$5.2bn Fine: NCC, MTN May Reach Deal As Deadline Ends Today

MTN Group's Executive Chairman, Phuthuma Nhleko
MTN Group’s Executive Chairman, Phuthuma Nhleko

As the deadline to pay the $5.2bn fine imposed on MTN by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) for regulatory infraction expires today, the telecoms company and the Nigerian authorities may reach a compromise.
A source within the NCC disclosed that officials of the Nigerian telecoms regulator might meet today or tomorrow to decide on the next line of action.
“MTN’s body language suggests they won’t pay tomorrow (today), but I am sure a meeting of top NCC staff will be convened tomorrow or Tuesday to deliberate on what next. We may not rule out giving them more time to pay the fine; the meeting will decide on this,” the NCC source told our reporter last night.
Though the source said MTN officials were still pushing for reduction of the fine, Reuters reported yesterday that the telecoms company had asked for a plan to allow it stagger the payment.
Reuters reported a source as saying that the Nigerian government was considering the request, and that the decision would be disclosed today.
“At the meeting [on Friday], MTN pleaded passionately for staggered payment since the option of reduction of the fine had been ruled out,” the NCC source was quoted by Reuters as saying.
An MTN official also told Daily Trust the telecoms company may again, meet Nigerian officials today to continue talks.
Spokespersons for MTN Nigeria Wale Goodluck and Funsho Aina did not answer calls made to their mobile lines yesterday. They also did not respond to SMS and email messages sent to them.
Also, the NCC spokesman, Tony Ojobo, was not reachable yesterday.
However, an official of MTN, who wants to remain unnamed because he was not authorized to speak on the matter, said the issue was close to being resolved. Asked if MTN will pay the fine before the close of work today, the official said, “We may resolve the issue soon.”
The $5.2bn fine was imposed on MTN on October 26 for failing to cut off 5.1million of its subscribers with unregistered SIM cards. The amount represents $1000 for each of the unregistered SIM card. The Nigerian telecoms regulator insisted then that the fine must be paid on or before November 16.
A federal government official hinted that government may not slam further sanction on the telecoms company. “I don’t think the government will impose further sanction if MTN fails to pay tomorrow. They are asking for more time, and it may or may not be granted.”
The new communication technology minister Barrister Adebayo Shittu had told Reuters on Friday that Nigeria did not want MTN to close shop as a result of the fine, but that it must obey the regulator’s directive.
“Nobody wants MTN to die. Nobody wants MTN to shut down,” he said.
Barrister Shittu, who was sworn-in Wednesday, also said there was “nothing before me,” adding, “If any new thing would happen, there must be initiative from concerned quarters. It is up to MTN.”
The Head of Research of Renaissance Capital (RenCap), Mr. Adesoji Solanke, had shared a note with clients where he said, “MTN is pushing to reduce the fine by 60 per cent to 80 per cent.” A second lender was also quoted to have said that “MTN is considering borrowing from banks as it recently checked what the banks’ lending capacity to it is.”
Since the announcement of the fine, MTN’s shares had lost nearly 25 per cent of their value. The $5.2 billion fine also led to the resignation of the Chief Executive Officer of MTN Group, Mr. Sifiso Dabengwa last Monday. He was replaced by Phuthuma Nhleko, who will hold the CEO position for up to six months.

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