Big Business Big Robbery

I wish I don’t have to complain about things, but as rapper Twista already knows from his song “Hope”, they are just wishes. My wish from any business is to get quality service; this shouldn’t be a tall wish. But as Nigerians have come to accept, quality service is a gift reserved for maybe Christmas. Even at that, if you are subscribed to a telecommunication network in Nigeria; Christmas is when the services suck most.

On Wednesday, 10 June 2015, I got a call on my MTN line from 033592. I pick the call, Hausa is spoken from the other end. Despite my almost a decade in Northern Nigeria I still don’t hear or speak Hausa. I am bad at learning new languages. Now I end the call, total duration 0 mins 12 secs. That must had been the time it took me to: huh!, what the hell, hiss, and push the big red button on my phone to end the call. 12 seconds? I really need to work on my reaction speed. It’s been over 20 years since I last mounted the post as a football goalie, may have lost some of my reflexes.

My joy of ending an annoying call was short lived. I got a message instantly which read:

“Dear subscriber, you have successfully subscribed for MAGANA at N 50/Bi-weekly. To stop service, send STOP MAGANA to 33592.”

Without hesitation, I took the inconvenience, opened my SMS app and promptly sent the message to stop a service I never asked for.  Now a quick reply comes in:

“Dear subscriber, The MAGANA service is now deactivated. To re-subscribe at any time please send MAGANA to 33592.”

You can’t be serious, why should I? Angry enough for the wasted time. I quickly check account balance. Seriously? I had been charged 50 Naira. Now that is class one robbery. My angrometer raises again. I call the MTN customer service on their 180 number. I am told I had 43 persons ahead of me to speak to an agent, press 1 to wait or press 2 to …, not important, I will wait. I fumbled to reach the keypad button and press 1. Instead of letting me wait in peace, I am prompted to press 1 if I want to continue listening to promo messages or otherwise press 2. Who wants to be bothered again? I press 2. As if I was in a cycle that wasn’t going to end, I am told again I have 45 persons ahead of me to speak to an agent. Did memory fail me? Thought I heard 43 the first time? Well, I will wait even if it meant converting my mobile phone to a landline by plugging in the power cord.

Then, press 1 to wait, I did. Press 2 to not listen to promo, I did. Maybe it was a day or irony; I had to listen to promo messages for the next 4 minutes.

Hello, thanks for calling MTN … and other customer services formalities. To the business of the day. I lay down my complaint especially the fact that I was “robbed” of 50 Naira for a service I did not subscribe to.

After a number of exchanges, I was told I subscribed by picking the call and that MTN is not responsible since it was a third party service.

I removed the phone from my ear to check if I missed the network I was on. On the top of my screen was written “MTN-NG”. Certainly, memory didn’t fail me this time, I knew I wasn’t subscribed to “Third Party” network.

The customer service agent went further to advice me not to pick “short code” messages again if I didn’t want to incur charges.

I was perplexed. MTN has called me with a short code before to verify personal information for SIM card verification. Was I to reject such calls in future? Moreover, I almost always have a Bluetooth Headset on and I pick calls without knowing who is calling. It is my business line, so I do try to pick all calls that come in. Again she repeated her advice with assertion while reminding me that I cannot get a refund since it was “Third Party”, but I can only avoid such situation next time by not picking calls from “short code”.

I gave up since I was making no progress, wondering why a multinational like MTN would be involved in what in Nigeria we call: Sharp Practices.

When ever I call my parents, I hear a generic caller tune. My parents are charged 50 Naira monthly for a service they did not subscribe to.

They did subscribe, she replied, you will not get caller tunes if you did not subscribe.

Really? I have a personally experience, I told her:

When I subscribe for my monthly data plan, I get a message that I have received one month free caller tunez. The very next month I was charged 50 Naira for automatic renewal of the caller tunes subscription. Demn, I go online, search for how to unsubscribe from the MTN caller tunez. My parents don’t know this, so they have to pay the caller tunes tax monthly.

Now let’s put this into perspective. A quick Google search for the number of MTN subscribers tell me 61.1 million.

number of mtn subscribers

Google search for number of MTN subscribers


As a practising engineer, my maths skills are still good. So for those who don’t know, 61.1 million is 61,100,000 or sixty one million, one hundred thousand people. If you still don’t know, that is a lot of people , more that the population of most countries in the world.

Now if you add a zero (0) to the end of a large number you get a very large number. Or if your monthly salary is say, 100,000 Naira, then when your company posts your salary to your account this month, they mistakenly add a zero at the end. That becomes your 10 months salary in just one month or 1 million Naira – with 900,000 Naira tax free.

Where am I going with all these? Sorry about the long stories but as a trainer, facilitator, instructor, I love to illustrate. Now put a zero at the end of 61,100,000; you get 611,000,000. Did you get that in words: Six Hundred and Eleven Million, a very large figure. Now take that very large figure and multiply it by 5. That gives you 3,055,000,000 or error by some calculators. That is 3 billion, 55 million and this time add a Naira sign to it. That is the amount you get when you multiply the number of MTN subscribers in Nigeria by 50 Naira being charged for picking a call. I really need to register a “short code” service with MTN and of course as a “Third Party”.

Statistics is the hot field right now, so let me pretend I have knowledge of statistics and probability to be specific. Lets say only 50% of subscribers picked the short code call maybe because they had a Bluetooth Headset on, on a handsfree, or they just love picking incoming calls. That would take “Third Party’s” earning for that day alone to 1,527,500,000 Naira. I need to check if they are listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange so I buy all the shares I can afford. A company that earns 1.5 billion Naira in a day is surely the hottest company right now. Or wait, how about MTN that ensures that 60% of their subscribers are unwittingly charged 50 Naira per month for caller tunes and still get a cut from several “Third Party” earnings (daily).

Everyday I am tasked to delete between 5 to 8 unsolicited SMS messages from my phone that MTN or their third party conspirators deliver to me. Who pays for this cost of inconveniencies?

unsolicited sms

A screenshot of my phone showing my latest SMS messages, all junk from MTN

On days like this I wonder if anybody regulates these telecommunication services. Of course that is the responsibility of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).


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