N42bn debt: Minister backs telcos’ USSD service withdrawal  

The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Panatami, has thrown his weight behind the moves by the mobile network operators to withdraw access to the use of Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) from banks with effect from tomorrow, March 15. The action stems from the banks’ non-payment of the service charges, which the telcos said has accumulated to over N42 billion.

Millions of bank customers in the country rely on the USSD codes, which ride on the telecoms infrastructure, for various financial transactions ranging from fund transfers, checking account balance, etc. However, with the planned withdrawal the use of this channel may become impossible for the bank customers.

The Minister in a letter referenced HMCDE/039/CBN/Vol.1, dated 3rd March 2021, and addressed to the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Mr. Godwin Emefiele, a copy of which was seen by TechTrackAfrica, reminded the apex bank’s boss of the objectives of the determination on USSD pricing issued by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) on 23rd July 2019 and amended on 24th July 2020.

According to the Minister, the determination was issued to address the lingering matter of the impasse in the rendering of USSD service to banks and other financial institutions by the mobile network operators, to among others prohibit the application of an end-user billing pricing model and restate the existing directive on corporate user billing.

“I wish to bring to your attention that it is disheartening that those noble objectives are not realisable. This is due to the fact that not only have commercial banks failed to abide by the terms of the USSD determination but also the lingering incidence of indebtedness to MNOs for the services they rendered persist. This situation is on the rise to the detriment of the MNOs and indeed the communications industry as a whole.

“In these circumstances, I am constrained to direct NCC to ensure immediate compliance with the terms of the determination, failing which MNOs will be directed to discontinue the rendering of USSD services to commercial banks with effect from 9th March 2021.

“Given the far-reaching implications of such a development, I trust that you will use your good offices to facilitate compliance and ensure that all parties act in good faith,” the Minister’s letter read.

The telcos in a statement released through their umbrella body, the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), had said that the withdrawal of the service became inevitable as the banks have refused to pay their debts.

“Our members are initiating a phased process of withdrawal of USSD services, starting with the most significant debtors within the Financial Service Providers (FSPs) effective Monday, March 15, 2021. While the withdrawal of USSD service is in place, we encourage our subscribers to kindly explore alternative channels with their banks,” ALTON said in a statement signed by its Chairman, Engr. Gbenga Adebayo.

The implementation plan for the withdrawal of service, a copy of which was seen by our correspondent showed that the banks were officially informed of the action on 12th March 2021, while a partial suspension of access to the USSD channel for top owing banks is to take place “between the peak hours of 0900 – 1600hrs Monday, March 15, 2021.

According to the plan, total suspension of access to the USSD channel for top owing banks is to commence from Thursday, March 18, 2021, while total suspension of access to the USSD channel for all owing banks is to start Wednesday, March 24, 2021.


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