It took less than three minutes at the entrance gate of the United Bank of Africa (UBA) in Victoria Island, Lagos, to confirm that discrimination against persons with disability in Nigerian banks was not a made-up story.
The security officer at the door didn’t paint the bank right. The customer staff in other banks would also show a total disregard for a community made up of quite a number.
One month earlier, Blessing Mary Ochiedo, a worker at ‘We Are Family’ Foundation, had painfully recounted the ill treatment she had experienced at an Access Bank branch in Abuja.
Ochiedo uses a wheelchair, and on May 29, she wanted to complete a transaction that was already approaching deadline. She got to the bank, but there was neither an accessible door nor a ramp. She was referred to another bank far from where she lives.
“When I got to the Access Bank branch I eventually used in Asokoro, the staff member who attended to me was not even willing to meet me halfway,” she had said on Twitter. “After abandoning my chair outside the bank and using the walker even though I was sick and could barely walk, he still insisted I come right to the counter for service.”
She was one of those who advocated for accessibility in banks before the Nigerian government finally passed the 2019 disability law, which clearly states that all public spaces must provide for customers or visitors who have special needs.
Mary Blessing Ochiedo
“A person with disability has the right to access the physical environment and building on an equal basis with others. A public building shall be constructed with the necessary accessibility aids such as lifts, ramps and any other facility that shall make them accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities,” the law says.
“It is really appalling, the way businesses treat persons with disabilities in Nigeria. It is as though we clearly don’t matter,” Ochiedo said after her terrible experience with Access Bank on May 29, indicating that discrimination and stigmatisation within bank premises is a living, breathing practice.
Few days after Ochiedo’s complaint, she said she was contacted by the bank’s manager with an apology.
The Access Bank manager, while acknowledging that there was a lack of awareness among the staff about treatment of persons with disability, made a promise to Ochiedo that they would be trained.
Ochiedo said she was assured that subsequent experience at the bank would be better.
In retrospect, when the Nigerian government passed the disability law in 2019, Ochiedo and millions hoped that what she experienced three years after would be a thing of the past.
However, acting as a person with disability in selected banks in Victoria Island, I saw financial institutions’ complicity in the discrimination against persons with disabilities.
TERRIBLE FIRST IMPRESSION AT UBA
Victoria Island is home to the headquarters of several Nigerian banks. It is an urban and elitist environment with an element of grandeur. As a result, one would expect sufficient efforts here to comply with the law.
At 10:12 am on July 19, I walked into the United Bank of Africa (UBA) branch on Odeku Street, opposite SPAR Nigeria. I walked as though I was physically challenged. Periodically, I bent to touch my knee with my hand and ambled towards the security man standing at the entrance of the bank.
“Good morning,” I greeted, but the middle-sized, slender and dark security guard ignored me. I got closer and greeted him again, louder. I was in a pair of black trousers and a multi-colour shirt. He turned his eyes to look at my legs.
“How can I locate a ramp? This staircase is high,” I told him.
“Wrap? What do you mean?”
I explained to him what a ramp is and he said the bank didn’t have such. I asked where I could locate a ramp.
“Oga, if you know you can’t use the steps, why can’t you just send someone, any one of your family members to help you? Anybody will help you because you have a leg problem,” he said.
I told him that I didn’t need a ramp right away but would want to use a bank with one so I could come in whenever I wanted with my wheelchair.
PWDs AT HIGHER RISK OF SUICIDE
Stairs and inaccessible doors at a GTB branch
Research says suicide rate increased by about 60 percent in the last 45 years, creating a significant burden on public health. Globally, one million death occur from suicide yearly, amounting to one death every 40 seconds.
According to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, persons with disabilities are far more likely to think, plan and/or attempt suicide than persons without disabilities.
Although it has been established that suicide cases are often under-reported in Nigeria because of religion and cultural biases, Jibril Abdulmalik, a consultant at the University of Ibadan Teaching Hospital, said that suicide in Nigeria was a rising public health problem.
LETHARGIC FIRST BANK CUSTOMER SERVICE
At the First Bank branch beside Kenvor restaurant, I noticed a small number of people, having arrived early.
I moved closer to address a staffer sitting at the far right and I told him that I was there for a deposit. He pointed to a machine.
