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N120bn USSD debt: Telecom operators to disconnect banks

Telecommunications operators in Nigeria says the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has given them the go ahead to disconnect banks over N120 billion Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) debt.

In a statement signed by Mr Gbenga Adebayo, chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), on Friday in Lagos, the association said Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) would disconnect banks if they failed to pay the debt owed.

Adebayo said that the approval was granted because, despite the multi-party stakeholder efforts to resolve the situation and prevent any impact on services, banks continued to incur greater debt, without making the commensurate payments.

He said members of the public would recall that MNOs and banks had protracted disagreements concerning the appropriate USSD pricing model for financial transactions, transparency of charges, mode of collection and liability for payment of the outstanding and continuous service fees due to the MNOs.

“Due to the inability of MNOs and banks to reach an agreement on the issues, MNOs in 2021 sought to disconnect banks due to the unpaid debts, which stood at N42 billion as at that time.

“However, the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Prof. Isa Pantami, intervened and asked the MNOs not to disconnect banks as the action would negatively impact the digital and financial inclusion policy of the federal government.

“Unfortunately, the patriotic intervention of the minister and the NCC have been taken for granted by the banks, as two years after, the banks have failed to sign a final agreement,” he said.

Mr Adebayo noted that It was pertinent to note that the contract between MNOs and banks on the use of USSDs for banking transactions was strictly commercial and MNOs were at liberty to withdraw the services if the transaction was unprofitable to them.

He noted that MNOs had invested billions of naira in expanding their systems to accommodate the USSD needs of banks over the years.

Mr Adebayo said this had resulted in more Nigerians having access to banking services in addition to enabling banks to trim down costs by requiring less branches to service their growing customers.

He said that, unfortunately, MNOs were not getting paid for their services and the debt that stood at N42 billion in 2021 had now risen to over N120 billion.

“It is obvious that the level of debt is unsustainable given the time or value of the huge cost of the continuous upgrade, operation of the systems and infrastructure dedicated to supporting USSD transactions of banks.

“In view of the foregoing, unless banks meet their debt obligations, MNOs will disconnect all banks indebted to them for USSD services rendered,” Mr Adebayo said.

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