Damilola Oyedele in Abuja
The House of Representative Committee on Communications on Tuesday threatened to issue a bench warrant for the arrest of the Chief Executive Officer of MTN Nigeria Communications Limited, Mr. Ferdinand Moolman, if he fails to appear before the committee on its next adjourned date.
The next adjourned date is however yet to be decided on.
The committee was peeved by the failure of Moolman to appear at yesterday meeting to which he had been invited to discuss the N1.04 trillion fine imposed on the telecommunications giant for failure to deactivate unregistered SIM cards as stipulated by regulations of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).
Moolman, instead, sent a letter to the Chairman of the Hon. Saheed Fijabi, urging the committee to refer to the relevant government agencies which are already handling the ‘amicable settlement’.
He also sent a representative, who was asked to leave the meeting, as the committee would only take submissions from the CEO himself.
Moolman’s letter drew the ire of the members who could not hide their anger at what they said is an insult to the Nigerian National Assembly and the Nigerian people.
President Muhammadu Buhari, during the visit of the South African President, Mr. Jacob Zuma, last week, had harped on the security implication of MTN failing to deactivate the unregistered SIM cards, inadvertently contributing to the death of over 10,000 by the activities of the Boko Haram sect.
The House committee last week had also insisted that the N1.04 trillion fine must be paid in full, instead of the N780 billion it was reduced to after negotiations spearheaded by the office of the Attorney General of the Federation.
The committee also noted that any form of negotiations must be handled by NCC, and not the AGF, Mr. Abubakar Malami, and the Chief of Staff to President Buhari, Mr. Abba Kyari.
The governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele; Malami and Kyari who had all been invited to yesterday’s meeting were all absent. The committee refused to take submissions from Emefiele’s representative also.
Fijabi (Oyo APC) recalled that the last time Moolman appeared before the Committee, he had appealed that the sitting be adjourned as the matter was in court.
“We let him go because it was in court, now that the matter is out of court, he has refused to show up. Nigerians put us here, and we are empowered by Section 88 and 89 of the constitution to invite anyone in the course of our investigations. So if MTN believes it can now come up with an insulting letter, shame on him.
“We are summoning him, if he does not appear, then we would issue a bench warrant for the Inspector General of Police (IG) to produce him,” Fijabi added.
Hon. Ossai Nicholas Ossai (Delta PDP) took exception to the tone of the letter.
“MTN cannot direct this committee or this House on its procedure. No one is above the law, it is mandatory for the CEO of MTN to appear, and respect this body,” he insisted.
The sentiment was echoed by Hon. Ehizowa Agbonayinma (Edo PDP) who described the letter as “the biggest insult to the National Assembly,” adding that MTN cannot dictate to the assembly.
“If a limited liability company is writing to the highest law making body in this country, referring us to go to other agencies…I am sure the MD of MTN, wherever he is from, cannot write such a letter to the highest law making body in his country,” he said.
The committee alleged that MTN is being protected by some powerful Nigerians, which is why it was taking the House for granted.
The letter from MTN titled: ‘Amicable Settlement Negotiations with the federal government,’ read: “We acknowledge receipt of your letter dated 9th March, 2016.
“We note your reference to the above mentioned subject matter. In this regard we wish to refer you to the appropriate government agencies, specifically the NCC, Offices of the Ministers of Communications and the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, as well as the CBN which agencies are in a position to furnish your committee with relevant information on this issue.
“As you know, MTN is pursuing amicable settlement and negotiations with the federal government. We believe you will understand that processes of this kind require sensitivity and confidentiality on all sides. Accordingly we are unable to make any further comments about the process at this stage.
“We trust that we can call upon your sound judgment at all times and that this process be allowed to continue in order for the parties to be given the opportunity to reach a settlement as envisaged by the court when it adjourned the matter for that purpose on 22 January 2016.”
It was signed by the CEO, Ferdinand Moolman and the Human Resources/Corporate Services Executive, Amina Oyagbola.