The Nigerian Government say that MTN Nigeria must pay a “substantial amount” of N1.04 trillion imposed on the mobile phone company for non-registration of 5.2 million subscribers before its out-of-court settlement request can be accepted.
Adebayo Shittu, Minister of Communications, says that unless MTN pays the undisclosed “substantial amount”, both parties cannot negotiate the settlement deal requested by the mobile phone company.
The Minister of Communications, who dropped the hint tonight in Lagos, says that government’s stance was informed by MTN’s alleged past volte-face on the matter.
“They have to pay a substantial amount”, Shittu says in reference to last month’s request by MTN’s decision for an out-of-court settlement in the lawsuit the mobile phone company filed against the telecoms regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) that imposed the fine.
Last month, MTN surprised watchers of the unfolding developments surrounding the fine when it asked the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos to settle out of court with the Nigerian government, in a lawsuit it filed challenging the authority of the telecoms regulator to impose the punishment.
“MTN was in violation of laid-down rules, but the previous government didn’t do anything about it”, Shittu says in tracing the background of alleged infractions by the mobile phone company.
After the sanction imposed on MTN by the current administration, over allegations that it did not register over five million subscribers, which was not only a breach of SIM Registration rules, but also posed serious security risks to Nigeria, the Board of the mobile phone company was later to tender a written apology, Shittu told journalists at the media parley.
“MTN wrote a letter of apology”, the Minister says adding that “they begged for commission of the fines.”
The Minister further adds that while these talks were underway between the two parties, “their Board came to meet me further to say that they wouldn’t be able to pay the fine.”
Shittu says that while government was committed to ensuring that companies operating in the country abide by the rules, he was quick to add that the intention was not to “kill MTN, because they are a Nigerian company.”
According to him, the government was mindful that the Nigerian business unit of South Africa’s MTN Group, MTN Nigeria, employs Nigerians and this came into consideration in weighing the options to resolve the fine impasse.
Again, the Board was to return to say that the company risks collapsing if it were to pay the fine, the Minister says he was told when the mobile phone company’s top brass returned to him on the protracted fine talks.
This time around, “I said that they must write a letter attaching their statements of account to show that they will collapse if they pay the fine”, the Minister was to tell the Board.
According to Shittu, the next thing he heard was that MTN decided to file a lawsuit challenging the authority of the Nigerian government’s regulatory agency that imposed the fine. At that point, both parties decided to have their day in the law courts.
However, MTN last month told the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos that it wants an out-of-court settlement with the Nigerian government.
Government’s counsels at the court were to accuse the mobile phone company of alleged lack of faith in its previous stance on the fine, insisting that certain conditions must be met by MTN to take the resolution offer forward.
With the outcome of last month request by MTN to settle out of court, “they have been coming again”, the Minister says, while being emphatic that government’s position remains that the mobile phone company must pay a “substantial amount” for the resolution talks to move forward.