Again, telcos threaten to withdraw USSD services over N200bn bank debt


Telecommunications operators on Thursday disclosed that the Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) debts owed them by Deposit Money Banks (DMBs) have now hit N200 billion.

Speaking under the aegis of Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), the body said the debt must be paid in total and would not hesitate blocking debtor banks from accessing the service.

ALTON Chairman, Gbenga Adebayo, stated this during a stakeholders meeting with the Executive Vice Chairman of Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Dr. Aminu Maida in Lagos.

“The banks owe us money. The debt is now over N200bn. It won’t go away, no one will forget the debt if the money is not paid.”

He highlighted that the debt is negatively impacting the financial technology economy. He continued, “If that problem is not solved, it will continue to haunt progress in the sector. I ask you today to please look at this issue on the debt owed to us by the banks. There is no discussion about forgiving the debt, payment needs to be made.”

Adebayo further clarified that while telcos and banks are still engaged in ongoing discussions concerning the matter, it is slow-paced and may not have the required effect when done.

Adebayo’s new revelation indicates that USSD debt has jumped by about 66.67 per cent from the N120bn it was earlier in the year. Since 2019, banks and telcos have been at loggerheads over the repayment of USSD debt. As of 2020, the debt was N17bn, but since then its resolution has been besieged by many twists.

Earlier in the year, telcos issued disconnection notices to banks after getting approval from the NCC to stop banks from accessing USSD services. Later the NCC through the immediate past EVC of NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, noted that banks had agreed to pay telcos following the actions of regulators and stakeholders.

Industry insiders said conversations pertaining to repayment plans were still ongoing. In October, telcos threatened to seek redress in court since there was no resolution in sight. At the time, Adebayo, declared, “I think is just best to withdraw the services. On this issue of USSD debt, if parties have to go to court to get a final resolution, so be it.

“This is because every effort that is being made by everyone, where we move one step forward, several steps backward, is not going to work.”

USSD is crucial to improving financial inclusion in the country because of the high population of feature phones in the country. The continued quagmire surrounding the payment for this service will threaten digital financial inclusion, the NCC once stated.