25 February 2016

Nigeria: Exclusive - N780 Billion Fine: Nigerian Govt. Slams MTN, Denies N50 Billion Payment Claim

Photo: Daily Trust
MTN Nigeria walk-in centre

The Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, on Thursday distanced itself from claims by MTN Nigeria that it persuaded the phone company to withdraw its lawsuit for both sides to reach an out-of-court settlement over a N780 billion fine imposed on MTN by the regulator.

The commission also denied knowledge of MTN's claim that it made a part payment of the fine.

MTN had announced Wednesday that it was dropping its legal challenge, and was making a "good faith" payment of N50 billion to enable the two sides reach an amicable solution on the matter.

"This is a most encouraging development. It demonstrates a willingness and sincerity by both parties to work together towards a positive outcome," MTN Nigeria's Chief Executive Officer, Ferdi Moolman, had said.

But the director of communication, NCC, Tony Ojobo, told PREMIUM TIMES exclusively on Thursday that the commission was neither aware of MTN's decision to withdraw its court case, nor pay $250 million (about (N50 billion) to the Nigerian government.

"We (NCC) are not privy to it (agreement to withdraw a case from court and pay $250 million by MTN). We do not have anything to do with it. We do not have any evidence of payment of any money to the Nigerian government. There is no invoice to that effect. We have also not gotten any official information or confirmation that they have withdrawn their case in court," Mr. Ojobo said.

"That information is not from us (NCC). It is MTN that released it from South Africa. We have not gotten into any discussion on the modalities of payment of the fine. Whatever MTN is doing does not affect the fact that a regulatory fine was imposed and payment is expected," he said.

Mr. Ojobo however assured that the NCC management would meet later Thursday to review the report and take a decision that would be communicated to the public through an official statement.

"We have not even met to take a decision like that. There was no discussion whatsoever with NCC on the matter. MTN has not even met with the committee that was set to discuss these issues.

"On what basis was the agreement made? We do not know the basis on which they arrived at the $250 million they claim to have paid. For now, no official position on this. We are just hearing it in the news like every other person," Mr Ojobo explained.

The NCC had in October 2015 sanctioned MTN, Nigeria's largest mobile operator, for failing to disconnect 5.1 million improperly registered lines within the prescribed deadline in compliance with its regulatory directive to telecom operators in the country.

The penalty was based on N200, 000 fine imposed for every unregistered SIM card in use on any telecom operator's network.

Although the fine was subsequently reduced by 25 per cent to N780 billion, MTN Nigeria failed to pay the penalty.

The company later filed a suit at the Federal High Court, Lagos to challenge the Nigerian government's action.

The court gave both parties until March 18, 2016 to reach an amicable out-of-court settlement over the matter.

When contacted, spokesperson for MTN, Funso Aina, said he should be given some time to respond to PREMIUM TIMES inquiry.

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