House Insists N1.04tn MTN Fine Must be Paid in Full

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The senate floor
  • Says AGF usurping powers of NCC

Damilola Oyedele in Abuja

The House of Represen-tatives Committee on Telecommunications is insisting that the initial N1.04 trillion fine imposed on MTN Communications Nigeria Limited for failing to disconnect 5.2 million unregistered subscribers on its network must be paid in full, instead of the reduced penalty of N780 billion.

The Nigerian Communica-tions Commission (NCC) slapped the N1.04 trillion fine on MTN last October, but later reduced it to N780 billion and gave the network provider till December 31, 2015 to pay up after the company had pleaded for leniency.

But before the deadline, MTN sued the federal government challenging the power of the federal government and NCC to impose the fine.
Less than three weeks ago, it withdrew its case and paid N50 billion as a gesture of good faith towards the settlement of the fine.

The penitence exhibited by MTN paved the way for negotiations with the federal government led by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN) and the South African-owned firm led by former US Attorney General, Mr. Eric Holder.
On Tuesday, President Muhammadu Buhari at a joint briefing with his South African counterpart, Mr. Jacob Zuma, who was on a two-day state visit to Nigeria, confirmed that negotiations were ongoing

He blamed MTN’s tardiness in disconnecting the unregistered SIMs on its network for fuelling the Boko Haram insurgency in the Northeast, which according to him, resulted in the deaths of 10,000 persons.

Wading into the issue wednesday, the House committee insisted that the telecoms firm should be made to pay N1.04 trillion fine, instead of the reduced fine.
It also accused Malami of usurping the powers of the NCC by leading the negotiations on the fine with MTN.

The chairman of the committee, Hon. Sajeed Fijabi, at a meeting with the Minister of Communications, Mr. Adebayo Shittu and officials of NCC, said any negotiation on the fine must be spearheaded by the NCC and not the AGF, adding that there should be no room for a reduction of the fine, as it would set a bad precedent.

“There is nowhere in the law that says there is room for reduction. If you are reducing this now, what will happen to Glo and others? I see MTN going to court every time as a way to circumvent the law. In the US, British Petroleum paid the full fine for the oil spill (in the Gulf of Mexico).

“Somebody is not allowing you to handle this matter the way you should. After you had imposed the fine, somebody is negotiating and reducing it. You imposed the fine, you should take the lead in negotiations, but now you are being sidelined.
“You imposed the N1.04 trillion fine, and we at the National Assembly have already projected that amount as part of federal government’s revenue,” Fijabi added.

Hon. Ehiozuwa Agbonayinma (Edo PDP) said while the government was interested in attracting foreign investments, MTN should not be allowed to get away with flouting regulations.

He also emphasised that the MTN should not be allowed to determine how it would pay the fine, following reports that the company has offered to N150 billion in cash and the balance in “complimentary services”.

“When a crime is committed and the offender has been sentenced by the court to 20 years, he now goes back to the government and say he wants to serve only one year, is that not what MTN is doing? They have committed a crime which they admitted to, and are deciding how they will go about paying for the crime,” Agbonayinma said.

Agbonayinma said the company decided to go to court to buy itself time after it received a letter from the House over the fine. “Now they are discussing with the AGF and the chief of staff,” he added.

Hon. Michael Eyong (Akwa Ibom) said if the matter was in court, the AGF would be representing the NCC.
In his remarks, the executive secretary of the NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta said the commission received a proposal for negotiations from the MTN on the fine, adding that there was no indication in it that the N50 billion had been paid.
The commission, he disclosed, however received a letter from the office of the AGF informing it that the money was paid into the Federation Account.

Danbatta further noted that the money ought to have been paid into NCC’s account, and not the Federation Account, as it imposed the fine.

Shittu, who made a brief appearance at the meeting, said the former executive vice-chairman of the NCC looked the other way at the infractions committed by MTN in the past, but said he played no role in the decision to withdraw the MTN suit and the payment of N50 billion.

“I have not played any role whatsoever. When the out-of-court settlement came up, I had no role. When they wanted more relief, they discussed with the attorney general. The AGF gave them two conditions, that they pay N50 billion as down payment and withdraw the case from court. But I had no role, so the AGF will be the most appropriate person to speak on this.
“We should be the ones handling it but it has been been taken over by the Ministry of Justice,” Shittu added.
The committee subsequently pledged its support for NCC spearheading the negotiations on payment of the fine.

  • The Analyst

    Dilemma!
    In leadership, once you have made a pronouncement, you have to see it through. That is what makes strong leadership.
    On the flip side, there has been high level bilateral discussions between presidents. Something has to give way…
    The National Assembly should settle this dilemma such that:
    (1) they do not loose face and strenght
    (2) The presidents do not loose the power of their positions
    (3) Future economic/investment opportunities are not stifled.
    This calls for wisdom…

    • bobisa

      bilateral my arse, you need to see what the nigerian society in south african is going through, nigerian embassy in south cant stand for nigerian citizens against any ill treatment meted out on any Nigerian. bilateral nonsense.

