Telcos’ Unending Fight With Banks Over N80bn USSD Debt

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The telcos have accused the banks of not complying with the repayment plan, stressing that the debt has increased to $80 billion.

The Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, who revealed this, yesterday, threatened that if the banks failed to honour the agreement, his members would have no other choice but to withdraw the services.

USSD, commonly known as ‘bank transfers’, is done through short codes on mobile phones.

When the matter brewed heavily last year, the National Assembly, Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, and the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, waded in and generated a gentleman’s agreement, which gave the banks leverage to defray the debts gradually.

However, Adebayo has just revealed that the banks reneged and allowed the debt to rise.

The USSD saga between the banks and telcos has lingered since 2020, rising from below N40 billion in 2020 to N57 billion by the end of 2021.

Now it has risen to over N80 billion.

According to ALTON, the only way to recover the debt would be to withdraw the support that gives the USSD platform life.

What this means is that all short code services will be suspended and users will not be able to carry out some online banking services from the comfort of their homes.

USSD volume

The Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System, NIBSS, recently revealed on its website that USSD is responsible for 35 per cent of transactions that pushed value of mobile transactions to N11.10 trillion in the first eight months of 2022.

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Speaking at Nigerian ICT Reporters Association, NITRA ICT, Growth Conference 2.0 “Creating A Digital Ecosystem in Nigeria: The hurdles, The gains”, Adebayo said while some banks have responded and are making payments, others have remained unconcerned and so, the only option is to disconnect their services.

He said telecommunications operators may decentralise the USSD services on historical USSD debt.

“When the matter first came to the fore about a year and half ago, the debt was below N40 billion.

“But because they refused to comply and pay as and when due, the debt continued to rise. Today, it is about N80 billion,” he added.

Multiple taxes

He also lamented the spate of multiple taxes levied on operators by some states, adding that the challenge has become a major headache to the industry.

Adebayo said the taxes and levies were over 40, multiplied and duplicated among states and the federal government.

Adebayo noted that the regime of national tariff should be over by the way things are going, and operators may soon introduce discriminatory charges on subscribers, particularly in those areas that are not telecom-friendly.

He said: “I don’t see why hostile states should not be treated same way they are treating operators.

“States that are friendly will be treated same. Plans are on to introduce discriminatory prices, especially those states which see telcos as cash cows,” he added.