Digital banking services may be disrupted with customers unable to transact money transfers as Telecommunications operators threatens to disconnect Deposit Money Banks (DMBs).
The Operators under the aegis of the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) said they have been allowed by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to take the action following inability of the banks to pay the debt owed them for Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) services which is over N120 billion.
Chairman of ALTON, Engr, Gbenga Adebayo, said the approval was granted because despite multiparty stakeholder efforts to resolve the situation and prevent any impact on services, led by the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Prof. Isa Ali Pantami, including the Nigerian Communications Commission, the Central Bank of Nigeria, along with MNOs and DMBs, the banks have continued to incur greater debt, without making the commensurate payments.
He said every time some progress is made, the DMBs will come up with reasons to take stakeholders several steps back, in this matter.
The MNOs and DMBs have had protracted disagreements concerning the appropriate USSD pricing model for financial transactions, transparency of charges, mode of collection and liability for payment of the outstanding and continuous service fees due to the MNOs (which currently stands at over N120 Billion) .
Due to the inability of MNOs and DMBs to reach an agreement on the issues, MNOs in 2021 sought to disconnect DMBs as a result of unpaid debts which stood at N42 billion as at that time.
However, after the Minister’s intervention and an appeal not to disconnect DMBs as the action will negatively impact on the Digital and Financial Inclusion policy of the Federal Government, the situation remain unresolved.
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 Minister has 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 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.
The group explained 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 in addition to enabling banks to trim down costs by requiring less 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.
It is obvious that the level of debt is unsustainable given the time/value huge cost of the continuous upgrade and operation of the systems and infrastructure dedicated to supporting USSD transactions of DMBs.
In view of the foregoing, unless DBMs meet their debt obligations, MNOs will disconnect all banks indebted to them for USSD services rendered.” he said.