Five years after, USSD debt conflict still unresolved

As NCC insists on NIM-SIM linkage datelines

Telecommunications operators urged deposit money banks (DMBs) to pay up the N200 billion unstructured supplementary service data (USSD) debts they owed them.

Almost five years into the tussle, telcos said while they are seeing some commitment from some banks, others, especially big ones, have not been forthcoming.

Speaking with The Guardian, the Chairman, the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, said some banks are paying, while others are still not forthcoming.

Adebayo said the debts kept piling up because banks should do the needful and pay their long-standing debts.

“We are having tractions, but very slow. Some banks are paying; some are not paying at all. They keep arguing about the figures. This is leading to what I will call a disaster. It is not a good feeling between the two players. We are just watching ourselves like cat and mouse, trying to minimise our exposure to them, trying to see what we can still get because, again, if someone owes you N50 million five years ago, it is not the same value of money today. There is also the time value of money, and this has been affected by this significant delay we are having.

“One day when someone enforces this process, it will throw the entire financial economy into turmoil, and they are not thinking about that. It is not a debt we can cancel, and I think parties need to come to the table and find a way to pay the bills,” he stated.

Adebayo said almost daily, the figures kept increasing because USSD transactions are carried out per second.

“We can’t get the actual amount paid because it is recurrent. As we are speaking now, USSD transactions are going on, the numbers are going up. As they pay historically, we are confronted with the current. We are still hovering around the same amount of N200 billion.”

Meanwhile, on the ongoing National Identity Number (NIN)-SIM verification and linkage, a source said the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has not stood back on its decision of the March 29th deadline because of some new findings about the exercise.

“Our resolve is hinged on the need to close in on the chaos of untoward ownership of multiple SIM cards with unverified NIN details. We have instances where a single individual has over 10,000 lines linked to his NIN. In some cases, we have seen a single person with 1,000 lines, some 3,000 plus lines. What are they doing with these lines?

“From our interim findings, the owners of these lines did not purchase them for decent purposes or to undertake legitimate activities.

“We have given them enough time to make the decision of which of their lines they want to keep and discard the others. They did not. All lines in this category with unverified NINs are barred. They will then be expected to go to their operators and decide which of the lines they want to keep, as well as submit correct NIN details.

“Some people would say they want to use it for car trackers, or IoTs, but provision has been made for these services already. They are not under the ‘Max-4 Rule.’

The source added: “Across the world, no country allows you to have 1,000 SIM cards to make calls or texts.”

The source said the Max-4 Rule announced by the federal government in April 2021 provides that telecom subscribers cannot have more than four lines per mobile network operator.

It was gathered that NCC has also provided Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) an extension till July 31st, 2024, within which they are expected to verify all NINs submitted by subscribers with four or fewer SIMs, as well as bar those whose NIN fails verification with NIMC.

The source also stated that the Commission is mulling the idea of approving an online application solution for MNOs where their subscribers whose NIN verification failed due to biometric mismatch can update their records on the app while existing subscribers can register additional lines.

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