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ATM users waiting for their turn on a queue outside a bank in Lagos
ATM users waiting for their turn on a queue outside a bank in Lagos
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Dealing With ATM Problems In Nigeria

If you are a Nigerian or specifically a Lagosian who is a regular user of ATM machines, you will definitely relate with this scenario.

Onyii Amarachi

Onyii Amarachi

My record is roughly two hours. What’s yours?

If you’re wondering what the record is for; well, it happens to be the longest I’ve had to stand in a queue. Outside. Under the sun. Waiting for my turn at the ATM.

If you are someone who has spent any considerable length of time in most parts of this country, you no doubt just went “Ah!” at that, as you very well should (or shouldn’t, I’m not sure. Because when you’ve lived your whole life spending more time waiting for services you more or less have a right to, than you spend actually using said services, your views on what should and shouldn’t be tend to shift a little askew) because even though Nigerians, for reasons beyond me, have always preferred to complain about bad roads, the ATM wahala is a much more pressing, and not to mention, disturbing concern.

The average bank branch has at least three ATMs, however, it has been my experience that at any given time, hardly more than one would be functional, and that is on the days that any are. The rest are either faulty, shutdown, locked, “Out of Service”, or my personal favourite, “Temporarily Unable to Dispense Cash”. Isn’t there just something about that sentence, the way the words just roll off the tongue: “Temporarily Unable to Dispense Cash”, that makes it the most annoying thing ever?

I mean, picture yourself, after a ten minute walk to the closest ATM and a quarter hour wait in a queue. You slot in your card, type your pin, request your desired amount, and what does the machine tell you? “Temporarily Unable to Dispense Cash”.

You’re pissed. Definitely. But you’re also an adult, so you don’t begin raining blows on the machine while screaming about how people should engage in carnal relations with the bank. Instead, you head into the bank, pick up a withdrawal slip, fill it, get into another queue, and when you reach the teller, they explain to you with an expression that clearly says that they think you’re a bother, “sorry but for withdrawals below a hundred thousand naira, please use the ATM that says; “Temporarily Unable to Dispense Cash”. Have a nice day.”

I guess that would explain why a man laid on the floor of a bank one day and refused to get up until he was given his money.

You go down the street and you see people queued up outside banks, waiting forlornly for their turn at an ATM that is unlikely to pay, and why? Because that particular bank branch has five ATMs, but only one is currently in service. And naturally, it’s the one with the faulty zero button you have to push a thousand times before it works. Or worse, the one with the keypad that zaps you whenever it’s in a mood. And in the event that it does pay, it gives you these filthy notes that when touched make you feel unclean. These notes that look like they’ve spent more than a few hours festering in some old lady’s sweaty bra. It’s ridiculous.

I once saw someone who withdrew money from an ATM only to find that one of the 1000 naira notes the machine coughed out at him was actually two torn 1000 naira notes taped together well enough that the seam could barely be noticed at first glance. That’s money his bank gave him.

And on the topic of 1000 naira notes, why is it that the smallest denomination of the Nigerian currency you’re likely to get from an ATM anywhere is 500 naira? Because I know the Central Bank still prints smaller notes, I see 5-200 naira notes with the current year printed boldly on them all over the place, so why do ATMs hardly—if ever—give out anything less than NGN500? Then when you go into the bank to ask for change they tell you they don’t have any. Who does?! You’re the bank, right? Aren’t you supposed to be the medium through which the Federal Government passes currency to the masses? Isn’t it your business to have those notes? Or am I missing something here? Because the way I understand it—and please do correct me if I’m wrong—is that

1) the notes exist,

2) banks are supposed to have those notes,

3) I am legally allowed to collect those notes from the bank, and

4) the banks profit from my transactions.

So what is the problem? Do banks have too much money? Or is there some huge conspiracy that I’m unaware of?

Or could it really be as simple as the fact that, as is the case with too many other things in this country, the banking system in Nigeria has a colossal problem that no one has yet addressed after all these years? Because I think that’s exactly it. And if that’s the case, then the people who get paid to handle the matters of currency in the country might want to get on it. Because this is one young man who’s just about fed-up with the ATM wahala.

And believe me when I say that he is one of many.