Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
The Senate Committee on Communications on Sunday summoned the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami and the Minister of Communications and Technology, Adebayo Shittu, to enlighten it on the veracity of the claim that MTN Nigeria Limited, had paid N50 billion out of its N780 billion fine to the federal government.
The committee also summoned the Executive Vice-Chairman of Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Professor Umar Danbatta, the Accountant-General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris and Chief Executive Officer of MTN to appear before it on March 10, to explain all they know about the payment and other connected matters.
According to a letter of invitation dated March 3, 2016 and addressed to them, the chairman of the committee, Senator Gilbert Nnaji, said it discovered during one of its recent oversight functions that NCC could not provide any proof of the payment by MTN.
The committee further said it learnt that MTN had been misguided to lodge the said N50 billion into the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Recovery Account, the account it said was specially designated for recovered funds.
Therefore, the committee said it suspected foul play over the manner of the payment as well as the hasty manner that MTN withdrew its suit against NCC from the court, arguing that if there was no ulterior motive behind the moves, the payment ought to have been made to NCC.
“The rushed payment and subsequent withdrawal of the MTN-instituted legal action is not only suspicious but constitutes a grave economic and financial infraction as well as brazen breach of due process in relation to payment of fines,” the committee said.
The committee therefore said it would not fold its hands and watch the ambiguity over the fine and its payment to be handled in a shabby manner, insisting that NCC is constitutionally empowered to obtain the fine from MTN as against CBN.
“The committee wishes therefore to state clearly that going by the records of NCC whose constitutional mandate it is to superintend the mobile network operations in the country, and also in the prevailing circumstance, reserves the sole right on behalf of the Federal Government, to receive payment of any sort; MTN has unfortunately not in any way complied or shown any commitment whatsoever in this regard.
“For the avoidance of doubt and in the course of the oversight function of the Committee specifically in relation to the sanction, NCC could not offer any proof of receiving money from MTN. Curiously, it was reported that MTN was rather misguided to lodge the said N50 billion into the CBN Recovery Account which is specially designated for the recovered looted funds.
“The committee is of the view that such payment if actually well-intended ought to have passed through NCC as against the criminal act of circumventing the regulatory agency in the overall process. This is a clear case of deliberate mischief…The Committee also wonders why these willful contradictions would be orchestrated by those considered knowledgeable enough especially in the business of democratic governance.
“Furthermore the committee in strongly condemning this apparent national embarrassment recalls that only recently NCC imposed fines variously on some service providers which included MTN; and of course such fines were paid to NCC for onward transfer to the Federal Government coffers as the laws stipulate.
“Therefore, given the public outcry this crooked transaction has continued to generate, the committee as part of its statutory obligations has risen to the challenge of comprehensively reviewing the circumstances surrounding the entire process with a view to straightening the records and also ensuring that the country is not short-changed.
“Consequently, it has officially summoned all those concerned to appear before it to shed full light on their extent of involvement and or, respective roles in the unacceptable abuse of office,” the committee stated.