MTN may lobby govt as payment deadline expires today
NCC awaits court rulings
AS the deadline given to MTN Nigeria to pay the N1.04 trillion ($5.2 billion) fine, later slashed to $3.4 billion (N780 billion) expires today, the telecommunications firm has expressed its position to continue to lobby the Federal Government, hopefully for a further reduction, notwithstanding that the matter is in court.
A competent source, who is very close to the MTN’s management, disclosed this to The Guardian, yesterday. The source disclosed that should the telecommunications firm fail to get a favourable hearing from the court, it would continue to lobby the Federal Government for further reduction of the fine.
According to him, no deadline should be considered sacrosanct, but amenable, based on negotiations. The source said that before the court option came up, the firm had started looking for means of paying the fine including getting loans from some Nigerian banks to finance it.
But a senior official of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), in a telephone interview with The Guardian yesterday, said the commission would await a court ruling on the matter, stressing that it was difficult to comment on judicial matters.
MTN was fined in October for flouting the NCC’s directive to deactivate 5.1 million pre-registered Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) cards from its network. Subsequently, the firm was asked to pay N200, 000 for each of the defective SIMs, which were on the network, according to NCC’s regulations guiding SIM registration in the country.
The fine was the highest in the history of the telecommunications sector globally and subsequently led to an immediate 22 per cent fall in the MTN Group’s shares listed at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE).
The telecommunications firm, which admitted in a letter addressed to the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta (then Acting), dated November 2 and signed by both the Chairman, Dr. Pascal Dozie and the former Nigerian Chief Executive Officer, Michael Ikpoki (before he resigned), had tendered an unreserved apology to the commission and the Federal Government of Nigeria.
It continued to engage the Nigerian authorities through its Executive Chairman, Phutuma Nhleko, who took over from the former Group Chief Executive Officer, Sifiso Dabengwa (who was forced to resign). The telecommunications firm was able to get a 25 per cent cut from the fine.
But in a sudden change of heart earlier in the month, the telecommunications firm, apparently after due consultation and not satisfied with the 25 per cent cut on the fine, approved by the Federal Government, decided to take the case to the court of law. The case is currently with the Federal High Court in Lagos.
Going by the pattern of court cases in Nigeria, which could last for years, MTN has been able to buy an ample time for itself on the case.
Already, the Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu, has said that nobody wants MTN or any multinational companies to collapse. Shittu said the Federal Government would await the determination of the court before any further action on the matter could be disclosed.
In a related development, the NCC, on Tuesday urged the Federal High Court in Lagos to dismiss or decline hearing the suit filed by MTN Nigeria Communications Limited to challenge the fine imposed on it by the commission.
MTN had urged the court to determine whether NCC could act pursuant to Section 70 of the NCC Act to impose a fine on it without breaching the provisions of sections 1 (3), 4 and 6 of the 1999 Constitution.
MTN hired the services of seven Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN), led by Chief Wole Olanipekun. Others are Tanimola Molajo, A.B. Mahmoud, Dr. Gbolahan Elias, Oladipo Okpeseyi, Prof. Fabian Ajogwu and Dr. Oladapo Olanipekun.
The telecommunications firm claimed that NCC violated its (MTN) fundamental right to fair hearing, adding that by imposing the fine, NCC was already usurping “the exclusive legislative powers of the National Assembly, as well as the judicial powers of the courts established under the constitution.”
But in a motion on notice filed through its lawyers, Ahmed Raji (SAN), and Mahmud Magaji (SAN), NCC asked the court to dismiss the suit for want of jurisdiction or send it to Abuja.
The commission argued that the suit was wrongly filed in Lagos, noting that the subject of the dispute took place in Abuja, while the two respondents in the suit, NCC and the Attorney General of the Federation, were also based in Abuja.
NCC urged the court to void the service of court processes on it, arguing that the commission failed to comply with Section 143 of the NCC Act in serving the processes. It asked the court to either dismiss the suit or transfer it to the Abuja division of the court.
MTN in its suit, which has yet to be heard, is contending that it was not afforded enough time to comply with the NCC directive, adding that the commission did not also give it fair hearing before hurriedly announcing the sanction.