The lingering matter of the N120 billion debt owed by banks for the use of Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) provided by telecom operators has been resolved, according to Prof. Umar Danbatta, the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). Danbatta disclosed that, following the intervention of the Acting Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Folashodun Shonubi, banks have agreed to settle the outstanding debt and continue to pay for the USSD service under corporate billing terms.
This announcement was made during the Telecom Executives and Regulators Forum (TERF) held in Lagos. Danbatta explained that the issue was successfully resolved during a recent meeting involving the Acting CBN Governor, the NCC, telecom operators, and the banks. The resolution was based on the recognition that financial inclusion cannot be achieved without telecom services.
The origin of the problem stemmed from the banks’ preference for end-user billing, whereas the telecom operators believed the service should be billed to the banks as part of corporate billing. The disagreement led to the accumulation of a substantial debt, exceeding N100 billion. Despite the debt, the banks continued to provide USSD services to their customers using the telecom infrastructure without compensating the telcos.
The situation remained unresolved until the intervention of the Acting CBN Governor, who emphasized the vital role of the USSD service in achieving digital financial inclusion. He recognized that without it, the penetration of financial inclusion would be significantly limited. The resolution included acknowledging the debt’s existence, committing banks to pay for the service through corporate billing going forward, and addressing the accumulated debt.
The Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), representing telecom operators, had previously threatened to disconnect banks from the USSD service due to the outstanding debt, despite several failed interventions by the former Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami.