Telecom operators in Nigeria are preparing to disconnect banks from using their networks to provide Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) transfer services to customers, dealing a serious blow to the struggling stability of the cashless policy implemented by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). The Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) has announced that the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has approved the disconnection of Deposit Money Banks (DMBs) if they fail to settle their debts owed to the operators for USSD services, amounting to over N120 billion.
Despite concerted efforts by multiple stakeholders, including the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Prof. Isa Ali Ibrahim (Pantami), the NCC, the CBN, and the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and DMBs themselves, the banks have accumulated substantial debt without making the necessary payments. Disagreements between MNOs and DMBs over USSD pricing models, transparency of charges, collection methods, and liability for outstanding fees have persisted.
In a statement signed by both the Chairman of ALTON, Engr. Gbenga Adebayo and Head, Operations, Gbolahan Awonuga, the association recalled that due to the inability of MNOs and DMBs to reach an agreement on the issues, MNOs in 2021 sought to disconnect DMBs due to the unpaid debts which stood at N42 Billion as at that time. However, the Hon. Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Prof. Isa Ali Ibrahim (Pantami) intervened and asked the MNOs not to disconnect DMBs as the action will negatively impact on the Digital and Financial Inclusion policy of the Federal Government.
“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 15 March 2021 to discuss indebtedness of DMBs to MNOs for USSD services.’’
Further to the meeting, CBN and NCC issued a joint press statement on the agreement reached by all stakeholders. The Honorable Minister of Communications and Digital Economy and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) have made several efforts to get the banks to show good faith and sign an agreement, in the national interest, based on the resolutions reached at that meeting. Unfortunately, the patriotic intervention of the Hon. Minister and the NCC have been taken for granted by the DMBs, as two years after, the banks have failed to sign a final agreement.
According to the statement, “It is pertinent to note that the contract between MNOs and DMBs on the use of USSDs for banking transactions is strictly commercial and MNOs are at liberty to withdraw the services if it is established that the transaction is unprofitable to them. MNOs have invested billions of naira in expanding their systems to accommodate the USSD needs of DMBs over the years. This has resulted in more Nigerians having access to banking services and enabling banks to trim down costs by requiring fewer branches to service their growing customers. Unfortunately, MNOs are not getting paid for their services and the debt that stood at N42 Billion in 2021 has now risen to over N120 Billion.’’
In light of this situation, ALTON has declared that unless the DMBs fulfil their debt obligations, MNOs will proceed with disconnecting all banks that remain indebted to them for USSD services. There has been no official response from the NCC or the CBN regarding this impending disconnection