24 March 2016

Nigeria: Reducing MTN Fine Needs Amendment of Communications Act - Govt

Abuja — The House of Representatives Wednesday frowned at what it said was the unconstitutional review of the N1.04 trillion fine imposed on MTN Nigeria by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) for its failure to deregister 5.2 million unregistered SIM cards on its network.

It noted that reducing the fine to N780 million would require an amendment of the NCC (Telephone Subscribers Registration) Regulation 2011 which stipulates a fine of N200,000 for each unregistered SIM card.

The House directed its Committee on Telecommunications to investigate the extent to which MTN's non-compliance with the law, allegedly led to the death of over 10,000 Nigerians killed by Boko Haram, and whether MTN can be liable for criminal proceedings under the law.

The resolution of the House followed a motion sponsored as a urgent matter of national importance by Hon. Ehiozuwa Agbonayinma(Edo PDP) who also noted that the N50 billion paid by MTN into the recovery account was in violation of extant laws.

"MTN ought to have been fined under both Section 19 and Section 20 respectively with a cumulative penalty of N3.12 trillion, and not N1.04 trillion, which is a gross violation of the combined reading of the NCC Act," he said.

The Majority Leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, said the House must insist that the Chief Executive Officer of MTN, Mr. Ferdinand Moolman, honours the summon of the telecommunications committee.

He added that the letter written by Moolman referring the committee to other agencies mediating in the matter, was an affront to the parliament.

Moolman, on March 15, 2016 had shunned the invitation of the committee, and sent a letter referring the committee to "the appropriate government agencies, specifically the NCC, Offices of the Ministers of Communications and Justice as well as the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) which agencies are in a position to furnish your committee with relevant information on this issue."

Gbajabiamila added that MTN which is a South African firm, would not dare write such letter to the country's parliament.

The Minority Leader, Hon. Leo Ogor noted that since the N200,000 fine per unregistered SIM card had been fixed, the only way to review it would be through the parliament.

He urged the committee to investigate who authorised the negotiation and reduction.

Hon. Nnanna Igbokwe (Imo PDP) queried the role of the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami, in taking over the negotiations and excluding the NCC.

"The AGF needs to justify the grounds for his intervention as it is not a matter between two governments, but a government and a business. Does he or the NCC have the power to review the fine? Does that not amount to amending the law?" he said.

Presiding, Speaker of the House, Hon. Yakubu Dogara also agreed that the fine can only be reviewed through an amendment.

He added that no authority can reduce a fixed fine.

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