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Telecoms operators to disrupt USSD services over N80 billion debt

The row between Nigerian banks and telecommunications operators over the unstructured supplementary service data (USSD) debt seems to have resumed, as telcos disclosed, yesterday, that the debt has risen to N80 billion.

The Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, revealed this in Lagos, warning that telcos may disconnect service, to defaulting banks.

It will be recalled that the USSD debt had hit N45 billion as at April 2021. If the threat is carried out, bank customers will have issues with transfers as well as other transactions associated with the service.

Already, most of the banks’ digital channels are overstretched, leading to epileptic services. The challenge, according to sources, has been compounded by the mass resignation of most of the IT experts in the banks, who have relocated abroad.

While USSD is important for banks to provide a range of services to their customers, it is powered by telcos. USSD is a protocol that allows users’ SIMs to communicate with the bank’s customers via text message.

Speaking at NITRA ICT Growth Conference 2.0 themed, ‘Creating a Digital Ecosystem in Nigeria: The Hurdles, The gains’, Adebayo said while some banks are making payments, others have remained unconcern.

On this, he said telecommunications operators might decentralise the USSD services in line with historical debts. According to him, when the matter first came to the fore about a year and a half ago, the debt was below N40 billion, “but because banks refused to comply and pay as and when due, the debt continued to rise”, reaching about N80 billion.

The ALTON boss said the USSD service tie might be cut off from defaulting banks. In December 2019, ALTON had threatened to shut down USSD platforms over a $103 million debt. According to ALTON, for two years, neither banks nor customers paid for using the service.

After two years of negotiations, the charge was pegged at N6.98 per transaction with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Communications Commission (NCC) passing on the fees to users.

Speaking on the challenges of multiple taxes being levied on operators by some state governments, Adebayo said the issue has become a major headache to the industry, stressing that over 40 different taxes are slammed on the operators.

While emphasising the need for urgent actions, Adebayo noted that the regime of national tariff should be over. The ALTON boss did not shy away from disclosing that operators may introduce discriminatory prices.

“I don’t see why hostile states should not be treated the same way they are treating operators. Friendly states will be treated the same. Plans are on to introduce discriminatory prices, especially those states, which see telcos as a cash cow,” Adebayo stated.

Speaking on the rising departure of core technology staff resigning and relocating abroad, Adebayo said lots of the relocations are not needed.

He said some professionals, who left the country end up becoming social workers without getting befitting jobs. He, however, called for improved economy and security to increase the retention of experts in the country.

Giving more insights into the challenges confronting the banks, the Executive Secretary, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Ajibola Olude, said over 2000 information technology professionals engaged by banks have resigned and left the country.

Olude, who said the challenge has compounded the problems in the banking sector, canvassed support for the ICT sector.

He said the sector’s contribution to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), which nears 20 per cent, should be given the necessary support for it to contribute more.

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