MTN not under obligation to pay N1.4tr fine, says justice minister
Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Mr. Abubakar Malami, yesterday said the N1.4 trillion fine slammed on Mobile Telecommunications Network (MTN) by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) should not be considered a fine that is binding on the outfit.
Malami, who was quizzed for several hours by members of the Saheed Akinade Fijabi-led committee over his role in the out-of-court settlement with MTN, maintained that such monies could only be termed as a fine based on a pronouncement of a law court.
Malami also contended that his resolve to wade into the issue surrounding the out-of-court settlement was in line with the provisions of Sections 86 and 87 of the NCC Act which permits him as a key operative of the Executive arm to exercise such oversight function.
Arguing that the language of the NCC Act on violation should not be misconstrued to be committal of an offence, he said: “What has been imposed by the NCC is not a fine in the strict sense, it was a penalty and substantially certain part of the NCC Act was categorical on that. So, a penalty is different from a fine because a fine can only be imposed by a court of law after due determination of a penal case when an offence of guilt is eventually entered. So, what has been happening about the imposition of the NCC is an imposition of penalty and not a fine.
“The determination of the commission of an offence or otherwise of an offence is the discretion of a court of law. In the absence of such pronouncement of a court of law regardless of the issue at stake, one cannot jump to conclusions that an offence has been committed. So further rider to Sections 86 and 87 of the NCC Act.”
He also justified why he ordered that the N50 billion initial payment by MTN be lodged in the asset recovery account as against lodging it into the consolidated revenue account that belongs to the three tiers of government.
Insisting that he had not violated the constitution, which specifies that all government monies be paid into the consolidated revenue account, he said that the out-of-court negotiation with MTN is yet to be conclusive.
Faulting the notion that he had usurped the powers of the NCC going by the role he played on the issue, he said as far as he was concerned, there is yet to be an out of court deal with MTN.
He said: “I have never made reference to the inconclusiveness of negotiations. I stated clearly that no negotiations had taken place. They only put their positions in writing and accordingly circulated to the stakeholders.
However, Malami opted to remain silent when confronted by the lawmakers that he erred in law since Sections 88 and 89 of the constitution prescribed that monies belonging to the government should be paid into the consolidated revenue account.
This prompted the lawmakers to summon the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, to appear tomorrow to shed light on the whereabouts of the N50 billion initial payment by MTN.