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Banks, telcos meet as USSD debt hits N100bn



The accumulated debt from Unstructured Supplementary Service Data which Deposit Money Banks owe telecommunication firms has risen to over N100bn.

As a result, banks and telcos are expected to hold another round of meetings with a view to resolving the deadlock.

The debt was put at N80bn a few months ago.

The Head of Operations of the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria, Gbolahan Awonuga, in a conversation with The PUNCH, confirmed that USSD debts had grown from N80bn as of November 2022 to over N100bn In April.

According to him, much progress as regards repayment has not been made, with telcos and banks still locked up in discussions.

He told The PUNCH, “It is still there. The banks and MNOs are still discussing, there is no way forward. The debt has continued to increase and is now over N100bn.”

A top-ranking source in one of the telecom firms disclosed to The PUNCH that USSD debt has grown beyond N100bn. The source noted that banks owe only one of the telcos about N100bn.

The source stated, “The N100bn does not cut it. As of November, last year, the amount that was owed to us was N90bn. Right now, it is safe to say that the amount is over N100bn. This is just one telco, what about the others? The total figure could be estimated at N150bn.”

According to the source, banks are refusing to acknowledge the debt, hence frustrating the recovery process.

The source explained, “No progress has been made simply because the banks have dug in their heels and are refusing to accept that they owe us money, not to talk of repaying.

“Also, they have the backing of the CBN, which is why they are not seeing the need to repay, whereas telcos cannot take such an action because the regulator will cite the impact on subscribers. It has not been resolved, and the banks are becoming more emboldened.”

USSD services ensure that many Nigerians can access banking services on their phones with smartphone penetration still quite low in the country. It serves as a bridge to financial inclusion for many underserved Nigerians.

Bank customers use USSD codes to transfer money, check account balances, and carry out other transactions without Internet connectivity. Despite its relevance, banks, and telcos have been at odds since 2019 over the non-remittance of USSD fees.

Last year, the Chairman of ALTON, Mr Gbenga Adebayo, disclosed that USSD had risen to N80bn from N32bn in 2019. At the time, he said telcos were getting to a point when they would no longer support USSD services. On December 30, 2022, he told The PUNCH, “We have sought regulatory approval to pursue partial removal.

“We would start disconnecting those who owe us in batches, a highest debtor scenario. We don’t know as regards the timing because we are required to get approval before acting. But we would certainly commence the process once it is approved.”

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