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OPINION: Extortion of the people by telecommunication companies: The case of MTN

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By Poju Akinyanju

Capitalism is a dog eat dog system. ‘Market forces’ is about the survival of the fittest. Most capitalist countries know this and try to moderate the murderous profit oriented urge of capitalism by instituting regulations, and imposing ‘law and order’.

The degree of regulation that moderates the market  is an ideological issue in advanced capitalist countries. Strict enforcement of law and order is prioritized.

The police:citizen ratio is high and the judiciary is fairly well organized.

Although the protection of capital is the priority, the sixth sense of the capitalists tell them that if some degree of protection is not offered the populace against the forces of the market, the system will consume them, the capitalists.

In peripheral capitalist states, who adopt capitalist system in spite of the fact that it is arguably ill suited to achieving the goal of rapid development do so without protection against market forces.

Regulations that rein in market forces and protect the citizens are weak, compromised or nonexistent.

Individual producers, traders and conglomerates do as they please in the murderous search for profit. The citizen/customer is helpless and suffers.

The law and order systems are inefficient, corrupt and relentlessly assaulted.

The judiciary is a caricature of itself and is not common-citizens friendly.

The citizens are thus on their own.

They either remain resigned and helpless or take laws into their own hands.

In this piece, I narrate two experiences that I had with the mobile telecommunications provider, the MTN, which typifies the  fate of consumer-citizens in an ill regulated capitalist system.

The failure of regulation is exposed by the pusillanimous response of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to the situation.

Months before October of 2022, I was on MTN’s beta talk tariff and regularly subscribe for data employing the relevant ussd.

The subscription is guided by options presented by series of sequential drop boxes from which you select the data options that suit your need within the tariff.

One cannot alter or influence the drop boxes offered to one but has to take one of the options offered. The assumption is that the options presented relate to the tariff you hold.

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For months on end, there was no problem. I got the type of data that I wanted and used it for the purpose that I wanted. A main purpose for which I buy data is to be able to gift some to others.

In October, 2022, I followed the same process to purchase data. In attempting to gift data, I was told that I could not as I had migrated to another tariff, the Xtraspecial which does not permit such .

I filed a  complaint that I did not voluntarily migrate out of the tariff that I hold. I requested that I should be returned to the beta talk tariff and credited  with the data equivalent to the amount that I paid on that tariff . The MTN refused.

After weeks of back and forth, in January of 2023, I lodged a complaint with the NCC.

The NCC immediately referred the complaint to MTN. The MTN restated its case that since I migrated to another tariff, the situation cannot be reversed in spite of the arguments I made that it was impossible, the way the process is laid out, to voluntarily migrate to another tariff; and that the consent of the subscriber ought to be obtained in migrating from one tariff to another, which did not happen in this case. Exchange of communications on this matter continued till March, 2023. The NCC refused to rule one way or the other.

It was just serving as a courier between MTN and me.

Out of frustration, my tail between my legs, and with a loss of 27.8 GB, which the MTN had unilaterally reclassified as bonus, I logged onto another MTN tariff, the Biz plus, which will allow me use purchased data for my purpose.

All went well.

Using the ussd, my data subscription was of the tariff that I held and I could use the data for my purpose. 9 months later, on December 29, 2023, MTN struck again. I was again forcefully migrated to the Xtraspecial tariff.

The rigmarole resumed. Physical visits to the MTN service centre, exchange of mails with the MTN customer service.

The MTN this time arrogantly indicated that while such unrequested migration was possible it cannot be rectified. Again, I reported to the NCC whose response this time was worse.

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It only notified me of forwarding my complaint to MTN.

Since then, after many weeks, nothing. This time, I lost 6.25 GB to MTN. On some intervention,based on the claim that the NCC server may have been down(!) at the time I lodged my complaint, I re-forwarded the complaint on February 27, 2024.

The scenario of 2022/2023 repeated itself: NCC forwarded my complaints to MTN, MTN refused to ameliorate and the NCC did nothing.

At the general level, there are massive complaints against service providers in Nigeria. Most of it is at the grumbling level.

Even then, the customer service stations of banks, electricity companies, telecommunication providers are full to the brim with unhappy customers.

Especially in this electronic age. That should indicate to these companies that something fundamental is wrong with their services, Either their customers are dumb and are unable to key into the programmes or the programmes of the companies are user unfriendly or faulty.

The response customers get is a condescension, humiliation, and an  arrogant ‘we are too big to make mistakes’.

So the confusion and humiliation of customers continue.

Customers are denied the value of their purchases, get their time wasted, and the companies rake in unearned profits.

The question could be asked – why don’t you switch to another company? Two responses: first, there is no difference between the six of one company and half a dozen of the other.

The second response is that we have a situation of imperfect competition. For example, as much as I would love to abandon the MTN for my unhappy association with it, It is the provider that has the best transmission in areas where I live and frequent.

So I am stuck with its arrogant inefficiency in aspects of its service delivery. Unfortunately public opinion is not yet consequential in Nigeria and we do not have an effective mass boycott of product culture.

The regulatory agencies are expected to be a rescue route. But as my experience with the NCC shows they are not up to their duties to the citizens.

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The NCC has on its web site that 98.8% of complaints forwarded to it are resolved and only 1,2% remain pending, awaiting resolution.

This unaudited in house data can only be a fairy tale. The case that I have presented against MTN twice, is clear, commonsensical and irrefutable.

Yet all the NCC did was to serve as a courier of the MTN position. It did not interrogate the allegation, it did not make a finding, neither  did it make a pronouncement nor effect a consequence.

Therefore, the error repeated itself with me and I am sure also with numerous  other customers of MTN.

And that is true of other regulatory agencies.

The NERC for electricity matters and the Consumer Protection Council, for example do not fare better.

Another option that customers should be able to explore is the courts. But unless one is ready to spend a minimum of ten years and up to 25 to 30 years to pursue a complaint, then it is not an option.

Traders in the market will want to cut corners and cheat and insult customers unless they know that there will be consequences.

As such the lethargy, inefficiency and corruption in these regulatory agencies amount to a betrayal of not only the consumer-citizens but the nation as the larceny and malfeasance of the traders and service providers eventually inhibit the development of the nation.

In the particular case of my complaint against the MTN, I insist that the NCC should interrogate the allegation, make a finding, make a pronouncement and effect consequences. I shall be briefing the public on the progress of the matter.

Professor Akinyanju is a retired lecturer from University of Ilorin and currently lives in Fate, Ilorin.

 


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