By Henry Umoru & Joseph Erunke
ABUJA—The Senate, yesterday, summoned the governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu, and Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, to appear before it and explain why the fine imposed on MTN by National Communications Commission, NCC, over infractions was reduced from N1.04 trillion to N330 billion.
Those summoned are expected to appear to shed light on the matter, especially with regard to whether the reduction was carried out in accordance with the regulation of the NCC governing fines and penalties.
The decision of the Red Chamber was taken, following a motion to that effect by the Chairman,Senate Committee on Communication,Gilbert Nnaji, PDP, Enugu East, during the day’s plenary.
The Senate said its communication committee must immediately effect the summon for the parties involved in the controversial reduction to appear to give explanations on the matter.
It charged the Committees on Communications as well as Justice, which are to hear the parties’ side of the story, to round off the assignment and submit a report within two weeks.
Senator Nnaji, in the motion, said he was aware that the NCC, enabled by the Nigerian Communications Act, 2003, was the statutory regulator for the telecommunications industry in Nigeria.
He also said he was aware that as the regulator, the commission had been imposing fines on erring telecom operators over the years, adding that proceeds from the redemption of such fines had been lodged in the commission’s designated account.
He recalled that in October 2015, in line with the Nigerian Communications Commission Registration of Telephone Subscribers) Regulation, 2011, the Nigerian Communications Commission imposed a fine of N1.04 trillion on MTN Communications Nigeria Limited for failing to deactivate 5.2 million unregistered subscribers on its network.
The senator noted that sections 19 and 20 of the Nigerian Communications Commission ,NCC, registration of telephone subscribers regulation 2011, didn’t empower the commission or another entity or government officials to reduce any fine so imposed.
He regretted that the fine was unilaterally reduced from N780 billion without the input of the Ministry of Communication and the NCC.
According to him, this constitutes a flagrant breach of this regulation and an attempt to whittle down the authority of the commission.
The senator further regretted that through some negotiation process, which excluded the Ministry and the commission but championed by the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, MTN was requested to pay the sum of N50 billion “as a gesture of good faith towards the settlement of the fine.”
He recalled the attendant confusion created by the claim and counter-claim over the veracity of payment of the said N50 billion by MTN and the domiciliation of the money in a CBN recovery account, as if the money in question was a stolen fund.
This, he added, prompted the Committee on Communications to embark on a fact-finding meeting of all stakeholders involved on March 10, 2016.
Nnaji said his committee was alarmed to observe that the reduced fine of N780 billion was further slashed to N330 billion through a settlement payment plan that smacked of unpatrotism and insensitivity of the parties that agreed to the new amount, in spite of the economic plight currently facing the country.
Following his submission, the Senate lamented that Nigeria had been short-changed in the whole process.