* Escapes further sanctions
* As NCC succumbs to staggered payment plea
By Prince Osuagwu, Emeka Aginam & Bashir Adefaka
LAGOS—There are indications that telecommunications company, MTN Nigeria may not meet up with today’s deadline on payment of the N1.04trn fine imposed on it by the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC.
This is as a source at the NCC confirmed that the telecommunications company was yet to pay as at yesterday night.
However, there is the likelihood the operator may escape further sanctions as the regulator may have succumbed to its consistent plea for a staggered payment option.
The source told Vanguard that the telecommunications giant had not paid as at Sunday night but may not be sanctioned because NCC was considering granting its plea of staggered payment over a year or two.
He said: “What I can tell you now is that MTN has not paid as at today and may not likely pay because its officials have been begging for extension of the date and the payment to be granted in a staggered form. To be honest, we are considering that and may grant them one or two years to finish the payment. But what they may not get is a reduction on the fine.”
He also revealed that the regulator was going to issue a statement to this effect this morning before 11.00 am.
Recall that even the newly appointed Minister of Communications, Mr Adebayo Shittu at the weekend had said that Nigeria did not want MTN Nigeria to quit the country because of the fine but insisted that the fine must be paid.
He however quipped that “a judgment has been given, as it were, and the period for enforcement has not yet passed”
The regulator, penultimate week, imposed a fine of $5.2bn on the operator for allegedly failing to disconnect subscribers with improper registration on its network.
Since then, MTN has been appealing for the regulator to grant leniency and have the payment staggered so it would be easy for it to pay.
The Commission said last week, it received a letter from the telecommunications company, apologizing for wrong doing and pleading for leniency.
An impeccable source at the commission told Vanguard that: “ I can confirm that the commission has received an official letter from MTN admitting its guilt and pleading for leniency. However, the power to grant the leniency is no longer entirely on NCC’s hands but that of the presidency. But there are also indications that the Federal Government may ask us to reduce the fine to an appreciable level.
“If MTN had complied with several directives by the NCC it wouldn’t have been in this mess but I hope they learn their lessons from this. Nigeria is its biggest market. It was surprising that they didn’t anticipate that if things get wrong here, it could affect their other markets. Now, it is alleged that it has lost more than $2.7b from people migrating from its shares to others since this incident. It’s a lesson they should not allow to recur” he added.
Following that revelation, even the telecom company may have hoped that the NCC would be asked to reduce the fine, with the new development, it seems the operator may only get reprieve to its plea for staggered payment plan.
NCC had in August this year directed mobile telecoms companies to deactivate all unregistered SIM cards or face severe sanctions.
MTN missed the deadline to deactivate over five million of its unregistered/improper registered subscribers, prompting a N200,000 fine for each unregistered SIM.
The incident had led to the resignation of the Group Chief Executive Officer of the company, Mr Sifiso Dabengwa, last week.
In his stead, Non-Executive Chairman, Phuthuma Nhleko, is now acting as executive chairman for a maximum period of six months.
In Dabengwa’s resignation letter, he stated that “due to the most unfortunate prevailing circumstances occurring at MTN Nigeria, I, in the interest of the company and its shareholders, have tendered my resignation with immediate effect.”