By Hamisu Kabir Matazu,
Alhaji Audu Musa, one of the POS operators in Potiskum
In Potiskum, the commercial hub of Yobe State, people are increasingly adopting Point of Sale (POS) machines in a new form of cash transaction for profit business. Though unconventional, the arrangement is said to have reduced the difficulty in accessing cash faced by workers and businessmen in the town after years of banks closure due the Boko Haram insurgency.
Point Of Sale (POS) machines were introduced by the Central Bank of Nigeria in 2012, to drive home its cashless policy aimed at enhancing Nigeria`s payment system. But for the POS operators in Potiskum, they use the machines to make cash available for bank customers, buyers as well as unemployed youths.
When our correspondent visited the town, a market that brought together ATM and owners and POS cash vendors was seen bubbling. The POS operators provide cash to desperate bank customers who make instant POS payment with their ATM cards. The transactions attract some additional charges. It was gathered that the amount paid by the customer to the operator is dependent on how much he/she seeks to withdraw.
Daily Trust on Sunday observed that POS operation centres were located at different points in the town, including Bakin Police Station, Cinema, Gidan Danbaba Mai-fata, opposite Mai Potiskum palace, near PMC check point, Rauda area, and opposite Unity Bank.
One of the POS operators, Ali Abba Ya`u, 28, who has been in the business for almost three years said it paid very well, adding that his livelihood depended on it.
“I started the business out of desperation to help people overcome cash shortage in the town. It wasn’t profitable at first, but with my little accountancy background, I later converted it to a more profitable venture. Now, I have five staff and we all depend on this job.
“I am now aiming higher; may be to open a micro-finance bank that will take care of the immediate cash challenges of Potiskum and the three other local government areas that rely on us, that is Fika, Fune and Nengere, if government approves. This is because bank customers and traders that come from far and near to transact business are suffering.
“For instance, the largest cattle market in West Africa is in Potiskum, it opens every Wednesday. Most of the bank customers don’t get enough because of high demand. The three banks usually run out of cash on Wednesdays. Also, each time government pays salaries, the three banks would be choked up and access to cash is always difficult. On such days, we get 100 and above customers. At times our cash will finish, but we always source more money to maintain customers confidence,” he said
Another POS operator at Unguwar Danbaba Mai-fata, Mr. Mohammed MB, said he started with a very little profit from the business, but that providing cash on demand by his customers, and getting the idle youth employed had been very fulfilling to him.
“The POS were meant for delivery of goods and services. But, giving the money to our customers was an alternative to ease their cash difficulties. Many banks have closed down for years,” he said.
Mohammed said the amount of cash demanded by customers is on the increase, adding, “many of us decided to charge a percentage of the money to cover the POS inter switch, staff salaries and maintenance charges. Actually the profit is meagre but it is worth it,” he said.
He revealed that, at the peak of insurgency, many people patronizing banks in Potiskum had to travel as far as Azare, Misau, Bajoga and other towns of Bauchi and Gombe states to make transactions, but soon after the POS centres were introduced, more than 80 per cent of the said population relied on them.
“They risk their lives to travel very far and also feed themselves just to withdraw N30,000 or N50,000. But now, the POS centres have eased their cash stress. We charge them very little for the service,” he said.
Alhaji Audu Musa, 28, who has been in the business for almost two years, told Daily Trust on Sunday that he lost his job before venturing into the POS operation.
“Many people depend on this business for their livelihood. It`s our fall back. After I lost my SURE-P empowerment job, my friend introduced me to the POS operation. Now, I have employed some other friends who are affected by the on-going local government verification exercise because they have not received salary for about four months,” he said
Musa said the withdrawal charges on customers were very minimal. “We charge N200 on every N10,000. The charges are very low compared to the amount spent on transportation to the ATM points within the town.
“Another thing you should know is that all the neighbouring local government areas of Fika, Fune and Nengere rely on the three banks in Potiskum. So, even before the insurgency, when the eight banks were fully operational, they used to run out of cash because the volume of transaction was far above the banks cash supplies. And many customers come from different parts of the country to patronize the largest cattle market,” he also said.
A POS customer, Alhaji Suleiman Gimba, who is also a civil servant, said the operators have reduced the hardship that people faced in the past.
“When these banks closed down, I had to travel to Azare or Misau to withdraw money from ATM. But, you can see how these boys are making cash available to us now. We no longer take the risk of travelling far distance and their charges are reasonable. They charge three percent of the cash given to us and that is nothing compared to the amount we spent as transport to neighbouring states. The least we spent on transportation then was between N1,500 and N2,000,” he said.
Another businessman who patronizes the POS operators, Alhaji Ibrahim Jauro, said many businesses were suffering because of the banks closure.
“The three banks operating cannot provide us with the needed cash, and the POS operators are trying their best but they are not up to capacity. I want to call on government to intervene by either compelling the banks to return or assist the POS operators with enough capital to meet our cash needs,” he said.
Another customer, Alhaji Abubakar Mohammed, who expressed concern over the security of the business, said the operators should be officially recognized to avoid scam or risk of losing their money to armed robbers.
“To everyone that patronizes these POS operators in Potiskum, the business has subdued cash difficulty. But come to think of it, some criminals can take advantage of this to outsmart the ATM owners, because they are the ones handling the transaction. They have access to customers PIN and last four digits of their cards. And on the other hand, armed robbers can attack these people and rob them at gunpoint. So, proper security must be in place to avert these possibilities,” he said.
When contacted, most of the banks officials in Potiskum, said they were not in a position to talk to the Press, but one of them who spoke on condition of anonymity told our correspondent that the town and businesses within were too big for the three banks to handle.
“In fact, we don’t have the capacity to meet the cash demands of Potiskum, especially on Wednesdays and at the end of the month, because people in their thousands patronise the cattle market. Some come all the way from the south-eastern or western part of the country and they rely on us to give them cash, because they cannot travel that far with money.
“I learnt that another bank is planning to return, making four banks fully operational but to be candid, not even the eight banks we used to have before the insurgency can meet the cash requirements of people now. More banks have to come.
“Potiskum is hosting almost four local government areas in term of salaries and in business supplies. So how do you expect these banks to cater for them all?” he said.