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₦120b USSD DEBT: Disconnecting soon, Big banks not paying, says Telcos

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The USSD code was a game changer for both Nigerians and telecom services.

It made it easier to make use of financial services, improved the e-system payment methods and enhanced online digital marketing.

It elevated gadgets like phones from a state of just pleasure to business. Now, this creation is threatened by the obvious rift between telecommunication firms and banks.

Telecommunication firms provide connectivity for these gadgets and as such controls the customer base of online services in the nation.

Many companies created mobile apps to make their services available on mobile devices, but they soon realized that they were missing out on a large number of customers.

The lack of smartphone privilege in the nation restricted the use of these mobile apps, forcing companies to switch to USSD-based service delivery.

Numerous Nigerians embraced USSD services due to the ease of use.

Some bank customers saw this and started entering short codes on their phones to complete some of their financial dealings, saving themselves from standing in long bank lines.

Due to the rift between telecommunication firms and banks, big deposit money banks (DMBs) have been accused by telecom operators of owing a sizable quota of N120 billion in debts that arose from the use of Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD).

They also charged the large DMBs with being implacable in their debt repayment. 

Operating under the auspices of the Association of Licensed Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ALTON), the operators added that they had yet to notice the effects of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor Godwin Emefiele’s intervention in breaking the deadlock because it had not resulted in the big banks fulfilling their obligation.

In a telephone interview, Gbenga Adebayo, chairman of ALTON, stated that the smaller operators have been receptive and conscious of their corporate responsibilities by paying their debts to the operators. He added that the same story could not be said of the big banks, who have refused to pay their debts.

He claims that the calibre of the banks owing has a significant effect on the debt burden.

Adebayo claimed that because the CBN governor’s intervention did not result in the debt being paid, it was at best ineffective and that the procedure of disconnection had already begun. 

He also said “According to the agreement, we are starting to implement the terms of the agreement by sending them notice, which will expire after the notice.

Once the service notice expires, we will start to discontinue the service. I have to admit that some banks pay.

Unfortunately, the large banks’ debtors are the ones who are not paying. I don’t want their names mentioned.

They are the big ones, which explains why it has such a significant effect on the sector.

So the smaller ones who owe less money are making payments; some were making payments earlier but stopped for unknown reasons, causing the debt to mount.”

When the notice was first served, he claimed that the DMBs initially concurred, but only to then turn around and discuss the billing system.

He had questioned, “How can billing be the issue after the service has been rendered?”

Regarding the CBN’s intervention on the debt, he had said: “When the DMBs start paying, we’ll start to see the intervention.

We don’t know how they are interfering with the banking system, but we will notice a difference once the DMBs start making payments.

We haven’t seen anything yet. We operate as a very responsible corporate entity.

The only thing we are doing right now is enforcing the terms of the commercial agreement, and we will not disconnect the power without first following the proper procedures; all we are doing now is to enforce the terms of the commercial agreement and when the day comes when the notice will expire, we will rightly disconnect.”

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