MTN: Raking Profits and Floundering By Garba Shehu

I am not a frequent traveler but whenever I happen to go outside this country, I use my local MTN phone. This is so that I don’t miss my calls.

My last three trips in September, last year; in and June this year make me wonder whether it is worth staying with the biggest carrier in the country, the MTN. Is their explosive growth of traffic difficult to sustain?

In my local usage of their line, I have noted in my frequent travels that there are many black spots as you travel the Abuja-Kano road. You are in and out of their network such that you are hardly connected continuously for half hour. Whenever the connection comes on, you will notice that you are limited to one, or three bars – hardly all five bars – signifying a weak connection. On this road in the past, the MTN maintained a wall-to-wall coverage. Nigerians laugh the MTN when the automatic answering machine tells them that the man sitting next to them is not in the service area or his phone is shut when that is absolutely not the case.

In my last trips outside Nigeria, I got calls in the UK and somehow, managed to receive calls and to call others.  On the other, The blackberry and the sms worked on one occasion and failed on the other.

In the USA, one had in the past enjoyed a flawless connection using the MTN through &T and T-Mobile. In the last of June this year, my blackberry powered by MTN did not work. SMS to and from this phone failed. It a miracle to make a successful call- perhaps or three on a lucky day. It was a totally frustrating experience.

Getting the MTN to listen to customer complaints is even frustrating. I have called the number 180 to complain and have presented complaints service centres. A standard response is that on such matters, the customer should present him/herself their customers’ . These meetings held the six geo-political zonal locations. I do not, at this time, remember how long I read of such meetings advertised in the press.

In the light of this experience, one feels safe to say that the telecoms revolution ushered in by the sale of licenses to carriers that has enabled than 100 million Nigerians to access the phone has now frozen on its tracks – if not in fact regressing. The continuing deterioration in service manifested by the absence of connection or repeated cuts – and this applies to all the networks – is so pervasive that it is hard to sustain a single unbroken conversation in daytime or at night. The absence or failure of network has given Nigerians a line to hold in explaining their failure to return calls. In the face of deteriorating service, it is amazing how the MTN has been amassing      money going up to Three Trillion Naira turnover, out of which N857.6billion was accumulated as profit over a ten year period. (ThisDay 28th August 2011). Analysis of MTN’s profit after tax for the year 2010 showed that the West and Central African operations, made up mainly of Nigeria and Ghana contributed N269billion or 71% of the ’s profit after tax.

Analyst said this is likely to translate the likelihood of Nigeria contributing to not less than 70% of this profit, amounting to about N188billion, making it the most profitable company in Nigeria. (Businessday 10th, 2011).

What is even distressing is the non-challance of the Nigerian government to the telephone woes and saps Nigerians suffer. The regulatory body, the National Communications Commission, NCC is one white elephant with established habit of allowing the networks to get off lightly with poor quality service.

Our citizens know for sure that the telephone companies provide extraordinary perks to government officials, legislators and regulators so they can sit pretty exploiting the ordinary citizen. How else do they not get overlooked when they let politicians, regulators and their families get free airtime, fund wedding and birthday events? It is perhaps the need to do all these shenanigans that the cost per minute is sky-high in Nigeria. Their government that should reduce or eliminate excessive charges in the face of worsening services knows only how to tap crude oil, tax the GSM companies and swindle the citizen by eating away the money.

But, a simple survey will reveal that it isn’t just the MTN alone which the biggest of them that is scamming Nigerians through the active collaborations of their government. They are all in it.

How did we allow ourselves to be duped and sucked paying so much for so poor a service?

A patriotic government can end the woes of Nigerians by embarking on a radical reworking of telecommunications policies and to, in particular imposing higher standards and holding them to account. Enough of the vice hold on ordinary Nigerians.

In Western societies, companies and other service providers are held accountable, however rich or powerful they seem to be. That is possible because leaders are public-minded. Here, however, our leaders the other way while GSM service providers exploit customers frequently without deterrent punitive measures. A former member of the House of Representatives, Dr. Yarima from Yobe State, was once suspended for blowing the whistle on how GSM networks operators bribed lawmakers with free airtime at the expense of customers. The selfish attitude of our leaders feeds the impunity of our network service providers. But for how long will the network continue to be bad for Nigerians?


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