By Adedapo Adesanya
Commercial banks offering financial services to its customers through the use of the Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) via telecommunications companies operating in Nigeria have been directed to move to telcos charging less for the transaction.
This directive was given by Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr Godwin Emefiele, on Sunday in the United States of America, where he was for the IMF/World Bank Annual Meetings.
On Sunday, one of the telcos, MTN, in a notice sent to its customers had stated that, “Please note that from October 21, we will charge N4 per 20 seconds for USSD access to banking services. Thank you.”
But this was greeted with harsh criticisms from both subscribers and regulators, including the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), which was asked by federal government to halt the planned imposition of N4 per transaction charge for the banking transaction.
The Minister of Communications, Mr Ibrahim Pantami, had in a statement signed by his media aide, Mr Uwa Suleiman, urged the commission to look for ways of bringing down the cost of data and illegal deductions of airtime by service providers.
“The attention of the Federal Ministry of Communications has been drawn to the viral text message allegedly sent by the Mobile Network Operator MTN Nigeria and other Mobile Operators notifying subscribers of a four naira (N4:00) charge per 20 seconds on USSD access to banking services from the 21st of October 2019.
“The office of the Minister of Communications, Dr. Isa Pantami, is unaware of this development and has hereby directed the sector regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) ensures the operator suspends such plans until the Honourable Minister is fully and properly briefed,” the statement read in part.
While also reacting to the issue, Mr Emefiele informed the banks to move their services to telcos that are willing to offer such service at the lowest or even zero charges.
“I have told the banks that they have to move their business and move their traffic to a telecom company that is ready to provide it at the lowest possible and if not at zero cost and there is where we stand and we must achieve it,” he said in a message on the matter.
Speaking further, the apex bank chief said, “You are all aware that there is a drive for us to deepen financial inclusion in Nigeria. I had made my commitments to Bill Gates Foundation as well as Queen Maxima that we would deepen financial inclusion and that by 2020 the rate of financial inclusion would have accelerated to about 80 per cent.
“At this time, we are close to about 65 percent. We moved from about 42 percent to 65 percent in about 18 months and we believe that we can achieve this 80 percent if everybody, that is the bank and telecoms company, cooperate with us.
“About five months ago, I held a meeting with some telecoms companies and leading banks in Nigeria in Lagos and the issue on cost of USSD came up. We came to a conclusion that the use of USSD is a sunk cost, meaning that it is not an additional cost on the infrastructure of the telecoms companies.
“But the telecoms companies disagreed with us and said it was an additional investment in infrastructure and that for that reason, they needed to impose the charge. I appealed to them to please review this downwards and they refused.
“I understand that about three to four weeks ago, rather than reduce it, they went ahead to increase by 300 percent. I opposed it and I have told the banks that we would not allow this to happen. The banks are the people who give these businesses to the telecoms companies and I leave the banks and the telecoms companies to engage.”
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