Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) have received the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC’s) backing to disconnect Deposit Money Banks (DMBs) over failure to pay the debt owed to operators for Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) services.
The USSD debt, TechEconomy gathered, amounts to over N120 billion.
The Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), who disclosed this Friday in a statement stated that the approval was granted because, despite multiparty stakeholder efforts to resolve the situation and prevent any impact on services, the DMBs have continued to incur greater and greater debt, without making the commensurate payments.
The statement signed by Engr. Gbenga Adebayo and Gbolahan Awonuga, Chairman and Head, Operations respectively, mentioned Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Prof. Isa Pantami and including the Nigerian Communications Commission, the Central Bank of Nigeria, along with MNOs and DMBs to have intervened by failed.
The Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) wishes to inform the Nigerian Public that the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has granted approval for our members – Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) – to disconnect Deposit Money Banks (DMBs) if they fail to pay the debt owed to Operators for Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) services which amount to over N120 Billion”,– the statement reads
It added that every time some progress is made, the DMBs come up with reasons to take stakeholders several steps back, in this matter.
It will be recalled that MNOs and DMBs have 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 (which currently stands at over N120 Billion).
Due to the inability of MNOs and DMBs to reach an agreement on the issues, MNOs in 2021 sought to disconnect DMBs due to the unpaid debts which stood at N42 Billion as at that time. However, Prof. Isa Pantami, the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, intervened and asked the MNOs not to disconnect DMBs as the action will negatively impact on the Digital and Financial Inclusion policy of the Federal Government.
The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) and Deposit Money Banks (DMB) represented by the Chairman, Body of Bank CEOs subsequently met on 15 March 2021 to discuss indebtedness of DMBs to MNOs for USSD services.
Further to the meeting, CBN and NCC issued a joint press statement on the agreement reached by all stakeholders.
Other efforts by Pantami, Danbatta and others
Professor Isa Pantami, and Professor Umar Danbatta, EVC of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) have made several efforts to get the banks to show good faith and sign an agreement, in the national interest, based on the resolutions reached that meeting.
“Unfortunately, the patriotic intervention of the Hon. Minister and the NCC have been taken for granted by the DMBs, as two years after, the banks have failed to sign a final agreement”, the statement reads.
What is involved
It is pertinent to note that the contract between MNOs and DMBs on the use of USSDs for banking transactions are strictly commercial and MNOs are at liberty to withdraw the services if it is established that the transaction is unprofitable to them.
MNOs have invested billions of naira in expanding their systems to accommodate the USSD needs of DMBs over the years. This has 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. Unfortunately, MNOs are not getting paid for their services and the debt that stood at N42 Billion in 2021 has now risen to over N120 Billion.
It is obvious that the level of debt is unsustainable given the time/value huge cost of the continuous upgrade and operation of the systems and infrastructure dedicated to supporting USSD transactions of DMBs.