The Federal Government, on Monday said it would not relent in its bid to make MTN pay the N780 billion fine slammed on it by the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC.
The NCC had sanctioned MTN for refusing to remove over 5.1 million unregistered telephone subscribers from its network.
The regulator fined the telecoms operator N1.04 trillion, but later reduced it by 25 per cent after the intervention of President Muhammadu Buhari, amid pressure and negotiations from the company’s parent body in South Africa.
The NCC also reviewed the deadline from November 16 to December 31, 2015.
In its reaction, MTN threatened the Federal Government with a court action against the N1.4trn fine which was later reduced to N780 billion.
But Mr. Adebayo Shittu, Minister of Communications, in reaction to the suit instituted by the telecom operator at a Lagos High Court, weekend, insisted that the telecommunications company risks another fine if it fails to pay on December 31 deadline.
Shittu, who spoke through his Special Assistant on Media, Mr. Victor Oluwadamilare, however, admitted that MTN had the right to seek court’s interpretation if it feels unsatisfied with the action of the regulator, but made it clear that nothing would stop the government from imposing additional fine on the operator, at the expiration of the deadline.
He said, “it is the right of MTN to approach the court but there was an infraction, which MTN admitted to have committed before it pleaded for leniency that led to the reduction of the fine from N1.4 trillion to N780 billion and the subsequent December 31, 2015 deadline to pay.
“If it has decided to go to court, it is still within the ambit of the law. I will not intervene, since they have gone to court, we will allow the court to decide if it is right for MTN to commit those infractions and breach the laws of the land.”
“It is unwise for MTN to go to court after the Federal Government had magnanimously reduced the fine. It will surely be fined for violating the rule at the expiration of the deadline, should it fail to pay the initial fine.”
MTN had on Monday insisted that its action was induced by commitment and belief in the long term sustainability of its business.
Ahead of that date, the MTN Group, last Thursday, said in a statement from Johannesburg, South Africa, that it was taking legal action over the matter and subsequently filed the suit at the weekend, lining up about six Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SANs.
According to the firm, since its previous advice to its shareholders on December 4, 2015 that all factors relating to the sanctions were thoroughly and carefully considered, including a review of the circumstances that led to the fine and subsequent reduction by NCC, there were enough grounds upon which to challenge the fine in court.
Claiming to act on legal advice, MTN queried the manner the fine was imposed, describing it as “not in accordance with the NCC’s powers
Amina Oyagbola, Human Resources & Corporate Services Executive at MTN said, “The N780 billion fine has potentially dire consequences for the company, its employees, partners, stakeholders as well as the entire Nigerian telecommunications industry.
The telecommunications company believes that, being a significant contributor in Nigeria, it has an obligation to protect the interests of its ecosystem of millions of Nigerians who are directly and indirectly affected by its business operations and continuity.
“The decision to seek judicial determination was reached after careful consideration of all factors, including extensive attempts at a sustainable resolution. It is important to state that seeking judicial determination was a last resort. We hold the Nigerian Government, its national objectives, laws and regulations in the highest regard,” Oyagbola said.
She stated that the action notwithstanding, MTN will continue to engage with the Nigerian authorities in an effort to reach an amicable resolution in the interest of all stakeholders.