• MTN playing mouse and cat game with Nigeria, says Reps
• AGF insists N50b payment was in good faith
By SEGUN ODUNEWU
NOTWITHSTANDING the visit of President Jacob Zuma of South Africa to Nigeria, and his subtle plea on the Nigerian government to be lenient on MTN, with the N780 billion fines, the House of Representative has insisted that the South African based telecom provider must pay the N780 billion slammed on it by the Nigerian Communication Commission, National Daily has gathered.
The house which has summoned the Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Abubakar Malami as well as the Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyarito appear before it this week over the matter, blamed the duo for their roles in the negotiation process.
This is coming from the background that MTN had, in its proposal for settlement planned to pay N300billion only out of the MN1.04 trillion that was later reduced to N780 billion after a protracted negotiation.
According to the argument of the House, the N50billion initially paid by MTN was not enough since it was found culpable of breaching Sections 19 and 20 of the NCC Act, therefore was not in the position to dictate the terms of negotiation.
Defending his position in a release, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami said as the chief law officer of the federation, he is constitutionally vested with the powers to intervene in the matter.
He said the N50 billion paid by the telecom operator was a ‘good faith ‘gesture towards an amicable settlement of the fine
The minister further explained that an audience with MTN should not be misconstrued as an intention to saddle the NCC, the federal government or his office with an obligation over the fine.
Experts however picked holes in the said meeting with Mr. Malami, saying since the NCC had handed down appropriate sanctions in line with the terms agreed by all operators, there was no basis for the meeting.
“In the first place, why was NCC not involved in all preliminary negotiations and decisions, having direct or indirect bearing with the fine, being the agency at the centre of it all?
“Whatever the impending meeting is worth, the Nigerian government must bear in mind that any decision that fails to uphold the sanctity of the regulatory authority of the NCC on the issue would be setting a dangerous precedence,” a telecoms expert, Jide Aminu said.
The crisis began in October last year when the NCC slammed a N1.04 trillion (about $5.2 billion) fine on MTN for failure to disconnect 5.1 million unregistered subscribers’ SIM cards from its network. Shortly after the announcement of the fine, MTN claimed it had secured a 35 per cent reduction, equivalent to N647 billion (about $3.4 billion) from the NCC.
NCC however blamed typographic error in its letter to the operator, saying the actual reduction was by 25 per cent (N780 billion).
Industry experts argued that it was the lack of firmness by government officials to enforce its rules that emboldened MTN to go to the Federal High Court in Lagos to challenge the fine.