  • Daniel Obior

    Busy bodies. What is the business of the national assembly here? This is an issue for the NCC and the executive. Our corrupt members of the national assembly are again looking for another avenue to collect bribe. Corrupt and shameless lots.

    • xabnuq

      Your remark is not fair..national assembly never said they wanted to handle the negotiations..(and its even wrong to generalised by saying nass members are corupt)Ncc…is d agency handling this and they should be allowed to do it.the point is that whatever happens here would set a precedence..bad one at that..you people are only interested in the personalities involved not the institutions and the long term effect on the country itself.you heard what the Ncc guys said: that He was not involved in the negotiations any more..why would the Agf said they should pay certain amount of money and come to renegotiate?..this PMB men seems not to understand the international rule whenever the security of the nations is at stake.because it involves billions..so the Ncc cannot handle it anymore?.we ll be making ourself a banana republic where anything goes.they should go to court.if that is what mtn wants …and whatever the court says ..should be final.In this generation..you have to asserts you authority..by that you ll be respected.

      • Daniel Obior

        National assembly should simply stay clear, as it is the responsibility of NCC and the executive. Our national assembly is collectively corrupt and nobody can deny that. I have only made statements of facts which have nothing to do with fairness or unfairness.

        • 9jaRealist

          Thank you! But abegi they need the money paid so that they can buy more cars and increase their wardrobe allowances…

    • ekunDAYO ADENIRAN

      Too many cRooks spoil the booty! Whats the business of this pack of legislat’hieves’ in matters that are purely executive? Eyeing some spoils from MTN to plunder and take home to their miserable harem of underage girlfriends that they lure into sexploitation. Nothing good can ever come from this Hammer House of Horrors & Unrepentant Legisla’thieves;! They have lost their last loincloth of dignity! Time to chase these unconscionable band of buccaneers and con(wo)men out of our land! Delay may be too dangerous!

      • Daniel Obior

        “Too many crooks spoil the booty”. I like that. Aptly describes our corrupt national assembly.

  • FrankNinja

    I side with the House on this. The original fine should be instituted as specified by the NCC rule book. What should be negotiated is the terms of payment. They can pay over a period of time to allow the company to remain in business.

    More importantly, the Zuma visit confirms that MTN is indeed an extension of the
    xenophobic forces within the South African elite as some speculated earlier. After all, while Jacob Zuma took the opportunity to pander to Nigeria’s ego by acknowledging Nigeria’s contributions to South African freedom, this is the same Jacob Zuma who all but erased the Nigerian presence during Mandela’s state funeral. This was also the same Jacob Zuma under whom Nigerians were deported to Nigeria and under whom xenophobic riots were stirred by a traditional Zulu ruler without reproach. Now with $5.2 billion at stake Jacob Zuma is rushing to Nigeria in an attempt to influence the fine.

    Nigeria needs to use this opportunity to teach Zuma and other dark forces within South Africa that doing business anywhere goes hand in hand with respect and diplomacy. For despite MTN Nigeria being MTN’s single biggest operation, that company has shown nothing but disdain and scant regard for Nigeria, Nigerian law and Nigerian professionals. Its customer service is pathetic, understaffed and inadequate. Its executive team is insular and made up of almost wholly of South Africans.

  • bobisa

    what the hell is wrong with nigerian system for Gods sake? the AGF is only to represent the federal govt, why is the AGF negotiating reduction. Mr Adebayo shittu should just resign his appointment because hes not been given free hand to run his ministry effectively. they should have a re-think about the decision they make today, so that they dont lay bad precedent. what a country. same goes to the all those indicted in the arms deal, some idiots are pleading for a soft landing for them, soft landing my foot. i wouldnt be suprised if MTN did not cough out the whole payment, because part of the people propagating a soft landing for arms deal thieves are also in charge of MTN fine issues. but one thing am very sure of is that the spirits of the victims whose deaths was as a result of this arms deal propaganda would hunt those involved for the rest of their lives. To mr. president, i hope you truly stand for your beliefs. femi Adesina, and garba shehu, get this message to your boss. we are watching and posterity will judge you all.

  • mr maurice

    Careful examination will find that the AGF is not projecting the interest of Nigerians. He should leave NCC to spearhead the negotiations mbok. Enough of his blunders

  • Dr Ayodeji

    There is nothing odd yet in the MTN fine procedure and I honestly share the view that the National Assembly should stay off the process. Zuma came and dangle carrots on Nigeria : return of Orisatjefor Dollar, return of the GEJ wired Dollar illegally to South Africa, sales of arms to Nigeria to fight insurgents ;if all these materialize, then why should the MTN fine not be reduced?
    We might be front line in the fight against apartheid in S A but today we need them far more than they need us. Simply look at the number of Nigerians in there and South Africans in Nigeria. We must differentiate between Ego and reality.