In what may be a first positive sign that the FG might be considering a reduction of the fine imposed on MTN, the new Minister of Communications, Barr. Adebayo Shittu, told Reuters in an interview that “A judgment has been given, as it were, and the period for enforcement has not yet passed”.
The Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, which handed down the fine last month, gave the South African company till Monday, November 16 to pay up or face even more stiff sanctions.
The fine – if fully enforced – translates to over two years of profit for the MTN Group in its biggest market. MTN Nigeria accounts for about 37 percent of earnings for the telecommunications company which operates in more than 20 countries in Africa and the Middle East.
To underscore the effect of the fine on MTN, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange suspended trading on its shares, which took a dip by nearly 25 percent since the announcement was made, to protect investors from losing any more money.
Shittu, however, opined that no matter what happens, the fine imposed on MTN should not jeopardize its future in Africa’s most populous nation and largest economy.
“Nobody wants MTN to die. Nobody wants MTN to shut down”, he stressed.
It would be recalled that the NCC had directed telecommunications companies operating in the country to disconnect all subscribers with unregistered SIM from their networks.
While other networks showed substantial compliance with the directive, the regulator said MTN refused, which resulted in $1,000 fine per outstanding unregistered SIM card, as stipulated by Nigerian telecommunications laws.
The company has also sent top executives to Abuja to try to plead for a reduced fine but Shittu stressed that the ball remained in MTN’s court.
When asked to comment on the progress of the talks, Shittu, who was sworn-in on Wednesday and assigned the portfolio of Minister of Communications, said there was “nothing before me”.
“If any new thing would happen, there must be initiative from concerned quarters”, he said, insisting that “It is up to MTN”.
When asked about the consequences of non-payment, the minister said the law would be followed without giving any further details but insisted “We don’t want them to leave”.
On his agenda for the sector, Shittu, who was former Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General for Oyo State, said he thought telecoms were key to helping President Muhammadu Buhari’s goal of diversifying the economy away from oil.
Shittu said telecoms provided a faster avenue for new growth than even agriculture, another sector the Buhari administration has expressed its commitment to develop.