“You will make your deposit right there,” he said.
I began the process of sending N2,000 into my account, but surprisingly, the machine could not count the two N1000 notes I dropped. It deposited the first and left the rest trapped in the machine. A customer standing behind me notified the staffer, but he ignored her. The customer saw how I came in and there was concern in her eyes that it would be difficult for me to walk to the staffer again. When the staffer did not bulge, I walked to him.
“As you can see I am occupied here. Please wait,” he said. I stood there for 10 minutes.
“Is there a special needs desk that can attend to me here?” I asked.
“Special needs for people with disabilities. Anybody that can attend to people like me.”
“No, we don’t have such here.”
Tired of waiting, I walked to the far left where there was a vacant chair and sat down.
He beckoned me back three minutes later. But I had to stay behind him for another 10 minutes before he attended to me. He took the receipt of the trapped N1000 and walked quickly behind the machine while I struggled to catch up with him. He deposited the balance and asked me to sign on the teller.
DISCRIMINATION AT GTB
Queue at a GTB branch
Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) was beside the First Bank branch where I had just made a deposit. I headed straight to the entrance.
As I climbed the steep stairs, I missed one of the steps, staggering, but I quickly regained my posture.
“Sorry sir,” a GTB security official said.
“If you don’t mind, please I will like to locate the deposit section,” I told an official on the first floor, who had looked at my legs pitifully when I entered.
He asked me to climb the stairs to the second floor. I saw a high staircase and I asked for an elevator. He said there was none but I could support myself with the rail.
The line was as long as the vast hall. I walked towards the counter.No one had met me halfway through, even though I apparently had a hard time walking.
I went to the counter to ask if there was a special needs unit. She said there was none, and that I would have to stand in line. There was no chair in sight to sit down. When it was my turn in the queue, the lady in attendance asked me to go and see the official sitting next to her.
“Why are you sending him to me?” The second official asked.
“Just attend to him; I am busy,” she snapped.
“Please stop sending anyone to me; you’re not my senior here. If you can not attend to him, I, too, cannot attend to him.”
When the lady saw that her coworker had not taken it very well, she waited a while and then stretched her hand for my teller. Apparently, she did not want to be of service because she dreaded serving a person with special needs.
COMMISSION TO ERADICATE DISCRIMINATION IN BANKS
The National Commission for Persons with Disabilities (NCPWD) told me that owing to cases of stigmatisation and discrimination in banks, the commission was developing new regulations with CBN.
“In the case of discrimination and stigmatisation in banking, we have a programme called inclusive monetary policy. The idea is not only about physical accessibility of the banking structures but the accessibility of the services rendered. Gradually, the commission will deliberately engage banks directly, but we are starting with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), and so far, they have been cooperating well,” the commission stated.
The commission also told me that some of the areas it is working on are as follows: How is the services rendered by banks accessible to person with disabilities? Are the channels of communication accessible? Is the website accessible? Can a blind man access the website?
“Currently, you will find that in banks, these services I just mentioned are not provided. In fact, the way banks are structured, you will find that it is done to exclude PWDs who are millions in this country. As a commission, we are engaging with the CBN, a financial regulatory body, so that they can give appropriate directives. As it is now, banks basically run as though persons with disabilities do not exist. We understood that this barriers are there and this is why we are reaching out to the CBN.”
The commission stated that the number of persons with disabilities in banks was about 15 million.
“It is much more than what people are thinking. Roughly, I can tell you that we have more than 15 million persons with disabilities who are banking. The entire number of PWD in Nigeria is 31 million. Besides, recently we introduced a programme and we had over two million disabled persons and the requirement was that to apply, they had to have a bank account. The two million applicants are just the vulnerable PWDs. We have millions of others who have businesses or jobs and are not qualified to collect N5,000,” a representative of the commission said.
Also, the commission has a holistic plan to reduce discrimination and stigmatisation. It believes this view is central to solving the problem.
“To reduce discrimination against PWDs in banks, we need to have a disability desk officer in all banks. Bank staffs need to be properly trained. PWD knowledge experts should be part of those developing internal inclusive policies in banks,” the commission said.
