Banks now owe telecommunication firms N200bn for Unstructured Supplementary Service Data services.
This is following a slowing of negotiations between the banks and telcos. Telecom operators disclosed this on Thursday at the Nigerian Communications Commission industry interactive session with the new Executive Vice Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of the commission, Dr Aminu Maida.
The Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria, on behalf of telcos, stressed that the debt will not be forgiven.
ALTON Chairman, Gbenga Adebayo in his goodwill address to the EVC said, “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, however, told The PUNCH that 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.
Meanwhile, Adebayo also revealed that telcos now pay 52 different taxes and levies, making them one of the most taxed in the country. He highlighted that these taxes are impacting how they operate and impeding growth in the sub-sector.
Prior to now, telcos paid a little over 41 different taxes. He said, “Today we checked the number of taxes and levies that we face across the country, it is now 52. We are one of the highly taxed sectors of the economy. And it is not just these taxes that are the issue; it is the behaviour of public actors when collecting them. These things have a ripple effect on the things that we want to do. Quality of service and co are all interlinked here too.”
While charging the telcos on Thursday, Maida, declared that quality of service and quality of experience must improve in the sector. He noted that telecoms consumers must begin to enjoy the services they pay for.
He tasked telcos to be more innovative despite the challenges in their operating environment and hinted that the commission was in talks with Original Equipment Manufacturers to boost job creation in the country.