Therefore, there is need to set up Association of ATM Users (AAU), which will serve as the voice of all ATM users, so that the AAU will be monitoring performance of ATMs, and they should have numbers of the AMT and to report to them any failure or issue on ATMs, and they should follow up to ensure all issues are rectified immediately. The AAU shall be responsible to hearing grievances and complains from all ATM users. The AAU branches shall be provided in all towns and villages. The AAU shall be empowered by the Banks to hold cash and be provided with POS, and then any customer that want to withdraw money, he/she can go to the AAU branch in his/her town or village, and his bank account will be debited with exact amount he entered on the POS, and he will receive cash from the AAU officials. AAU shall be able to maintain security balance in their accounts to avoid default. This will reduce the hurdle of travelling to Major Towns to withdraw money.

There shall be laws that permits private individuals to operate independent ATM. This is a highly paid business, where you can buy your own ATM, and charge customers per transactions, and later get your money back from Banks. For example, if you charge N200 per transaction, and your ATM is placed in strategic location, you can get up to a thousand transaction in a month, which means you will have a net revenue of N200, 000 per month. So, allowing this kind of private business will decongest major cities and ATMs, and will make lives easy, and will create business opportunities.

Finally, the Banks shall install more machines in all towns and villages, and they shall be efficient and responsive to all technical issues and cash unavailability problems. They should consider the suffering of the customers and sympathise by providing adequate service to ease lives.

Dr. Ahmed Adamu
Petroleum Economist and Development Expert
Pioneer Global Chairperson, Commonwealth Youth Council

University Lecturer (Economics), Umaru Musa Yar’adua University


  1. Nice write up. I will like to say something on two point in the solutions paragraph. Unfortunately some banks have enough machines like FBN IBB way branch but they hardly put them all at work even during salary period and secondly I am highly in support of your solution that ATMs should be allowed to be operated by private individuals or organisations for the effective cash disposment through ATMs, and the business will yield huge profit to the owners because thousands of transactions can be made every month and will help to ease or solve the problem asociated with ATM withdrawals. Thank you my mentor, more grease to your elbow.

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