by Chris Adetayo
I have read many arguments lampooning the $5.2B fine imposed on MTN by the NCC for the latter’s failure to register its subscribers. For some, the fine is too excessive. For others, the fine sends a negative message to foreign investors about the safety of investment in Nigeria. One other argument pushed is that the fine is orchestrated by some shadowy persons intent on taking over MTN. I find all of these arguments to be baseless and lacking in depth. I will address each shortly.
First, let’s be clear, abi initio MTN had the most to lose from the subscriber registration exercise required of all Telcos. With a commanding 45% of the market (take or add a few percentage points), it was likely to suffer most from non-registration and therefore loss of revenue in the event of unregistered subscribers being barred. It willfully chose to not bar these subscribers so it will not 1] suffer loss of revenue and 2] lose such subscribers to competition. These 2 reasons were allowed to get in the way of fully complying with the regulator’s directive.
Those canvassing the excessiveness of the fine miss the point. The fine for breaches was clearly stated and advertised to all the Telcos. So there is no question of it being arbitrary. If, hence, there was a feeling by MTN or any of other other Telcos, that the fine was on the high side, this should have been made before committing the breach. Surely, MTN cannot go to equity on this argument.
For those making the argument that it discourages foreign investors, I daresay that the opposite is true. Critical to foreign investors is the rule of law. And, in this case, that is exactly what we are witnessing. A “law” was enacted, a company breached the “law”, and the relevant authority has imposed the fine for the breach. What can be fairer? What can be more reassuring to foreign investors? Indeed, it can be argued that were the NCC to turn a blind eye to the breach, such an act will be hugely discouraging to investors.
As for those shouting themselves hoarse about underhand plans to take over MTN or to run the company out of Nigeria, they deserve our sympathy for their lack of knowledge. One should not have to react to such an argument, baseless and spurious as it is.
One of the sad outcome on this issue has been the attempt to demonise the NCC for the fine imposed on MTN. Without fear of contradiction, I daresay that the NCC over the past 15 years is the best regulator this country has ever had in any sector. It is not perfect but it does its job professionally and responsibly. And Nigeria has been far better for it. It should be praised, not derided!
How do we move forward? First, MTN needs to come to the table with contrition. Sponsoring all manner of commentaries with a view to whipping up support is not going to cut it. It should acknowledge that it has done wrong and failed to abide by the rules. It should then proceed to plead for a reduction of the fine. If this is done, I will hope that the NCC will be magnanimous enough to reduce the fine.
Beyond the above, there is no question that MTN also needs to take a long hard look at its operations, especially in the area of compliance. Stripped to the bones, this was a failure of compliance. It has brought the company to this sorry pass. Heads should roll!
Chris is a marketing communications professional and an avid analyst of national and international affairs Connect with him on Facebook.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.