JUST ONE STAR: FIRST CITY MONUMENT BANK (FCMB)
As I walked into the Access Bank branch opposite FMDQ Exchange Rate in Victoria Island, I saw two people at the reception hall. They asked me if I needed special attention.
I told them I wanted to set up a domiciliary account and I wanted to know what the requirements were.
Shortly, an official joined me at the reception and explained the requirements to me. She also told me that there was a special needs desk. In all of my inquiries, this was the only nuance.
At a Zenith Bank branch across the street from Infracredit Limited, a staff member told me they attended to people with disabilities outside the banking hall because they didn’t have a ramp.
THE COST OF BUILDING A RAMP
Great Valley Lockshop, a quantity survey platform, said that a door must be 80 inches tall to be considered accessible to people with disabilities who are using the wheelchair.
“For a doorway to be considered accessible, it must be at least 80 inches tall and provide at least 32 inches of clear width. This measurement refers to the space between the face of the door (when fully open) and the stop on the other side of the doorframe,” the quantity survey platform said.
“If the doorway is more than 2 feet deep, the clear width must be at least 36 inches.This is applicable to at least one side of a double-leaf door. It does not apply to doors that are operated only by security staff.”
Networx Systems, another quantitative survey platform, estimated that it costs between N1.2 million and N3.3 million (N41,500 and 103,800 per linear foot) to build a permanent ramp.
INCLUSION OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES NOT CHARITY
Emmanuella Akinola, a Disability Awareness and Initiative Foundation official, said that banks needed to look at the business potential of an inclusive financial policy.
“With over 30 million persons living with disability in Nigeria, that is a huge market for any business. Surprisingly, this is a market that a lot of organizations are leaving out. To increase their profitability, they should look at those areas and make provision that are accessible. It is important for banks to note that financial inclusion is not a charity project but a profit decision that has a bottom line,” she said.
“The truth is that when they make their platform more accessible, they will get persons with disability customers as well as friends and families of the disabled. At the end of the day, it is win-win situation for banks. Financial sectors should think about profitability by considering financial inclusion that will help them access more markets.”
CBN AND OTHER FIVE BANKS UNDER REVIEW
At press time, UBA Bank, First Bank, Zenith Bank, Access Bank and GTBank had not responded to emails sent to them regarding issues of discrimination and stigmatisation in banks. They have also not responded to calls made to them.
I spoke to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) via their official contact. An official who identified himself as Adewale said he could not confirm what the financial regulatory body was doing to reduce discrimination and stigmatisation in banks.
He suggested that advocacy groups continue to defend the rights of people with disabilities. He also insisted that organisations write officially to the governor of the CBN so that better policies could be put in place and appropriate attention given to this area.
I visited the Lagos State office on Disability Affairs (LASODA) in Ikeja on Monday. The receptionist told me that Oluwadamilare Ogundiaro, the General Manager of LASODA, was in a meeting, requesting that I hold on a bit.
Meanwhile, I took some time to speak with two wheelchair users I met outside.
AbdulAzeez Ayorinde, a wheelchair user, only answered ‘no’ when I first asked if he had ever experienced discrimination and stigmatisation in a bank.
He refused to give details like the woman beside him. But when he saw me leaving the office, he came to me and said:
“We have complained many times about this before. The stigma and discrimination are still there, even after the disability act. It is hard to find ramps at the entrance and the doors are still not accessible. The pains of climbing those stairs are unimaginable. It is like salt on a wound that its blood is still coming out. I am sure the GM has told you how many times we have complained to the government.”
The director general didn’t say much, but he told me he had just come from a meeting with private sector stakeholders on how to improve their services to persons with disabilities. He said there would be another meeting in the coming week and he would invite me to attend it.
SITUATION ANALYSIS OF 70 BANKS IN VICTORIA ISLAND
Visual representation of the analysis
Findings on the 70 banks visited in the course of this investigation are as follows.
- Less than 50% have ramps available for persons who make use of wheelchair.
- More than half (57.1%) do not have accessible doors for persons on wheelchair.
- 70% of the banks that have ramps also have accessible doors for persons with disabilities.
- Only 29% of security officials working in banks with facilities for persons with disabilities are aware they have them.
This report was produced with support from the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under the Collaborative Media Engagement for Development Inclusivity and Accountability project (CMEDIA) funded by the MacArthur Foundation