By Vivian Onyebukwa
Controversy has continued to trail the death of Mr. Wahab Samuel, a former manager with the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN). He worked with the firm before it was decentralised into power distribution districts following its privatisation.
A retiree and a pensioner, Mr Wahab’s family is accusing Polaris Bank of being responsible for his death from stroke allegedly occasioned by high blood pressure.
But the bank shot back at the family: “You are talking arrant nonsense. You cannot blame us for your patriarch’s death.”
To determine who is right, both parties are now threatening to go to court. But until the court decides or commonsense prevails, the issue will continue to generate controversy.
The journey to the great beyond for Mr Wahab started sometime in March, 2020 when he received an anonymous call from someone purporting to speak from Polaris Bank, his official banker.
Caller from hell
The caller who claimed to be a staff of the bank noted that he was calling in respect of his account no 1766531682. He said there were some technical issues discovered in its documentation that needed to be urgently rectified and asked for his ATM numbers, pin and other details. Mr. Wahab said he was not with his ATM card at the time of the call, and the caller hung up.
But on a second thought, he felt he might have been dealing with a fraudster. Feeling uneasy and unsure of the next move of the impostor, he quickly placed a call to his account officer, one Julius at the Fakunle Branch, Osogbo, Osun State of Polaris Bank, to relay his experience and to plead with him to place a “Post No Debit” on the current account. Shortly afterward, the account officer called back to assure him that transactions on the account had been put on hold.
The elderly citizen thought that the matter had been settled until May 23 and 24, 2020, when his six months pension arrears totalling N828, 590, 54. 00 was paid into the account. But surprisingly, on May 25, 2020, a public holiday because of the Ramadan celebration, at about 3 p.m. N490, 000 was transferred from Wahab’s account to the bank account of one Anthonia Isele Isuma. It was done without his consent and despite the fact that his account officer had confirmed placing a “Post No Debit” on the account.
According to Wahab’s son, Segun, his father reportedly placed a call to Julius. He allegedly claimed that the information technology section of the bank was at fault for removing the PND placed on the account but assured that the fraudulent transaction would be reversed. But this was not to be, at least as soon as expected. In fact, Wahab’s hope was dashed when he waited in vain for over one month to have the unauthorised withdrawal reversed as earlier assured by his account officer. The said amount was eventually held for more than two months before it was credited back into Wahab’s account.
How the fraud caused Wahab’s death
But by then it was already too late as the man who was claimed by his son to be hale and hearty at the time of the incident, had passed on, following some health complications. He was said to have suddenly developed high blood pressure in June when the issue of reversing the illegal transfer on his account became prolonged, contrary to his expectation and assurances earlier given to him by his account officer and the bank’s management. Somewhere along the line, he reportedly began to battle with a forlorn hope of ever recovering the lost money and that was how he suddenly developed high blood pressure. A month after the diagnosis, in July 2020, his medical condition, reportedly, worsened. This time, he developed an acute stroke that had his right hand and right leg paralysed. From that point on, he never got better until he died. Since then, it has been a case of accusations and counter-accusations between the man’s family and Polaris Bank.
His family is accusing the bank of being responsible for the death of their breadwinner, which they claimed came about as a result of shock, psychological trauma, anxiety caused by the unauthorised withdrawal and the bank’s reluctance and failure to handle with despatch, matters relating to it.
“When they could not give us a reasonable explanation on how the money disappeared from the account, I petitioned the Commissioner of Police, and they invited us and the bankers too,” his son, Segun, said. “When they came, they could not give us any reasonable information. Rather, they requested to be given one month, that is, June, to find out what happened, and if possible, refund the money. But by June they failed to dispose of the matter. So we went back to the Commissioner of Police in Osogbo and the monitoring unit to report back as agreed. The police advised us to take the bank to court, adding that they are sure they were feeling guilty. When they did not come, my father suddenly developed high blood pressure and later had a stroke. Part of his right and left hands stopped working very well. We took him to the hospital, and unfortunately, one month later, on July 20, 2020, he died. We believe that it was as a result of the fact that he was defrauded that led to his death. Otherwise, he was hale and hearty. We have all the medical reports.”
