Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) have decried political interference as a contributing factor to the ongoing impasse surrounding the non-payment of approximately N150 billion debt owed by banks for Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) usage.
The deadlock, which has persisted since 2019, revolves around the refusal of deposit money banks to settle their outstanding dues for USSD services provided by telecom operators, resulting in an accumulated debt of around N150 billion.
Despite concerted efforts by regulatory bodies such as the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to mediate and find a resolution, the banking institutions have remained steadfast in their refusal to clear the outstanding obligations.
The Chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, voiced his concerns during the Nigeria Telecoms Indigenous Content Expo (NTICE 2023) held in Lagos.
Adebayo pointed out that political interference has exacerbated the situation, turning what should be a straightforward commercial agreement into a protracted and contentious issue.
Adebayo emphasized that the USSD agreement is fundamentally a commercial contract, akin to a buyer-seller arrangement, wherein payment is expected for the services rendered.
He underscored that if the buyer, in this case the banks, fails to remit the owed N150 billion, the supply of USSD services should logically cease.
However, the matter has spiralled into the political arena with interventions from both the Ministry and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), leading to a protracted stalemate.
Call on the new Communications Minister to intervene
Adebayo called upon the newly appointed Minister of Communication, Innovation, and Digital Economy, Dr. Bosun Tijani, to safeguard the autonomy of the telecoms sector under the purview of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).
He advocated for granting the regulatory body the necessary independence to effectively discharge its responsibilities.
Adebayo also sounded an alarm regarding the unsustainable end-user pricing for telecom services, given the prevailing cost structure, particularly in the wake of the removal of fuel subsidies.
Current rates unsustainable
- He further warned that the elimination of electricity subsidies could precipitate another crisis as current prices have become unsustainable Adebayo said “We must look at a more realistic pricing for the services we offer because the current pricing is not sustainable. We are giving out the price below our production cost,”
Tech experts leaving for other countries
Commenting on the concerning trend of Nigerian tech experts seeking opportunities abroad, Adebayo implored the new Minister to foster an enabling environment that would encourage the repatriation of these skilled individuals to contribute to the growth of Nigeria’s telecom and technology sector.
- He said thus, “We have lost many of our experts to the japa of money but we lose them abroad due to the situation here. We are appealing to the new minister to make sure the environment is conducive for them to work for Nigeria. They may not necessarily come here, they make work from anywhere especially now that everyone can work from, but they have to work for Nigeria from anywhere they are,”