Omodele Adigun, Steve Agbota and Chinwendu Obienyi

As banks and other financial institutions in Lagos  bow to the seven-day lockdown order by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, Lagosians in their droves who trooped out for cash withdrawals did not bargain for what many got on Wednesday as their demand overwhelmed most banks in the metropolis.

As early 7am, virtually all on-site ATMs visited by our correspondents were besieged by customers in locations like Egbeda, Idimu, Ipaja , Oke Afa, Ikeja and Orile among others. Typical of a situation that almost caused a run on branches of the banks, long queues dotted both banking halls and premises of most of the banks visited yesterday with customers spending hours before they could carry out their transactions.

For instance, at the Ecobank branch, Jakanda Gate, Oke Afa, in the Oshodi Isolo Local Government, over 60 customers were prevented from entering the banking hall while there was a long queue at the bank’s ATM.

Similarly, at GTB branch on the same axis, over 120 customers lined up outside to allow the multitude in the banking hall peter out. As soon as the customers inside the banking hall reduced, the security personnel would allow another set of 10 customers at a time to enter while others would wait outside. The bank had over 100 queuing to make ATM transactions as all the six ATM machines outside the banking premises were dispensing at the same time, making withdrawals more efficient for customers.

However, there was a surge of customers at Sterling Bank, Access Bank, Fidelity Bank as well as United Bank for Africa (UBA) on the Orile axis. A customer of one the generational banks, Chigozie Stella, said, “With this virus in the air and with what I have seen on TV, it is imperative I withdraw money to at least get food items for my kids. It is not known yet but with the way they operated today, it is looking as if they might not operate tomorrow, hence the increased number of people making transactions today. It is expected that if they do that, then they might fill the ATMs with cash but the crowd is way too much today”.

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Mrs Kafayat Ajibola, a customer with one of the new generation banks said she had been on the queue for hours but that the digital channels seemed slow for the huge crowd waiting to make withdrawals.

“The crowd was too much today and as a customer I have been on the queue for hours because the queue at the ATMs was too long, which was why I entered the bank. This situation is really out of hand and I foresee hunger shaking Nigeria because we do not have the resources to fight this disease. But the measures here are tight”.

Meanwhile, Stanbic IBTC Bank in a statement urged its customers in Nigerians to utilise digital solutions to easily access their accounts, make payments, transfer funds, process salaries, and carry out other ancillary transactions from the comfort of their homes and offices without visiting branches.

The bank also advised that its branches remain open and available to customers who choose to visit to carry out their transactions. The bank said its branches are equipped with prescribed preventative measures.

The banks’ actions came in the wake of Tuesday’s order  by the Lagos State Government for the closure  of all open markets and stores for seven days, beginning from today Thursday, March 26, to curb the spread of coronavirus.                                    Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, had ordered “banks and other financial institutions to prioritise online channels for their services to the public; with only essential and key senior staff being in the office during these times.” When contacted, Mr Abdul Imoyo, of Access Bank’s  Corporate Communications Department debunked an assumption that Access Bank ATMs might not work today. He explained that the order by the governor would not affect ATM services as the e-payment channel would operate seamlessly during the period. He attributed the avalanche of customers at the branches to panicky mindset of Nigerians.  An officer of Ecobank Nigeria said the bank has already issued a statement urging its customers to adopt digital self-service solutions without having to visit any of its physical branches. “This is as part of efforts to ensure social distancing which will help curtail the spread of COVID-19.”, he said.