The Shylocks Within

Dr. Gimba
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By Hassan Gimba

Last week, the federal government, through the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC), banned two loan app banks, permanently removing them from Google Play Store and initiating the process of deleting their respective apps.

The culprits, Sycamore Integrated Solutions Limited and Orange Loan and Purple Credit Limited, along with their apps, Getloan and Camelloan, were permanently delisted due to their illicit practices and for their harassment of Nigerians.

They were also accused of duplicity and illegal activities when they were discovered to be using APKs to attract borrowers, which is both illegal and unregulated.

The truth is that loan apps have taken over our cyberspace and instead of bringing succour to the people – as they want all to believe – they steal the peace in homes and communities.

Perhaps most, if not all, of the about a hundred loan apps threatening not to give us a breathing space may be owned by the same Chinese people. The moment you just view any of them online, a plethora of others inundate your screen, and there are a lot. You have XCROSS, Jumia app, Easy-buy, Palm Credit, Palm Pay, Easy Cash, Loan Book, etc. Some have turned into mushroom microfinance banks with offices and mean staff. They christen them “Debt Collectors”.

With no collateral, they promise you instant cash, but they get access to all the relevant information from your phone. This allows them to know much about you and have access to your contacts, granting them a mighty stranglehold on your jugular.

Many people, a good number knowing they had no means of paying back, get trapped in a vicious cycle where they continue obtaining such easy loans to pay an earlier loan from another loan giver. And so the cycle goes on.

In a country where the masses do not have any form of social security or insurance coverage, some loans go into issues like feeding the family, seeking medical care, paying school fees for kids and such stuff.

However, the problem is that these Shylock loan givers have nasty ways of collecting their monies from defaulters. Some are extremely embarrassing that can lead to the clients losing face in the community while they crudely blackmail their victims. Whatever they can do to have their pound of flesh is fair game to them.

Mrs. Adeogun, a former member of staff of one of these loan sharks, disclosed that an “unprecedented embarrassment” befalls anyone who fails to pay back such borrowed monies on time. She said, “If you refuse to pay them back at the set date, you will be treated like trash. They will embarrass you in a big way, in a manner that your children will forever be ashamed of. I know what I am saying; I used to be a member.”

I have received several text messages from these debtors telling me to “talk to” some people in my contact list to pay them. These people may not be close to me in any way, but an SMS will come telling me that those people have made me their guarantor when collecting the loan and that I should press them to pay.

Another most embarrassing and libellous one came to me regarding a lady who was a neighbour. They sent me a message that she was diagnosed with HIV but she had run away from a medical facility to infect people and that she should be reported when seen.

She told me it was them and that they cooked that up to get at her for a loan she took from them.

Her case is even minor compared to those who lost their lives because of the pressure from these Shylocks who must always get their pound of flesh if not more.

In July 2019, 41-year-old Shakirat Rasheed, in Apete, a suburb of Ibadan, rather than face the embarrassment from such people, committed suicide after a friend she stood as surety for fled with the loan.

This year, too, has witnessed some deaths because debtors prefer to take that extreme route rather than face harassment from such unscrupulous loan sharks.

One woman simply identified as Mama Dada burnt herself in her rented apartment over her inability to repay a loan of ₦70,000 she took from one of such microfinance banks, popularly known as LAPO.

LAPO is well-known for lending money to traders and other small-business owners with specific repayment plans.

The woman sent her little son to buy petrol, discharged him on another errand, locked the door and set herself ablaze. She was burnt beyond recognition as the entire building in Abeokuta’s Oke-Keesi, Itoko area, was destroyed in the process.

Even management staff are not exempt; in June this year, the manager of SEAP Microfinance Bank in Saki, Oke-Ogun area of Oyo State, Mr Sola Ogungbe, also committed suicide over loan facilities he granted to some of his customers which they failed to repay.

Families of debtors, too, sometimes suffer collateral damage. Mrs Vivian Omo died during an encounter with four officials of one Zefa Microfinance Bank, Ifo, Ogun State.

On May 10 this year, the bank, situated at Abule Ijoko Lemode area of Ifo Local Government of the state, visited the victim’s house in search of her husband, who was said to be their debtor.

The bank’s enforcers, Badmus Olalekan, Ajibade Oludare, Eniola Aduragbemi and Femi Oloko, had gone there to request the money borrowed by the man, but they were told by the deceased that her husband was not at home. The debt collectors were not buying it, so they tried to take away some electronics, but the woman resisted.

While the deceased was struggling with the bank’s staffers, one of them pushed her and she fell to the ground and passed out. At the hospital, the doctor on duty confirmed her dead.

With the removal of fuel subsidies and the attendant pressure on pockets and purses, expect more and more Nigerians to go a-borrowing. And a-sorrowing, of course.

But who will save them from these Shylocks?

Hassan Gimba is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Neptune Prime.

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