President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday revealed why the federal government fined MTN a whopping N1.04 trillion for failing to deactivate 5.1 million unregistered SIM cards.
The government, however, later reduced the amount to N780 billion after the first round of negotiations between the firm and government.
In a joint press briefing with the visiting South Africa president, Jacob Zuma, at the presidential villa, Abuja, President Buhari noted that the concern of the government was the breach of security caused by MTN's refusal to deactivate the unregistered lines, rather than the huge fine imposed.
LEADERSHIP recalls that MTN had on Wednesday, February 24, withdrawn its suit from the federal high court in Lagos against the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and subsequently paid N50 billion as part of the N780billion fine, in anticipation of an amicable resolution.
MTN had earlier filed a suit as the December 31, 2015 payment deadline drew near, and later requested an out-of-court settlement.
But Buhari, making his first official statement since the fine was imposed on MTN, blamed the telecom company for the death of some victims of the Boko Haram terror acts on the refusal of MTN to deactivate unregistered SIMS.
He said, "The concern of the federal government was basically on the security and not the fine imposed on MTN. You know how the unregistered GSM are being used by terrorists; and between 2009 and today, at least 10,000 Nigerians were killed by Boko Haram.
"That was why the NCC asked MTN, Glo and the rest of them to register GSM subscribers. Unfortunately MTN was very slow and contributed to the casualties, and NCC looked at its regulations and imposed the fine.
"Unfortunately for MTN, they went to court and once you go to court, you virtually disarm the government because if the federal government refuses to listen to the judiciary, it's going against its own constitution; therefore the government has to wait.
"I think MTN has seen that and decided to withdraw the case and go back and negotiate with government agencies on what they consider a very steep fine to be reduced and, maybe, given time to pay gradually."
On economic relationship between Nigeria and South Africa, he said, "I hope you will recall that even before the elections, our party, the APC, realised the state we were in and we articulated three areas - security, economy and corruption - and here we identified the role we can improve rapidly on our relationship with South Africa.
"In terms of the economy we identified agriculture and solid minerals to come to the fore quickly so that we get everybody who is unemployed employed. South Africa is far ahead of us in agriculture and solid minerals. So in diversifying the economy, I think that there is a great room for improvement."
... Says MTN in talks with NCC on N780bn fine
South African company MTN is in talks with the telecoms industry regulator in Nigeria to reduce a $3.9 billion fine imposed for failing to disconnect unregistered SIM cards from its local network, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said yesterday.
He made the comment at a joint news conference with his South African counterpart Jacob Zuma at the start of a two-day visit by Zuma.
Africa's largest mobile networks operator, which makes 37 per cent of its sales in Nigeria, its biggest market, last month said it had made a $250 million "good faith" payment towards reaching a settlement after dropping a legal case against the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).
"MTN had withdrawn their case from the court and decided to go back and renegotiate the fine, which they consider very stiff, with NCC to find ways the fine can be reduced and given time to pay gradually," Buhari told reporters in the capital, Abuja.
Buhari did not say when talks began and Zuma did not comment on the matter. MTN spokesman Chris Maroleng declined to comment.
Nigeria imposed a deadline on mobile operators to disconnect unregistered SIM cards, which MTN missed, amid fears the lines are being used by criminal gangs, including militant Islamist group Boko Haram.
The fine, originally set at $5.2 billion on the basis of charging $1,000 for each unregistered card remaining connected, is the latest sign of tension between the countries which vie for economic and political dominance in Africa.
A number of South African companies have said they will leave Nigeria, citing currency restrictions imposed by the central bank in its bid to defend the naira as the country battles the economic crisis caused by the plunge in oil prices.
But Zuma said Nigeria and South Africa were forging closer ties.
"Our two countries have signed over 30 bilateral agreements and memoranda of understanding," he said, in areas including trade, industry, security and immigration.
