Telecom Operators in Nigeria Lament FX Scarcity

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By Adedapo Adesanya

The Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) said its members have had difficulty accessing foreign exchange (FX) since the beginning of the year.

The group has now called on the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to prioritise their access to forex, especially as the illiquidity crisis worsens.

The Chairman of ALTON, Mr Gbenga Adebayo, at a recent forum in Lagos, said the situation in the sector was gradually getting to a critical point and compared it to the crisis that hit the aviation industry in the past months.

Mr Adebayo said like the aviation sector, the telecommunications industry is also very critical to the Nigerian economy and must be prioritised.

According to him, ALTON members rely on forex for importation because “virtually everything we use in the sector is import dependent. You talk about the base station equipment, generating sets, and batteries, among others. But the inability to get a foreign exchange is impacting not only expansion but also upgrades of existing infrastructure.

“Now that we are deploying 5G, operators need access to forex if the service must be expanded. Lots of members are finding it difficult, they cannot fulfil this obligation. The sector needs intervention. I pray what happened in the aviation sector would not find expression in the telecoms industry.”

Mr Adebayo advocated that the sector should be classified as the first sector to be attended to when it comes to access to forex, stressing that there is a bad debt profile on some members.

According to him, so many telecom operators have become dormant because of several challenges confronting the sector, especially the inability to access forex, multiple taxations, and over regulations, among others.

Mr Adebayo said these challenges had become a major headache to the industry, stressing that over 40 different taxes are slammed on the operators.

While emphasising the need for urgent actions to be taken, Adebayo noted that the regime of national tariff should be over.

On this challenge, the ALTON boss said this might force the hand of operators to introduce discriminatory prices.

“I don’t see why hostile states should not be treated the same way they are treating operators. Friendly states will be treated the same. Plans are on to introduce discriminatory prices, especially those states, which see telcos as cash cows,” Mr Adebayo stated.

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