Nigeria reduces MTN’s N1.4t fine to N674b, insists on Dec 31 deadline

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The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has slashed the fines it imposed on MTN Nigeria from $5.2 billion (N1.4 trillion) to $3.4 billion (N674 billion).

The MTN Group made the announcement itself in a statement yesterday. But the NCC had declined comment.

The South African firm now has up to December 31 to pay the fine, the statement, signed by its Public Relations Manager, Funsho Aina, said.

The 34.6% reduction was a far cry from the 80% reduction requested by the South Africa- based telecom giant.

The Nigerian regulatory agency imposed the fines in October after MTN was said to have ignored repeated warnings to deactivate 5.1 million unregistered subscribers from its network in August and September.

The regulation imposes a fine of N200, 000 for every unregistered SIM card that is allowed to remain active.
Prior to the sanction, the NCC had met severally with the telecom operators and notified them in writing twice over the matter.

The NCC said its action was to address concerns that unregistered SIM cards were being used for criminal activities, especially by Boko Haram insurgents and kidnappers.

The meeting with all the network operators began in September last year, a reliable source told Daily Trust yesterday.

During the first meeting the operators were directed to shut down all unregistered SIM cards, the source said.
It aadded that two letters were written to the operators directing them to comply with the de-activation order.

“All the others complied with the directive except MTN. Checks showed that they had refused to comply, hence the need to apply the sanction as required by the enabling law,” the source added.

Meanwhile, MTN Group was reported yesterday to have begun fresh lobby for further reductions of the fine.

Reuters news agency, reporting from Johannesburg said the reduced fine, if enforced, is still more than two times MTN’s average yearly capital expenditure of about $1.5 billion over the last five years.

“The fine is still big enough to cripple MTN’s ability to invest in its network and that’s what further talks with the NCC are about,” Reuters said, quoting a source who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Shares in MTN, which have fallen about 20 percent since the fine was first announced on Oct. 26, closed down 4.6 percent.

The NCC Director of Public Affairs, Tony Ojobo did not answer calls placed to his mobile phone, and didn’t respond to text messages either.

But a top official in the Commission in an off-record comment said: “Yes, it has been slashed but the matter has been taken over from us. They (MTN) could not have gone public if the fine had not been reduced.”
On Wednesday, the Minister of Communication, Barrister Adebayo Shittu, said President Muhammad Buhari’s decision was being awaited on the imposed fine issue.

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