"We have directed the relevant ministers to move with speed in implementing all signed agreements," said Zuma, who travelled with around 30 business leaders and seven ministers.
Relations between the countries have also been strained by claims of South African xenophobia, with Nigerians alleging that Pretoria subjects them to harsh visa restrictions. Zuma said he and Buhari agreed to "work on relaxing visa issuance."
South Africa, like Nigeria, has been hit by the downturn in commodity prices with its treasury forecasting that the economy may expand by just 0.9 per cent this year, the lowest rate since South Africa emerged from recession in 2009.
In a speech to parliament after leaving the presidency, Zuma said the downturn had "exposed the vulnerability of our economies and currencies", increasing the need for greater cooperation between Africa's two biggest economies.
We'll return seized $9.3m Arms Money - Zuma
On the seized $9.3 million allegedly meant for the procurement of arms for the Nigerian military on September 5, 2014 which were confiscated in South African, President Jacob Zuma said the two governments were working on them, but there are some that the necessary departments are doing investigations.
He said, "We will appreciate if we succeed in recovering all other things in South Africa so that they will be returned."
On Xenophobia attacks in South Africa, he said it was unfortunate because all Africans are the same, but that colonialists created artificial borders that have made them think that they are different "but we are the same Africans and that has been our view.
"In addressing the issue of Xenophobia, we would want our people all over Africa to realise that we are the same and have the same interests."
As regards things that could have been lost during the period of attacks, he said the relevant departments are handling them.
On upgrading economic trades between the two countries, Zuma said, "We have a commitment to increase our economic activities. We discussed across all areas of the economy to grow the economy faster. Part of the reason we agreed to elevate the Bi-national commission is to monitor on a yearly basis how the economy is doing between the two countries."
... Over 120 South African businesses in Nigeria
President Jacob Zuma also revealed that they are over 120 South African businesses in Nigeria.
According to him, prior to 1999, there were only four South African companies in Nigeria but that since 1999, the situation has changed dramatically.
Speaking at the presidential villa yesterday in Abuja, President Zuma said Nigeria is South Africa's key trading partner on the continent.
He said, "We welcome the increased economic cooperation and trade relations between our two countries over the past decade. Nigeria is South Africa's key trading partner on the continent.
Prior to 1999, there were only four South African companies in Nigeria. Since 1999, the situation has changed dramatically.
"Over 120 companies are currently doing business in Nigeria, in various sectors, mainly telecommunications, banking, retail, property, entertainment and hospitality. We welcome this significant development.
"We also see great potential in boosting tourism between the two countries. According to Statistics South Africa, an average of 4,000 Nigerians travelled to South Africa on a monthly basis in 2015.
"In order to promote South Africa as a tourist destination in both the vast Nigerian market and in the West African region as a whole, a Tourism Office was opened in Lagos in January 2014 by the ministers of tourism of both countries.
"We also encourage South Africans to tour Nigeria so that we can improve understanding and the appreciation of one another's culture and ways of life."
President Zuma also recalled that the relations between South Africa and Nigeria date back to the time when Nigeria supported and contributed to the liberation of South Africa.
"Our brothers and sisters here were determined that they would not rest until South Africa was free. That history binds our two countries and informs our bilateral cooperation."
On his closed door meeting with President Buhari, he said "We have had very fruitful discussions today, as we reviewed various bilateral and multilateral issues.
"As we forge a strategic partnership between the two sister nations, we have decided to elevate the Bi-National Commission (BNC) to the level of Heads of State."
He also disclosed that Nigeria and South Africa had signed over 30 bilateral agreements and memoranda of understanding.
According to him, these agreements cover a wide range of cooperation areas including trade and industry, transport, energy, defence and security and immigration among others.
"We have directed the relevant Ministers to move with speed in implementing all signed agreements.
"We urge our private sector to invest in the respective countries and help create job opportunities and improve the quality of life.
"With regard to continental developments, we discussed issues related to peace and security in the continent."
