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Unpaid debt: NCC explains disconnection of banks’ USSD service

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The Nigerian Communications Commission has explained that it approved the withdrawal of Unstructured Supplementary Service Data services from Deposit Money Banks by the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria due to unpaid debt.

The Director of Public Affairs, NCC, Reuben Muoka, disclosed this while speaking in Abuja on Saturday.

He noted that the approval to disconnect the banks from the USSD services was given due to the refusal of the financial institutions to give consideration and cooperation to all efforts by the NCC to make them pay.

Earlier, mobile telecommunications operators, including MTN, Globacom, Airtel and 9mobile, under the aegis of the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria, announced that bank customers would not be able to use the USSD services as the lender would be disconnected.

ALTON had explained that the authorisation by the regulator to disconnect the banks was due to their refusal to pay the N120bn debt owed the telecom operators for USSD services.

ALTON said the mobile network operators had planned in 2021 to take action over the N42bn debt incurred by the DMBs, but interventions by the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, and the NCC discouraged them.

It stated that the indebtedness would negatively impact the digital and financial inclusion programme of the Federal Government.

Muoka said several interventions had been made by stakeholders and a consensus was reached with the banks.

Despite the interventions and per-session charges for USSD services by the banks, he stated that the DMBs still refused to pay the MNOs when the debt was still about N42bn.

Mouka stated, “This issue between the banks and the telecom operators is a commercial issue. The NCC only decided to intervene because we know it will affect a lot of bank customers. This prompted the government to intervene in what should have been a commercial dispute.

“The USSD service was a commercial agreement between the MNOs and the banks. We have had several meetings with the Central Bank of Nigeria, the minister, ALTON members, mobile network operators, and the banks themselves concerning the debt but to no avail.

“There is nothing the NCC can do right now because it is the bank customers that are benefitting from the USSD codes. If the banks were keeping the faith by paying in bits, it would have turned out better, but the debt has now become exorbitant. The NCC has approved it (disconnection); the MNOs can go ahead to disconnect them since the banks owe and have refused to pay their debt,” he said.

ALTON had in a statement signed by its Chairman, Gbenga Adebayo, said since the contract between the mobile operators and the banks was strictly commercial, the MNOs are authorised to withdraw the services if the transaction was unprofitable to them.

ALTON added that despite efforts by stakeholders to intervene in the issue of indebtedness, the banks had frustrated the efforts by refusing to pay the debt or sign the final agreement.

The statement read in part, “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 March 15, 2021, to discuss the indebtedness of the DMBs to the MNOs for USSD services. In this regard, the CBN and the NCC issued a joint press statement on the agreement reached by all stakeholders.”

The President Bank Customers Association of Nigeria, Dr Uju Ogunbunka, condemned the telecom firms’ decision, which he noted would have a detrimental effect on members of the public, who rely on the services that the banks provide.

He stated, “Banks are not providing services for themselves but for the customers. I believe that the issue should have been discussed with the banks and if there is no headway, then relate with the regulator since the NCC is also involved.

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