Minister: Buhari will decide on MTN’s N1.04 trillion fine ‘in public interest’
Barrister Adebayo Shittu, the new Minister of Communications told Technology Times today that final decision on the N1.4 trillion fine imposed on MTN Nigeria will be taken by President Muhammadu Buhari at the appropriate time “in public interest.”
The Minister, who spoke with Technology Times this afternoon on the sidelines of the Alliance 4 Affordable Internet Nigeria Coalition conference underway in Lagos, reiterated government’s determination to ensure that final decision taken on the fines will be in the public interest.
“The issue is now before Mr President. He will take the necessary decision at the appropriate time. I think Nigerians will expect that Mr President would do the best to ensure that the public interest is guaranteed”, the Minister told Technology Times.
MTN Nigeria came under regulatory hammer when 5.2 million unregistered line were allegedly found on its network by enforcement team of the telecoms regulatory agency, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).
[blockquote cite=”Barrister Adebayo Shittu, the new Minister of Communications “]“The good thing is that MTN did not contest the fact that they had violated the regulations and guidelines. They never contested it. They admitted they were at fault. They apologized for their role in the saga and they made a commitment that what happened will never happen again. And of course, they made a plea for review of the payment terms.”[/blockquote]
Responding to questions about conflicting signals on Government’s stance on the fine, which South Africa’s MTN Group says it has been negotiating with the Nigeria government, the Minister cleared the air on this.
“I don’t think there is any conflicting position on where government stands on the MTN issue. Recall that there were violations which were established against MTN. The violations were to the tune of five million. That’s a whole lot. There are many countries where subscribers, in the entire country, are not up to half of the five million.”
According to him, “in the case of Nigeria, we had more than five million violations.”
However, both parties, government and MTN are on the same page that rules have been broken in this instance, says Shittu.
“The good thing is that MTN did not contest the fact that they had violated the regulations and guidelines. They never contested it. They admitted they were at fault. They apologized for their role in the saga and they made a commitment that what happened will never happen again. And of course, they made a plea for review of the payment terms”, he said.
According to the Minister, “the issue is now before Mr President. He will take the necessary decision at the appropriate time. I think Nigerians will expect that Mr President would do the best to ensure that the public interest is guaranteed.”
According to the Minister, the issue is not about money but putting an end to what he cites as the era of impunity.
“It’s not about the money itself. That is important. But it is about making sure that Nigerians appreciate that the era of impunity is over, and that questions will be asked for every infraction and that government will be firm, even if it will also be fair”, the Minister says.
“I want to repeat this. Nobody wants MTN to die. It is not in the interest of Nigeria for MTN to die because as far as I am concerned, MTN Nigeria Limited is a Nigerian company. It may have originated from South Africa, but it is a Nigerian company because the Chairman of the Board, the Chief Executive Officer of the company, they are all Nigerians”, he adds.
However, the Minister believes that MTN Nigeria, the country’s largest mobile phone company by subscriber numbers, needs to address a few local concerns.
“Of course I would advise that to make MTN more Nigerian, they need to go PLC; they need to open their doors, their shareholding base to all Nigerians so that there will be more acceptability”, Shittu adds.
He says that, “MTN has made very great strides. It has virtually or literally opened our eyes to telecommunication benefits. And so, we love MTN because MTN is part and parcel of the Nigerian dream. And also there are thousands of Nigerians who earn their daily livelihoods.”
The matter comes closer to the Minister’s hands when he admits that, “more importantly, I am a subscriber of MTN from day one that MTN came to Nigeria and I don’t want to dispense of it. So, we don’t want MTN to die.”
He says that, “what we are doing is like a parent, whose child does something wrong, if you spare the rod, you spoil the child.”
The Minister explains further that, “MTN is not the only operator in Nigeria. If other people have tried to comply, and you don’t punish infraction, then you give a signal to other operators that it doesn’t pay to even be obedient to laws and regulations.”
Shittu is also full of prayers in the decision that would be taken in the days ahead by President Buhari.
“I pray that the issue will be resolved by Mr. President in the best interest of Nigerians”, he said in the interview.
The Minister also reacted to the recent position by the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, which adopted that the telecoms regulator that imposed the fine acted in line with the laws, and equally supported that MTN be made to pay the fines.
According to the Minister, “the President will take the best decision. It is his responsibility, and in his wisdom, he will do what is right. Whether governors take a decision or not, laws have been established about how to deal with all of these decisions.”
Shittu explains that, “it’s just like a judgment. If the court gives a judgment, it becomes valid. If anybody says that judgment says we are happy, it must be enforced. Whether you say that or not, the judgment has been delivered, it is valid and it will be enforced.
“Of course, if you go on appeal in cases, the authority to which you appeal may decide to review the earlier judgment. But until that is done, the judgment remains the judgment.”
According to the Minister, “it is the decision of the NCC with regard to the fees to be paid, which remains valid.”