But do journalists deserve to ride G-Wagons too? Or put differently, there’s no reason why journalists’ instincts for self-preservation should be less well-honed than those of bankers. At the heart of much of what ails our nation is this penchant for individuals to assess what each can prise out of every situation, rather than concern with possible gains to the commonweal.


Late last year, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) released the latest iteration of its “Guide To Charges By Banks, Other Financial and Non-Bank Financial Institutions”. Effective January 1 this year, the way the banking industry tells the story, this is the most disruptive of the CBN’s many recent interventions in their space. The apex bank took a chainsaw to the myriad tariffs banks charge their customers ― more than halving such charges in some cases. Lower bank charges should sit well with customers pockets. And with domestic prices resuming movement northwards, this can’t be such a terrible development.

Then, there’s the not-so-small matter of banks’ burgeoning balance sheets, even as their increasingly poor clientele point to egregious instances of poor services across customers’ touch points. For once, the CBN appeared to act as a proper regulator should ― in the interest of consumers and not of the industry it superintends.

True, there are plenty who quarrel with these narratives. For instance, rather than simply force the price of banks’ services down, a better pro-market regulatory response ― one that pushes prices down for customers, while driving innovation amongst banks ― is to stimulate competition within the industry. And in this case, many see the caveats with which the CBN hemmed in telecommunications firms interested in providing financial services as the biggest drawback to its payments service banks (PSB) initiative.

Where businesses struggle to recover their costs because of price caps, investment falls off. So, if this is true, the industry might be in trouble. I guess this is why bank strategy officers tell me that one unintended consequence of the new bank tariffs is the possible suspension of industry investment in infrastructure for electronic banking ― PoS, ATMs, etc.


This, though, is but part of the story around the latest guide. The part that has resonated loudest, talking to bankers ― sotto voce ― is the one that hints that the CBN may have forced the prices of banking services down (a potential economic good) before understanding the cost to the industry of providing these services (a policy clanger). To take but one example, the CBN reduced banks’ charges for “Not On-Us (withdrawal from other bank’s ATM) in Nigeria” from a maximum of N65 to “N35 after the third withdrawal within the same month”.

My banking industry contacts swear that banks pay far more to “other banks” for this type of transaction than the N35 they are now allowed to recoup from their customers. Consequently, it seems that one bank promptly went ahead to considerably reduce how much its customers could take off other banks’ ATMs via these “not-on-us” transactions. Where businesses struggle to recover their costs because of price caps, investment falls off. So, if this is true, the industry might be in trouble. I guess this is why bank strategy officers tell me that one unintended consequence of the new bank tariffs is the possible suspension of industry investment in infrastructure for electronic banking ― PoS, ATMs, etc.

The implications of this for the economy are both real and present. But not as telling as another dimension of this conversation. If, indeed, the CBN may have cut off the banking industry’s nose in order to flatter its customers’ pockets through its new tariff structure, why are the banks and bankers not making that much fuss about it all? None of the bankers that I spoke to sits on the Bankers’ Committee, nor on the less fancy Committee of Banks’ CEOs, so it is kind of difficult to gauge how much discussion there has been around these matters in these forums.

Why risk losing your job by riling your regulator, when your bonus for the year’s work could be all that separates you from that dream G-wagon? So, the burden of understanding the banking industry’s response to new (and often imperfect) policies, and how these play to the economy’s (dis)advantage shifts unto the journalist’s laps.


One thing is clear, however, not one of my interlocutors was going to go public on their misgivings. Instead, as with other matters that the country labours under, at lunch and in private gabfests they were at their most voluble blaming the media for not speaking adequately about such problems. On this understanding were both the media and our criminal justice system to pass muster, we’d be far closer to the “promised land” than we currently are. Our media, poorly paid and all, has its problems, including the familiar anecdotal one of receiving gratification to suppress stories. Still, even the most investigative of journalists needs leads ― and persons whose consciences (across sectors of the economy where things are not as honky-dory as they appear on the surface) wouldn’t allow them sleep without seeking some form of redress.

What space for aggrieved persons taking their beefs to the media, as part of the discourse that helps keep policy on the straight and narrow? An embarrassing silence falls on the company at lunch, unsettled only by the shuffling of well-shod feet. “It is not done in the industry”, one of the company finally blurts out. But whatever the “industry” does or does not do, this version of the Nigerian dilemma presents us with what another banker friend refers to as a “Mercedes Benz G-Wagon problem”. The bankers I spoke to have spent all their working lives following the cash. For their banks (hence those large balance sheets), and, alas, for themselves. Another friend puts their biggest failing down deprecatorily as “self-preservation”. Why risk losing your job by riling your regulator, when your bonus for the year’s work could be all that separates you from that dream G-wagon? So, the burden of understanding the banking industry’s response to new (and often imperfect) policies, and how these play to the economy’s (dis)advantage shifts unto the journalist’s laps.

But do journalists deserve to ride G-Wagons too? Or put differently, there’s no reason why journalists’ instincts for self-preservation should be less well-honed than those of bankers. At the heart of much of what ails our nation is this penchant for individuals to assess what each can prise out of every situation, rather than concern with possible gains to the commonweal.

Uddin Ifeanyi, journalist manqué and retired civil servant, can be reached @IfeanyiUddin.