Technology Times has learnt today that South Africa’s MTN Group is looking the way of Ahmed Joda, the ex-Chairman of the Board of Commissioners at Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), to get government to “significantly reduce” the N1.04 trillion fine imposed on its Nigerian mobile phone business, MTN Nigeria, for non-registration of 5.2 million subscribers.
The mobile phone group has also indicated that it will resume its lawsuit against the Nigerian government if both parties do not reach a common ground on the reduction of the fine, according to details of the deal reached between the two negotiating parties sighted by Technology Times.
Meanwhile, in a last ditch attempt to race against March 18, this year when both parties are expected to report back to the Federal High Court in Lagos, where MTN Nigeria has withdrawn its lawsuit challenging government’s authority to fine the mobile phone company, its shareholders are now exploring “political options” to resolve the matter.
People conversant with details of the ongoing talks says that MTN is looking to Joda, a respected former public servant, who has also served as Chairman of the Board of Commissioners at NCC, the nation’s telecoms regulator that imposed the unprecedented fine against the mobile phone company for allegedly failing to register about 5.2 million subscribers on its network. NCC had claimed that MTN Nigeria’s action was a major violation of existing rules on SIM Registration and major threat to Nigeria’s national security by the South African mobile phone group.
Meanwhile, MTN’s decision to look the way of the former NCC Chairman was informed not just by the fact that Joda held an influential position in the nation’s influential telecoms watchdog, the mobile phone group reckons that he has a rising profile as a key insider in the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Apart from having been a top brass in NCC, Joda headed the Transition Committee of President Buhari, which recommended far-reaching government reforms including the reorganization of Federal Government structure.
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According to a Technology Times source, barring any last minute change of mind, MTN may initiate talks with the respected public administrator, who is believed to have “the President’s ears.
Technology Times is yet to receive credible confirmation of Joda’s involvement but credible sources say that key assurances given the mobile phone company informed its decision to formally request the Federal High Court in Ikoyi Lagos to discontinue its suit.
MTN Nigeria, was to further commit an upfront payment of N50 billion as a show of good faith by the mobile phone company, to pave way for ongoing talks to “make progress and reassure that the company will abide by terms of its own side of the agreement this time around”, an anonymous source conversant with details of ongoing talks told Technology Times.
People on the government side allegedly doubt that the mobile phone company may keep faith with its promise citing its volte-face in previous talks, when it opted for the option of a lawsuit challenging the Nigerian government’s action.
To show that it was committed to pushing forward with ongoing talks, MTN has taken two key steps forward: the company has officially withdrawn the lawsuit and also paid the N50 billion, seen by government insiders as positive indictors that the mobile phone company will abide by the letters of deals reached with negotiators of the fine.
MTN Nigeria, which filed the lawsuit on December 17, 2015 had at a resumed hearing on January 22, this year informed the court it was withdrawing the suit because “the parties have been engaged in discussions targeted at an amicable settlement of this matter.”
MTN was to honour the request of government negotiators when on February 24, this year it asked the court “to strike out the suit, in order to pave way for an amicable resolution of the dispute between the parties.”
Mr. Fred Wooolman, CEO of MTN Nigeria was to direct the court to strike out the after the company confirmed that its negotiators have been able to extract some commitments from the Nigerian government side.
According to court fillings sighted by Technology Times, that was deposed to by Aderemi Durojaiye, a Senior Manager in the Commercial Legal Department, Corporate Division of MTN Nigeria Office located at Golden Plaza in Falomo, Ikoyi, Lagos, the mobile phone company reached a few key deals with government negotiators before opting to discontinue the lawsuit against the duo of NCC and Attorney-General of Nigeria.
In the court document, MTN claimed that around January 26, this year, Attorney-General of Federation requested MTN Nigeria to make a payment to Federal Government, “as a demonstration of its good faith and interest in settling the pending dispute.”
According to the mobile phone company, it agreed to make the requested “good faith payment” and also made it clear that “the payment would be made without prejudice to this suit and would be applied towards an eventual settlement.”
According to MTN, around January 29, this year, the Attorney General informed the mobile phone company that the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN), “was willing to receive an unconditional good faith payment” from MTN.
MTN said that around February 4, this year it got back to inform of its willingness to make the requested good faith payment based on condition that “the payment would be made without prejudice to this suit and would be applied towards an eventual settlement.”
On February 9, this year, MTN claimed in court affidavit that the Attorney General acknowledged receipt of its “communication” indicating its readiness to make the good faith payment, and the mobile phone company was “provided instructions on the modalities for making the good faith payment.”
But that was not all. The mobile phone company says that South Africa’s MTN Group, owners of MTN Nigeria, was to precede the payment with an announcement on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.
MTN Nigeria said that it confirmed to Nigerian authorities that its term was that, “a good faith payment would be made and that its holding company had to issue a public announcement on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange regarding the payment.”
According to MTN, “The draft announcement stated that the good faith payment would be made without prejudice to this suit and would be applied towards an eventual settlement.”
MTN further claimed that on February 10, this year, the Attorney-General informed the mobile phone company that for the ongoing “engagements” to continue, it would need to withdraw the lawsuit “as one of the preconditions to further negotiations.”
By the next day, MTN said it was to confirm to the Nigerian authorities that it would withdraw its lawsuit as requested but with a condition.
According to MTN, the mobile phone company confirmed to government of Nigeria that it would withdraw the lawsuit as requested but also “reserved the right to reinstitute the suit in the event that a settlement of the dispute is/was not reached.”
According to MTN Nigeria, it also provided Nigerian authorities “with a public announcement that its holding company would issue on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange regarding the payment and withdrawal of this suit.”
The said draft announcement, stating that the good faith payment would be made by MTN, and would be applied towards an eventual settlement, was accepted by the Nigerian Attorney General on February 22, this year, the mobile phone company added.