Efforts made to settle the family’s loggerhead with bank
Segun reports that several efforts were made to resolve the issue, to make the bank accept responsibility, but none yielded any tangible result. His account: “My father is one of the major financiers of an organisation I am running, and he used to give us money every month to provide scholarships and bags for students. So when he died, I wrote the bank through my organisation. I personally wrote a letter to them giving them seven days ultimatum to reply. In the memo, I asked them to pay a compensation to the tune of N20 million, and the interest rate. I travelled to their headquarters in Victoria Island, Lagos, about three times. There was a day I left my work and went to their office and insisted that I was not going to leave the place until they pay the money they owe us, and the damages. A woman, the Head of Operations, asked me to give her a week to pay the money. I was there till about 3 p.m. in the afternoon that day. She asked me to go. After a week, truly, they did a refund of the N490, 000.”
But what the bank is not willing to take responsibility for is the death of Mr. Wahab. Although his family wants compensation from the bank to cushion the effect of their father’s death, so far the bank has refused to accept culpability. At a point, the Lagos State government Directorate for Citizen’s Rights reportedly intervened on the issue. Segun said in one of the meetings, before the panel of the Directorate of Citizen’s Right on July 12, 2020, Jackson Braimoh and Orunnipin of the Internal Audit represented the bank.
“Orunnipin admitted that as a bank, they should have done more,” he said. “He admitted that the problem was as a result of internal system glitch, which caused the restriction placed on the account to remove by itself, making it possible for the activated platform to work and the total sum of N490, 000 to be withdrawn fraudulently from the account. We have audio and document evidence to support our claims. They expressed sympathy for the loss of my dad, and promised to relay to the bank’s management our demands for compensation. But surprisingly, in a strange twist of event, during the second meeting held in January 2021 with the Ministry of Justice, Polaris Bank stormed the venue with a team of six lawyers. They said they were not going to pay any damages but will only pay interest that accrued on the amount already given to us. They said they refunded the missing money in a bid to maintain a customer relation.”
Mr. Wahab’s family has indicated its willingness to enter into a legal tango with the bank on the matter. In a letter dated February 18, 2021 and addressed to Polaris Bank, Alayo Akanbi Chambers, solicitors to Segun who is the next-of-kin to late Wahab, demanded the sum of N20m as “exemplary damages and compensation to the claimant for loss of life of the family breadwinner, Wahab Samuel, as a result of shock, anxiety, immense financial loss, permanent incapacitation and acute stroke on the right hand and right leg occasioned by fraudulent withdrawal of his pension as a result of the negligence of the bank.” It noted further: “The family is also demanding the interest at the rate of 28 per cent per month on the sum of N490, 000 being the money illegally withdrawn. Finally, they are demanding that N2m be paid as cost of suit.” They threatened to take the bank to court if they fail to pay within seven days of receiving the letter.
Polaris Bank, victim’s family’s reactions
In a letter dated February 22, 2021, and made available to Saturday Sun, Polaris Bank blamed the unauthorised withdrawal on the technical/electronic glitches usually experienced during maintenance. The letter signed by Babatunde Odusanya and Oladapo Olowo of the legal services department of the bank read, in part: “The customer reported that he divulged his account details to fraudsters and the branch operators placed a debit restriction on the account immediately, sequel to the customer’s notification of the compromise.
“However, there were subsequent withdrawals in the sum of N490, 000 (four hundred and ninety thousand naira). Our investigation showed that the withdrawal could only have happened due to glitches usually experienced during maintenance. In spite of these, we took a decision to foster a good relationship with the customer by refunding the amount in issue. We have refrained from joining issues with you and your client on the health situation and eventual death of our customer. First, as a mark of respect and the fact that even after the purported death of our customer on July 20, 2020, which was brought to our attention much later, the account of the supposed deceased customer, was still being operated and money taken out of it.” The bank described their claims as a “gold-digging” attempt to link the health situation and death of Wahab to lack of funds after the withdrawals complained about on May 27, 2020.
Segun finds the bank’s allegation of “gold-digging” preposterous and insists that it has some compensation to pay following the delay and negligence that led the death of his father, the breadwinner of the family.
“I am the first born of his family,” he said. “My immediate younger brother is the only one working among my siblings. The remaining children are all in school. Indirectly, I am responsible for all of them, since my father died. I am merely a teacher and can’t afford to take care of five of them, including my aged mother. So I am appealing to the bank to do something because of their mistake.
It was their delay in not resolving the issue very fast that caused my father’s blood pressure to shoot up. It also caused other health chain reactions that led to his death. I am appealing to Nigerians to help us so that justice can be served. The family is passing through a lot of hardship. Contrary to what the bank is talking about us gold-digging, it is not only the money, but also fairness and justice. I am crying out because I want Nigerians to know what really happened, to know how this bank is denying responsibility for what is obviously their fault.”