• Wednesday, April 17, 2024
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Telecos threaten to withdraw USSD services as banks’ debt soars to N200 billion

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The Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) has said that it will not overlook the N200 billion debt owed by Nigerian banks for the Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) services provided.  ALTON, representing telecom firms (telcos), also hinted the possibility of withdrawing the services and resorting to legal action if the debt is not repaid.

This announcement came during the recent Nigerian Communications Commission industry interactive session ALTON had with Aminu Maida, the newly appointed Executive Vice Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of the commission.

In his address, Gbenga Adebayo, ALTON Chairman, underscored the urgency of resolving the matter, saying, “The banks owe us money and the debt has now surpassed N200 billion. It won’t disappear; no one will forget the debt if the money is not paid. I believe it’s best to withdraw the services. On this USSD debt issue, if parties have to go to court to reach a final resolution, so be it.”

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Adebayo also highlighted that the accumulating debt is adversely affecting the financial technology economy, posing a significant threat to progress in the sector. He urged swift action, stating, “If that problem is not solved, it will continue to hinder progress in the sector. Today, I ask you to please address this issue of the debt owed to us by the banks. There is no discussion about forgiving the debt; payment needs to be made.”

Despite ongoing discussions between telcos and banks, progress has been sluggish and may not yield the desired outcomes, Adebayo cautioned. The recent revelation indicates a significant surge in USSD debt, marking a 66.67 percent increase from the N120 billion earlier in the year. The longstanding dispute dates back to 2019, with twists and turns hindering its resolution.

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Earlier this year, telcos issued disconnection notices to banks, approved by the NCC, to halt their access to USSD services. Although banks had agreed to pay telcos, according to Umar Danbatta, former EVC of NCC, conversations on repayment plans have been protracted. In October, telcos threatened legal action due to the lack of resolution.

In addition to the USSD debt crisis, Adebayo disclosed that telcos now face a burden of 52 different taxes and levies, making them one of the most heavily taxed sectors in the country. This increase from the previous 41 taxes is significantly impacting their operations and hindering growth.