Reps seek peaceful resolution of N42bn telecom debts

• Urge telecom operators not to withdraw USSD services to financial institutions

The House of Representatives, on Tuesday, unveiled plans to break the truce between the telecommunication operators and financial institutions on the lingering crisis over N42 billion debt.

The resolution was passed sequel to the adoption motion on matters of urgent public importance on the “Urgent need to intervene in the impasse of N42 billion debt between telecommunication operators and banks and other financial institutions’, sponsored by Hon Ossai Nicholas Ossai.

Hon Ossai who solicited for the House intervention expressed grave concern over the import of the threat issued by the telecom operators to withdraw USSD service to the financial institutions, on the economy as well as other critical services such as Mobile bank apps, internet banking, ATM, PoS, among others.

To this end, the House urged the telecommunication operators to halt the planned withdrawal and suspension of USSD services to the Nigerians and other financial institutions.

In his lead debate, Hon Ossai Notes that in a bid for the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to realize one of its statutory mandate of Promoting Monetary Stability and Sound Financial System in Nigeria, designed a Cashless Policy that will provide innovations, easy mobile payment, cost reduction and convenient financial services to millions of Nigerians living in urban and rural areas.

He observed that “one of the innovations introduced, is the Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) services which is used by Global System for Mobile Communication Technology to communicate with their service providers’ computers via text messages to check account balance or mobile airtime, generate bank statement or does fund transfer and data balance enquiries or to receive one-time passwords or pin codes.

“The House further notes that the USSD service Which is controlled by Mobile Network Operators is a critical price of infrastructure used to provide mobile financial services to banks and other financial institutions in cell phones at very low cost, without requiring access to the user’s SIM card.

“The House is aware that the USSD infrastructure service houses all the Nigeria telecommunications, thus: MTN, Glo, Airtel and 9Mobile and internet service providers.

“The House observes that the USSD made it possible for millions of Nigerians who do not have smartphones or data/internet connections to access banking and other financial services on a daily basis, especially during COVID 19 movement restrictions.

“The House is informed that between January to June 2020, the value of USSD transfer payment in Nigeria amounted to over N390 billion (about $1 billion).

“The House is disturbed that since October 2019 till date, there has been a dispute between Nigeria Telecommunication Operators and the Nigerian banks over who should pay for USSD service sessions, and the banks have always wanted the Telecommunication Operators to charge customers directly, but the Telecommunication Operators insisted that the services were being offered to the banks and as such the banks should be the one to pay the Telecommunication Operators.

“The House is also aware that between the months of July and August 2020, the Operators had an agreement with the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) that Nigerian banks should pay the Telecommunication Operators for the use of USSD at an agreed individual price mechanism.

“The House is also disturbed that the dispute has lingered for a long time to the extent that parties have been finger-pointing each other, all efforts at resolving the dispute proved abortive and the debt kept increasing until it is presently N42 billion.

“The House is further disturbed that the Telecommunication Operators have issued 4 notices, threatening to withdraw and suspend the USSD service from the Nigerian banks starting from Monday, 15th of March, 2021.

“The House is worried that if the USSD service is withdrawn, Nigerian telecommunication users will fall back and continue with their old traditional modes and channels, such as Mobile bank apps, internet banking, ATM, PoS, that makes banking services uninteresting, inconveniencing, with a high cost of financial transactions, which will further put our health in danger as a result of crowding together.

“The House is concerned that the USSD service, made it the easiest route for non-telecommunication providers to deploy services to the poor people in Nigeria.

“The House acknowledges that the convenience the USSD brought into Nigeria financial business transactions, made its adoption and acceptability to grow at a very tremendous rate,” Hon Ossai noted.

In his intervention, Chairman, House Committee on Telecommunications, Hon. Akeem Adeyemi who underscored the urgent need for the House intervention stressed that millions of Nigerians will have to troop en-mass to their respective banks to queue amidst the COVID-19 pandemic to carry out all the transactions as they would be unable to do any form of mobile transaction via their phone if the crisis is not nipped in the board.

To this end, the Speaker, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila mandated the Committee on Telecommunications to liaise with Telecommunications Operators: Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), CBN and Nigerian banks and other Financial Institutions with a view to resolving the impasse and report back to the House within six weeks for further legislative action.

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