By Prince Osuagwu, Emeka Aginam & Emmanuel Elebeke
LAGOS — The Federal Government, yesterday, said it would neither be cowed nor threatened by MTN’s court action against the N1.4trn fine which was later reduced to N780 billion, insisting that the telecommunications company risks another fine if it fails to pay on deadline.
Minister of Communications, Mr Adebayo Shittu, made the statement yesterday in reaction to the suit instituted by the telecom operator at a Lagos High Court, weekend.
The minister, 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.
According to the minister, “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.”
He, however, said that “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.”
Why we are in court —MTN
Meanwhile, MTN, yesterday, also insisted that its action was induced by commitment and belief in the long term sustainability of its business.
According to the company’s Human Resources & Corporate Services Executive, Amina Oyagbola, “the N780 billion fine has potentially dire consequences for the company, its employees, partners, stakeholders as well as the entire Nigerian telecommunications industry.
Being a significant contributor in Nigeria, MTN 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.
According to Oyagbola, “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.”
She, however, added that notwithstanding the action, the company will continue to engage with the Nigerian authorities in an effort to reach an amicable resolution in the interest of all stakeholders.
The NCC 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.
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