Telecommunication firms have issued fresh threats to withdraw Unstructured Supplementary Service Data service if banks do not pay their N120bn debt owed to them.

According to the telcos, the issue has dragged on for too long and a court resolution might be needed since the banks do not seem to be ready to clear the debt. The Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria, Gbenga Adebayo, disclosed this over the weekend while speaking to journalists.

This new revelation is coming despite a recent resolution by the telcos and banks to settle the USSD issue that has been lingering for about four years.

He said, “I think is just best to withdraw the services. On this issue of USSD debt, if parties have to go to court to get a final resolution, so be it. This is because every effort that is being made by everyone, where we move one step forward, several steps backward, is not going to work.

“This is a commercial agreement that went south. This agreement has a provision for third-party intervention, whether arbitration or heading for the Court of Law, if it is allowed to take its own life, parties will decide where to go. Instead of going to meetings in Abuja with the minister or the CBN, parties would decide where to go according to the agreement.”

Adebayo highlighted that the matter is commercial, and it is appropriate to withdraw the service. He however noted that political interference has ensured that telcos have not been able to enforce the commercial terms.

He stated, “So when you open commercial agreement to political interference, you get into this kind of problem. That is why we say emphatically that some issues, including price review, should be left to market forces, not to be determined by government because it is not sustainable.”

He disclosed that in a recent with the Minister of Communications, Innovation and Digital Economy, Dr Bosun Tijani, recently, the minister was sympathetic to the plight of the telcos and stressed that if parties behaved as responsibly as they should, the matter wouldn’t have reached this level.

Earlier in a document shared with The PUNCH, telcos had revealed that the minister has hinted that banks should not expect free service as there are costs to every service rendered.

The immediate past Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission, Prof. Umar Danbatta, noted that the USSD debt was slowing down financial inclusion in the country.

Recently, Adebayo confirmed to The PUNCH that the USSD debt issue was still unresolved, with banks and telcos discussing a repayment plan.

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