The dispute over the N120bn Unstructured Supplementary Service Data debt owed telecommunication firms by banks is yet to be over, telecom operators have said.

That was despite a recent announcement by the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission, Prof. Umar Danbatta that banks had agreed to pay telcos the N120bn debt.

He made the disclosure while speaking at the recent Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria’s Telecom Executives and Regulators Forum.

He said, “I think this is an important development for the telecom industry, that we have found an amicable resolution of the problem because we are all serving the same government.

“We do not want to disrupt financial services in the country. I’m talking about the telecommunication service providers, and we want to see the index on the penetration even go higher.”

However, the Chairman of Association of Licenced Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria, Gbenga Adebayo, disclosed that the issue had not been fully resolved.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Nigeria e-Government Summit 2023, the chairman of the body representing the telcos noted that discussions were still ongoing with the banks.

He noted that a repayment plan was yet to be drawn up although the banks were more receptive to the telcos.

Adebayo said, “We are on it. Discussions are ongoing. We hope we can have some finality, but it is not yet done. It is not yet resolved. Discussions are ongoing. In principle, there is now some admittance of debt (by the banks), which wasn’t there before. It is now the mechanism for recovery that we are yet to agree on.

“Discussions are ongoing, it has not been resolved. But there is some admittance by the banks that they owe telcos. It is now the mechanism for payment that has not been reached.”

The disagreement between banks and telcos over payment for the usage of USSD infrastructure has lingered since 2019 despite numerous attempts by regulators and stakeholders to resolve it.

According to Danbatta, the N120bn USSD debt is slowing down financial inclusion in the country.

He noted that financial inclusion in the country had greatly benefited from USSD services.

He recently said, “The merit of the service is that without it, there will be no digital financial inclusion and the penetration would be nowhere where it is now. The digital financial inclusion index or penetration is currently about 70 per cent because it is telco-driven. And as such, there should not be any problem paying for the service.

“No service is free. Pay the telcos that is all we ask. Okay, and as we are saying now, pay them for the debt, the accumulated debt, and then pay them for the service they are rendering as we speak.”

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