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Fragile peace as banks unblock MTN’s USSD platform

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PHOTO: REUTERS/SIPHIREUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO

• Customers relive ordeals, seek lasting resolution
Following the intervention of the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami and Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Godwin Emefiele, banks have temporarily unblocked the Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) and banking applications serving over 75 million of MTN customers. The blockade had lasted for about 48 hours.

The banks had blocked MTN subscribers on Friday, leaving millions frustrated, as they were unable to buy airtime via the platform at the weekend leading to the Easter celebration.

The crisis brewed from the claim by the financial institutions on dipping profits from 5.5 to 2.5 per cent.

In a tweet, Pantami had said following the face-off between MTN Nigeria and some banks, he had engaged the relevant regulators – the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) – and the CBN.

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He had posted: “We have reached an advanced stage of resolving the issues for the services to be restored to our citizens. Many thanks!”

The Guardian learnt there was a virtual meeting on Saturday involving MTN’s Chief Executive Officer, Karl Toriola, Chairman of Body of Bank CEOs in Nigeria, Herbert Wigwe; GTBank MD, Segun Agbaje and MTN Nigeria’s Chief Financial Officer/Executive Director, Modupe Kadiri, to resolve the dispute, occasioned by the planned sharing formula.

Part of the resolutions was for the banks to revert to the status quo of 4.5 per cent commission, while more talks are to be held in the course of the week.

In a post-meeting letter, dated April 3, written by Toriola and made available to The Guardian, the MTN chief said: “In an attempt to resolve the current USSD recharge impasse, given the intervention from our regulators, we hereby agree that the banks and MTN Nigeria Communications Plc shall sit to agree on various options that would result in the reduction in the cost on April 6, 2021.”

He added: “The document was issued by me to the banks on the specific intervention of the CBN governor and the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy. MTN’s intention has always been geared towards business optimisation to the benefit of our customers and indeed the country. This is evidenced by the fact that through the USSD imbroglio, we never denied access to our customers.

“In the current case, customers have been denied access to services by the banks despite having money in their accounts to purchase those services. MTN would naturally do all it can to minimise customer’s pain.”

Chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, confirmed that the matter was being resolved.

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A telecoms expert, Kehinde Aluko called for a truce, stressing that there was need for the telco and the banks to urgently sort out their differences in the interest of the economy and customers.

MEANWHILE, within the hours that the disruption lasted, the telecoms firm, in a statement, informed its subscribers of alternative electronic payment platforms to recharge their phones. The alternatives included Flutterwave, Jumia Pay, OPay, Kuda, myMTN Web, Momo agent *223#, Carbon and BillsnPay.

In the statement at the weekend by its Senior Manager, External Relations, Funso Aina, MTN also advised customers to recharge by dialing *904# and *606#.

Some clients, who spoke with The Guardian, held that it had been very difficult for them to transact.

Olalekan Agbede, a businessman, said he tried severally at the weekend to make a N80,000 transfer to his Akure-based mother to no avail.

Another customer, Nkechi Duru, urged swift resolution, adding that it had been very harrowing making use of the USSD platform.

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