NITEL told the Nigerian press last week that it was owed N43 billion by its customers and that it would pursue these debts vigorously. It also said that the majority of calls being made across its network were illegal.

The organisation’s new boss, Rein Zwolsman of managing contractors Pentacscope, told newsmen that although NITEL, Globacom and the GSM companies were licenced to carry international calls, a number of small companies were offering their own illegal service: "Small companies in Lagos here are doing it and they don’t have the licence. The process is stealing money from NITEL, stealing money from Econet, stealing money from MTN and stealing money from Globacom." He hinted that the organisations involved would soon take their case to the regulatory body, the National Communications Commission (NCC).

However, the NITEL boss was more worried about the debt burden which is threatening to cripple the activities of the organisation, which was recently handed over to a management contractor, Pentascope. Of the N43 billion, terminal debtors owe N16 billion, private customers- about N13 billion, business accounts - about N6 billion, foreign carriers - about N3 billion, Federal Government - about N2 billion, PTOs - about N2 billion, and government and others - over a billion naira.

"By every standard, this level of indebtedness is high, hence unacceptable to today’s NITEL. As a private company, NITEL needs to collect its debts to enable it improve facilities and services," he said, adding: "This is premised on the fact that once a service is provided, consumers should pay for the service promptly. NITEL too pays for various services it enjoys. NITEL will, therefore, treat every of its customers the same way including governments and their various agents. NITEL will no longer offer ‘free’ services to any individual, organisation or government. This implies that all our customers, including government, must settle all outstanding debts."

Zwolsman was of the opinion that every Nigerian should have a telephone line whether mobile or fixed but insisted that without people paying for services, it would then be difficult for organisations like NITEL to perform. It is to avoid the hassles of pursuing debtors that the organisation has promised to deploy a pre-paid platform before the end of the year.