Telecommunications operators in Nigeria have concluded plans to disconnect banks over N120 billion in Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) debt.
The latest move followed approval by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).
Mobile network operators including MTN Nigeria, Airtel Nigeria, and Globacom had in 2021 moved to disconnect the banks over the USSD debt before the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, and Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) stepped in and resolved the dispute.
The Chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, on Friday in Lagos, told newsmen that the mobile network operators would disconnect banks unless they pay the debt.
Adebayo said the NCC granted the approval despite efforts by stakeholders to resolve the dispute and prevent any impact on services.
He recalled that the MNOs and banks had protracted disagreements over 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 operators.
The ALTON president said: “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 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 will negatively impact on 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.
”It is important 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.
“The MNOs have invested billions of naira in expanding their systems to accommodate the USSD needs of banks over the years.“This resulted in more Nigerians having access to banking services in addition to enabling banks to trim down costs by requiring fewer branches to service their growing customers.
“But 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,” he said.