Banking Made Easy … But Not For People With Disabilities In West Africa

  • For a lot of bank users, accessing financial services has never been smoother. But persons with disabilities in Nigeria and Ghana continue to be left out, no thanks to barriers in buildings, behaviours, and policies.

Ibrahim Omotosho, 39, drove into a bank in Abeokuta, Southwest Nigeria, in July 2020 to pick up his debit card. An otherwise straightforward transaction, but it would play out as one of his most frustrating experiences. 

It was 15 years after he first opened a bank account but very little had changed in how financial institutions opened up to him. The building, like most banks in the country, was designed in a way that prevented wheelchair users from gaining access. He had to wait to be attended to at the parking area. After over two hours of sitting tight in the unbearably hot weather, he did what any digital citizen would: pick up his phone and tweet.

Then he drove his car behind the bullion van to cause a scene, drawing the staff’s attention. A senior security officer promised he would be attended to, but it took another 40 minutes.

The tweet would later go viral, attracting over 11,000 likes and retweets, and Ibrahim would receive a call from the bank’s head office apologising for the treatment and assigning employees to meet his needs — measures which he considers to fall short of genuine solutions.

Narrating the incident about two years later, Ibrahim, a programme analyst, mentions one detail he had left out on Twitter.

“One of the staff they gave to me was like they were actually doing me a favour,” he says, unable to hold in his laughter at the thought. “It’s actually embarrassing. He said he was doing me a favour and I had to be patient, that he had to leave what he was doing inside to come and attend to me outside under the Sun and I still was not appreciative. I was shocked.”

Nigeria’s banking sector has undergone sweeping reforms in recent decades with several commercial banks now gaining international prominence and spreading their reach across Africa. Despite this growth, however, the industry continues to turn a blind eye to a key section of the population: People with Disabilities (PwDs).

Disabilities are conditions that affect a person’s ability to perform certain activities, impairing such things as vision, hearing, thinking, learning, movement, mental health, communication, memory, or social interactions. 

According to the World Health Organisation, of the estimated one billion people living with a disability globally, 80 per cent are in developing countries. Nigeria and Ghana respectively have about 29 million and five million people with disabilities.

In spite of their huge population, PwDs are often not prioritised during conversations about financial inclusion. Till today, they face a bunch of roadblocks that prevent them from making monetary transactions and accessing crucial bank services such as loans or even opening accounts.


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