President Muhammadu Buhari, yesterday, ordered re-negotiation of the N789 billion fine slammed on South African telecoms company, MTN, by Nigeria Communications Commission, NCC.
The President gave the order at a joint news conference with South Africa’s President, Jacob Zuma in Abuja, following which Nigeria and South Africa signed over 30 bilateral agreements.
This came as the South African President promised to return Nigeria’s confiscated arms purchase funds seized by the South African government.
Buhari also said the reluctance of MTN to register all subscribers’ lines within the deadline, was the reason for the sanction imposed on it by the NCC, noting that the delay led to the death of no fewer than 10,000 Nigerians in battle against Boko Haram.
Also, the MTN Group has said that contrary to general perception, its Nigerian operation was running on a net debt of over N21 billion, adding that it was considering listing its Nigerian operations on the Nigerian Stock Exchange, NSE.
It would be recalled that the NCC asked the Network to pay N1.04 trillion for failing to disconnect 5.1 million unregistered subscribers, but later reviewed the sum to N780 billion.
President Buhari said the concern of the government was not necessarily the fine, but security of lives and property of the people. He stated that the unregistered lines were being used by terrorists to perfect plans before unleashing mayhem on the country.
The president said MTN’s resort to the law courts to contest the fine, made it difficult for him to intervene.
He said: “The concern of the federal government was on the security of the country and not the fine imposed on MTN. You know how the unregistered GSM lines were used by terrorists and between 2009 and today, at least 10,000 Nigerians were killed by Boko Haram.
“That was why the NCC asked MTN, Glo and the rest of them to register GSM subscribers. Unfortunately, MTN was very very slow and contributed to the casualties. NCC looked at its regulations and imposed the fine.
Unfortunately for MTN, they went to court and once you go to court, you virtually disarm the government because if the federal government refused to listen to the judiciary, it is going against its own constitution.
Therefore, the government had to wait. “I think MTN has seen that and decided to withdraw the case and go back and negotiate with government agencies on what they consider a very steep fine to be reduced and maybe given time to pay gradually.”
The President also disclosed that both countries had identified areas of mutual interests and were ready to harness them for their benefits.
“I hope you will recall that even before the elections, our party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, realised the state we were in and we articulated three areas – security, economy and corruption- and we realised where we can improve on our relationship with South Africa.
“In terms of the economy, we identified agriculture and solid minerals to come to the fore quickly so that we can provide jobs for the unemployed. South Africa is far ahead of us in agriculture and solid minerals. So in diversifying the economy, I think there is a great room for improvement which is for the better,” he said.