By AYOOLA OLAOLUWA
Instant credit firms operating in the country have resorted to crude debt recovery methods to recover outstanding loans from defaulting Nigerians, Business Hallmark findings can reveal.
The firms, it was gathered, were forced to employ the crude methods owing to mounting debts and the unwillingness of many loan beneficiaries to pay up their loans.
However, some of the affected Nigerians who spoke with our correspondent in Lagos described the steps taken by the firms to recover outstanding funds as inhuman.
According to the complainants, some of the crude methods used by instant credit firms to torment them include the deployment of security forces, especially the police to harass them, sending fraud alert messages to their contacts, declaring them wanted as thiefs, as well as recruiting large and unrully crowd to their places of work or resident to embarrass them.
A victim of one of the instant loan firms, Fairmoney, Mrs. Dayo Adedeji, narrated her bitter experience after obtaining a loan from the company.
“I was in need of urgent funds to pay school fees and was forced to apply to the company for a short loan after downloading their app.
“I was able to secure the sum of N60,000 to be repaid in 15days. With the interest, I was to pay back N83,000. Unfortunately, I couldn”t repay in time. On the 16th day, I got a call from a rude official who informed me that payment was due and I should pay up immediately.
“The next day, I got yet another call from the official who insulted me by calling me many unprintable names. He ended the call by threatening to deal ruthlessly with me.
“I though it was a joke until my daughter in the university who I borrowed the money from called me on phone with tears, telling me that she got a message from Fairmoney that I have absconded with their money and that the police are looking for me.
“Less than fifteen minutes later, my husband also called telling me the same thing. By the end of the day, I had received over fifty-five calls from concerned friends, colleagues, neighbours, church and family members who all received the same message.
“I later learnt that the message was sent to all my contacts. By the time people rallied around to bail me out, the loan had risen to N193,000.
“The worst that happened was that I lost my job as my worried new employer who also received the text said he had to let me go as he could no longer trust me with company funds.
“I have learnt a bitter lesson. No situation, no matter how bad, will ever again push me to go and collect loans from this devious company and their likes”, the sobered Adedeji vowed.
Another victim of the instant loan firms recovery efforts, Nkechi Offor, also narrated how her reputation was destroyed by Soko Loan, another instant loan firm.
According to Offor, she got a loan of 75,000 with the firm in February 2021 to refinance her business but lost the goods in a motor accident along the Baragry Expressway.
“That was the beginning of my travails as I couldn’t eat well, not to talk of repaying the loan. Two days after the expiration of the loan, threatening calls and messages started flooding my phone.
“After some time, I stopped picking my calls as I could no longer bear the pressure. That was the greatest mistake of my life.
“Soon, I started getting calls from friends, colleagues, neighbours, in-laws, family and even my landlord that I have been declared wanted for running away with company property.
“I was shocked. But could not do anything. Some people suggested that I should engage a lawyer to fight the company. But where will I see the money to pay a lawyer?.
“Many suppliers who used to give me wares on credit stoped, fearing that I will abscond with their goods and money.
“My saving grace was that my landlord knew I am a trader and not working for a company to be in a position to steal their property. He would have ejected me from his house and I would have been homeless today. He told me that to my face.
“I think i have learnt my lessons, though a bitter one. I would rather continue with my ‘ajo’ (daily contribution) untill it is my turn to collect, rather than running to these types of loan sharks again”, Offor promised.
While Offor and Adedeji seemed to have escaped lightly, the experience of another victim who wanted to be recognised only by his first name, Micheal, was worse.
According to Michael, he got a soft loan of N93,000 from Soko Loan to be repaid in 7 days with an interest of N32,000. He however failed to pay back on time.
Though, he eventually paid back the money plus interest, running to N183,430 in 26 days, things did not remain the same thereafter.
“The morning after the loan became due, I started receiving calls and messages from the company. They threatened to arrest and lock me up. I though they were joking untill they started showing the stuff they were made of.
“True to their words, my phones started ringing. Calls from colleagues, families, friends, superiours, former course mates and lecturers, neighbors and many others who received text messages from the company that I have been declared wanted by the police after absconding with company money. They made it look real by getting a graphics artist to design a ‘wanted fugitive’ poster with my photography boldly embossed on it.
“This really scared most of the people who called or tried to reach me. But I was able to assuage the feelings of those I could connect with, assuring them that nothing of such happened.
“However, hardly did I know that the worse is yet to come. On a Tuesday morning during assembly time, they surfaced with a lot of rented crowd in the school where I teach, singing ‘oju ole re, ole (come and see a thief, we have caught a thief).
“This happened in the presence of my colleagues teachers, principal and students. I was so embarrassed that I started crying..
“My principal had to intervene, promising to help offset the loan. The loan was around N159,080 that day. But by Thursday when my colleagues at work rallied round to raise the money, it has risen to N183,430. Just in 3 days!
“I have lost respect in the school. The social money they used to keep with me have been withdrawn. People now look at me curiously. I am desperately trying to get a transfer far away from the school to cover up my shame and embarrassment”, Micheal told our correspondent.
BH investigation revealed that most loan applicants unwittingly give instant loan firms access to their contacts by clicking on ‘CONTINUE’ after a popped-up message: Allow site to access media, file and contacts on your device’ appears on their screen.
It was observed that two instructions, Deny or Allow, normally appear on the screen. If a loan applicant click on Deny, the process will abort and he won’t be able to proceed.
However, if he press Allow, the loan firm would have access to all the private informations on his phone.
Reacting to the complaints, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) distanced itself from the practices, saying the bank was not responsible for overseeing and regulating the instant loans industry.
A terse mail from the Consumer Protection Department of the apex bank sent in response to BH enquiries explained that that it’s license is not required to engage in money lending in Nigeria and that money lending license are issued by states according to their laws.