By Emmanuel Elebeke
South African mobile phone firm MTN Group,Sunday, debunked as rumour that it has asked the Nigerian authorities to be allowed to pay by instalments the $5.2 billion fine due on Monday.
A report which quoted an MTN spokesman from South Africa, denied the request allegedly made by MTN Group.
The MTN’s spokesman, Chris Maroleng in the report said: “MTN refutes claims that we have arrived at any agreement of staggered payment of the fine. We caution against information from any source outside the company.”
Recall that a source at the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) had earlier said that MTN had asked to be allowed to stagger the payment.
The NCC had last month imposed the fine of $5.2 (N1.04trn) on MTN for its failure to disconnect 5.2 million unregistered SIM cards being used on its Nigerian network.
Nigeria has been pushing telecommunication operators to verify the identity of subscribers due to concerns that unregistered SIM cards are being used for criminal activity or by Boko Haram militants in the northeast.
Acoording to the report, the same source at the NCC had said that Nigeria’s government was considering the request, made at a meeting on Friday between MTN and high-level government officials, and that the decision would be disclosed on Monday.
“At the meeting, MTN pleaded passionately for staggered payment since the option of reduction of the fine had been ruled out,” said the NCC source.
However, industry observers believe that with the discussions so far made, an eleventh hour reduction of the fine could still be possible. And until the final announcement is made, they reasoned that there may be some room for manoeuvre,”
As at the time of filling this report, the spokesmen for Nigeria’s presidency and communications ministry declined to comment.
The new communications minister, Adebayo Shittu, had on Friday posited that the government did not want MTN “to die” or shut down operations as a result of the penalty.
According to NCC, the N1.0trn penalty is based on N200 per outstanding unregistered SIM card, as stipulated by Nigerian telecommunications laws.
According to NCC statistics, Nigeria accounts for 37 percent of revenues for MTN, which operates in more than 20 countries in Africa and the Middle East and generated total revenues of 146.9 billion rand ($10.21 billion) in only last year.
Since the announcement of the fine, its shares have lost nearly 25 percent of their value. MTN’s group operating profit in 2014 amounted to 49.65 billion rand ($3.45 billion), up from 41.15 billion in 2013, according to the company’s annual report. ($1 = 14.3887 rand).