* MTN Must Pay The Fine, Ndume Insists
Teddy Nwanunobi, Abuja
Senate on Thursday expressed displeasure at the N300 billion the Mobile Telecommunication Network (MTN) has proposed it would pay, out of the initial N1.04 trillion fine.
This is even as the Senate Majority Leader, Senator Ali Ndume, maintained that MTN must pay the fine because not only has it been ripping off Nigeria, it has really contributed to the thriving of insurgency in Nigeria.
The Senate Committee on Communication also condemned the manner in which the out-of-court settlement arrangement between the Federal Government and the MTN is being conducted.
During an investigative hearing at the National Assembly, members of the Committee also faulted the alleged shutting out of the Ministry of Communication and the Nigeria Communication Commission (NCC) from the whole deal.
The legislators expressed shock that an account in the name of “recovery account” was opened for the N50 billion fine paid by the MTN as part of the negotiation.
They particularly expressed worry that a proposal initiated by the MTN for the reduction of the fine to N300 billion had been accepted by the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, even without recourse to the Ministry of Justice and the NCC.
The hearing further revealed that an initial 25 percent reduction of the initial N1.04 trillion fine to N780 billion was on the orders of the President.
This is even as a document displayed by the Committee regarding the proposal from MTN showed that the service provider had proposed to pay off the N300 billion in instalments of N150 billion.
According to the document, the N50 billion already paid is part of this amount.
The parties have agreed that the N50 billion paid in good faith and without prejudice by MTN Nigeria on February 24, 2016 in order to commence settlement negotiations will form part of the monetary components of this settlement.
In five equal and annual instalments between the date of execution of this agreement and December 31, 2020, MTN Nigeria shall pay a total of N100 billion by electronic funds transfer to the Federal Government recovery account of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
“This payment will commence by 31 December, 2016 and will be made by 31 December of each subsequent year,” the document read in part.
The proposal stated that the MTN would buy N80 billion of Nigeria’s foreign bond.
The proposal, which the Committee said it got from the office of the Attorney General of the Federation, was admitted by MTN.
“As a demonstration of its commitment to and confidence in the Nigerian economy, and subject to necessary regulatory approvals, MTN Nigeria commits to purchase of N80 billion of Nigerian sovereign debt issued on international market in 2016 to 2017,” it stated in part.
The proposal also showed that MTN would provide Nigeria with access to the Company’s fibre network for the purpose of allowing the FGN to expand its e-initiatives to the tune of N70 billion.
Defending himself on allegation of opening the recovery account, the Accountant General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris, said he acted on the demand of the Attorney General adding that he was never aware of what money was going to be put in that account.
Representative of the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Dayo Akpata, tried in vain to convince the committee about the wisdom in opening the account, but was rebuffed.
The Committee simply insisted that the Attorney General must appear in person before it within two weeks to explain the action.
Chairman of the Committee, Senator Gilbert Nnaji, had earlier explained the mission of the committee regarding the investigation.
“As a Committee, we find it worrisome, on one hand, that the issue of compliance on the part of MTN could linger till now, and on the other hand, that N50 billion was claimed to have been paid by MTN out of reduced fine of N780 billion.
Empowered by sections 88 and 89 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria with the power of oversight over our nation’s telecoms landscape, it becomes imperative for the Committee to wade into the matter with special attention to the controversy surrounding the payment of N50 billion by MTN, which accounts for a paltry 6.4 percent of the total reduced fine of N780 billion.
“In fulfilling our mandate of oversight, we are shocked to gather from the regulator i.e. NCC that the Commission neither received the payment of the said N50 billion nor was it notified of such payment There were claims and counter—claims on the pages of newspapers that the Honourable Minister of Communications Technology have acknowledged the payment; while other source claimed that MTN paid the money into Central Bank of Nigeria’s Recovery Account.
“This is the crux of today’s meeting; to establish the veracity of this payment and to which account was it paid, if paid. This is one transaction that has generated public suspicion compelling the Committee to invite all relevant stakeholders to this meeting for adequate clarifications to be made on the issue.
“Issues emanating from the foregoing are: into which account did MTN pay the N50 billion, and which government agency acknowledged the payment? If MTN actually paid, why did it disregard payment into NCC’s coffers as statutorily obliged? If MTN paid into CBN’s Recovery Account, on whose directive did the network do so and what legal rights does CBN have to lodge the money in a Recovery Account?
“These and many more are posers that this meeting seeks to unravel for Nigerians to know the true picture of the situation.
“I want to emphasise that our mission here today is to steady the boat of our nation’s telecoms industry and mainly to ensure that nothing is done by whosoever, either corporate or individual, b expose this government to unnecessary ridicule,” he said.
In an interview with Ndume on the issue, he gave reasons why MTN must pay the fine.
“On the issue of the fine, this is my personal opinion: MTN should pay, they have been ripping off Nigeria and they really contributed to thriving of insurgency in Nigeria.
President Buhari had been trying to avoid that is why he kept quiet but we have been crying: how come bombs are being detonated by phones with MTN sim and nobody can trace that.
“How come Boko Haram had been communicating and nobody is intercepting their communication and majority of this can be traced to the lackluster of MTN in implementing the sim registration directive. As the President said, we lost a lot of lives as a result of their business and social irresponsibility and non compliance to laws.
“Most of these kidnappings and collection of ransom are traced to people using MTN sim cards.
So it is a business thing, NCC is doing its constitutional right: there is nothing wrong with government intervening. MTN knows that it was wrong if not they would not have started paying,” Ndume said.