Had telecommunication giant, MTN Nigeria, foreseen the situation it is going through, the company would have taken its host country and industry regulator more seriously.
For years, many customers have accused the MTN of acting above the law. According to them, the company, which is Nigeria’s most patronized and also has the largest coverage, was untouchable.
MTN remains the most valuable telecommunication company in Nigeria. Checks by DAILY POST on MTN Group financial results released in March 2015 shows that it made $12.43billion in 2014 from its 22 operations in Africa and Middle East.
$2.6billion (N510billion) of that figure was made in Nigeria where MTN has around 60million, its highest subscriber base.
Despite the impressive track record, the MTN brand has been accused of many anomalies.
At the Consumer Protection Council (CPC), complaints about MTN are in thousands.
Some recent petitions against its South African compatriot, MultiChoice, owners of DSTV was like an eye opener. So bad this has got that the CPC recently stormed the pay TV company.
But for MTN, the days of being a ‘sacred cow’ are over.
Last week, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the nation’s telecommunications regulator, slammed excess of N1trillion fine on the company for failing to disconnect subscribers with unregistered SIM cards bought before January, 2012.
From that date, anyone buying a SIM card in Nigeria has had to register it under their name by law.
With warning of sanctions, phone companies were ordered to register their existing customers’ SIM cards.
While others complied, MTN failed to do so. That slight has now earned it the largest fine in the history of telecom infringements in West Africa.
Many Nigerians are excited over the news, saying it would force foreign countries making billions of Naira act responsibly. They now think MTN is not untouchable after all.
Interestingly, since the news broke, MTN has not given any official position yet. A sign of admission; guilt perhaps.
MTN shares continue to drop, while loss declaration for 2015 is already an expected outcome.
Findings at the weekend revealed that the Nigerian government was furious that MTN, rather than be “partners in progress”, would for want of more profit keep subscribers that ought to have been deregistered.
A source within the security circles said that the company should blame itself for the penalty.
“They engineered their own predicament. How would any one or company at a time we are battling to defeat Boko Haram, keep millions of subscribers active?
“Reports got to the presidency via the office of the National Security Adviser. MTN was indicted and a directive was forwarded to industry regulator, NCC, to take immediate action.
“In recent months, whenever we arrest Boko Haram members, we find phones and SIM cards with them. MTN SIMs are more; we never find any data when checks are run. This is unacceptable and we hope the fine will make others sit up. The era of impunity is over.”
Confirmation of federal government’s anger was the ultimatum by the NCC to MTN to pay the fine by mid-Novermber or risks its license.
NCC had consistently engaged Mobile Network Operators, (MNOs) to strictly adhere to the regulations and its business rules in the registration of their subscribers.
Tony Ojobo, NCC spokesman, before the weekend told Reuters that MTN had until November 16 to make the payment, but that the two parties were in talks to resolve the matter.
Ojobo, however, disclosed that aftermath of the discussion, which has the presidency and security agencies involved, may affect the date.
Meanwhile, MTN may have agreed to the fine as it pleads for staggered payment model.
Vanguard reports that this follows series of meeting held between MTN management team from South Africa and Nigeria with the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo.
Industry sources disclosed that, “There have been series of meeting at the Presidency between the Vice President Osinbajo and MTN team both from South Africa and the Nigerian arm.
“MTN wanted a waiver considering their level of investments in the country, but government did not buy the idea of waiver. Instead, I think there will be concession, but certainly not a waiver.
“At the conclusion of the meeting, the MTN people negotiated on how to stagger the payment. The Presidency is even angry because MTN was a signatory to the regulation, but they are failing to comply with rules.”