Telecom companies in Nigeria have decried the N200 billion debt owed by the banks for the Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) provided by telecom operators.
According to them, the debt, coupled with the 52 taxes, could cripple their operation in the country if the federal government does not intervene. The companies under the aegis of the Association of Licenced Telecom Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) disclosed that the ICT sector was not immune to harsh operating environment, yet, they pay more taxes than any sector of the Nigerian economy.
The chairman, ALTON, Engr. Gbenga Adebayo, told LEADERSHIP that telecom operators are facing threats to investment, sustainability, and industry expansion due to the fact that sub-nationals are forcing them to comply with tax and levy requests that lack legal foundation, and they have been subjected to repeated taxation.
Adebayo enumerated a number of the levies and taxes, including the ecology tax for gaseous emissions, the sewage, sanitation, and public convenience levies for base stations, the fumigation levies—which are levied annually on rights of way (RoW) renewals and the fire service levy—as well as the fumigation charges that states require base stations to pay.
Adebayo, however, argued that in order to address the ongoing problem of multiple taxation in the Nigerian telecommunications sector, including the removal of the excise duty on telecommunications services that is currently suspended, the industry must work with the presidential committee on fiscal policy and tax reforms.
On the N200 billion debt, ALTON chairman. at a stakeholders’ forum in Lagos, averred that though the regulator is intervening, but it is at a slow pace, as the banks are yet to pay the USSD debt owed to telecom operators, which has now risen to N200 billion from N120 billion in June.
“Telecom operators have not been able to get commercial banks to agree they will pay the accumulated debt from USSD charges they were yet to remit. In September, Umar Garba Danbatta, former executive vice chairman of NCC, had said the deposit money banks agreed to pay the debt. He didn’t, however, say when it will be paid,” he recalled.
He explained that the banks did not pledge to pay or when they planned to pay; they only acknowledged the existence of a debt, adding that, “The debt had grown to N200 billion while they were waiting to make their payment.” Recall that operators threatened to disconnect the USSD service of banks in June, 2023, a development that would disrupt transactions activities across the financial system and impact millions of users.
In his response, the executive vice chairman, NCC, Dr. Aminu Maida, promised to create a more conducive environment for investment in the sector, even as he promised to inject new thinking into how the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) would be leveraged to bridge the digital divide in the country. He assured operators of the federal government’s support.
“The federal government of Nigeria sees the ICT sector as a critical sector of the economy and I have the assurance from the government that we will get all the support. However, we have to pay back by ensuring that the economy grows,” he added. The EVC however tasked operators on Quality of Service (QoS), while affirming that he will not tolerate any excuses in that regard.