He expressed concern the challenges posed by terrorism and extremist groups that continue to affect some of the countries on the continent, including Nigeria.
President Zuma also condemned in the strongest possible terms all forms of terrorism and extremism.
He added that "during our discussions, we reiterated the need for joint regional and continental efforts towards countering these negative elements.
"Considering our commitment to finding African solutions to African problems, we have agreed to work together to deal with these challenges."
... How Nigeria freed South Africa from apartheid
*Seeks more business cooperation, diversification of economies
Visiting president of South Africa, Mr Jacob Zuma, yesterday went nostalgic on how Nigeria liberated his country from the gruelling white apartheid regime that lasted for several decades.
Zuma, who spoke when he addressed a joint session of the National Assembly, singled out former head of state, the late Murtala Mohammed, for praise, just as he eulogised the late military leader's 1976 speech, tagged: "Africa Has Come of Age".
Zuma's speech, which lasted for approximately 42 minutes, also dwelt on the Big Brother role Nigeria has continued to play within and outside the African continent.
The South African president said: "We are convinced that the relationship between the National Assembly in Nigeria and the Parliament in South Africa will grow.
"This year marks the 40th anniversary of the passage of Murtala Mohammed. In his powerful speech to the OAU in 1976, he said 'Africa has come of age and will no longer accept any dictation from any superpower'. Nigeria played a role and called for national unity in South Africa. Mohammed took a firm decision to support South Africa.
"The people of Nigeria provided unwavering support to the people of South Africa and remained with us until we were freed. Nigeria was instrumental in supporting us in attaining our freedom and in the 1960s and in the 1970s, they remained supportive.
"Indeed, Nigeria has a special place in Africa. Nigeria volunteered to be part of a coalition that fought apartheid. Nigeria established South Africa Relief Fund to provide scholarship to South African students. Nigeria accepted South Africans into their universities.
In his earlier opening remarks, PIn his own remarks, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, said with the ongoing war against corruption waged by President Muhammadu Buhari, foreign investors will begin to enjoy the dividends of their investments.
President Buhari who accompanied Zuma did not make any remarks.
Nigeria, S'Africa relations must enhance their citizens' interaction - NASS
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, yesterday told the visiting South African President, Jacob Zuma, that Nigeria's federal lawmakers want the relationship between the both countries to translate to good relations between their citizens as it was the only way they can both foster Africa integration.
Dogara also informed Zuma that his host, President Muhammadu Buhari, had brought corruption to its knees in Nigeria and that the country is now safe for foreign investors.
Dogara spoke yesterday while delivering a vote of thanks at the end of Zuma's address to a joint session of the National Assembly at the Green Chamber presided over by Senate President Bukola Saraki.
"This visit also re-enforces the brotherhood, fraternity and collaboration between our two countries. We all know the role Nigeria played as a frontline state in the anti-apartheid struggle of the people of South Africa and therefore expect that level of commitment to be reflected in our bilateral relations.
"South Africa has a large population of Nigerians living and contributing their quota to its development. We, as representatives of the people, seek that this brotherhood between our leaders translates to good relations between citizens of both countries and it is only then that both countries can speak to true integration of our peoples in the interest of our continent."
Earlier, Zuma, who was accompanied to the Assembly by Buhari, had called for a stronger partnership between his country and Nigeria, adding that both countries need to unite and work together on the issues of peace and security on the continent of Africa. "Nigeria and South Africa must forge a strong strategic partnership. We need to strengthen our political, economic social and cultural cooperation. We need to advance the continental integration and transformation informed by the African Union's Constitutive Act.
This should include the bringing into operation of the standby forces and their capacitation. We commit ourselves to playing our part to achieve this.
"Let the citizens of Africa march together to defeat all those forces that bring harm and suffering. Let the citizens of the continent march together towards a brighter future, a future filled with prosperity and happiness," Zuma said.