Despite court action, Nigeria says MTN must pay $3.9bn fine by Dec. 31

Nigeria will not hesitate to slap its largest telecommunications company MTN with an additional fine if it fails to pay the $3.9 billion due by Dec. 31.

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) had imposed an initial $5.2 billion fine on Johannesburg, South Africa-headquartered MTN, for failing to meet a deadline to disconnect 5.1 million unregistered subscribers. The fine was later cut by 25 percent to $3.9 billion and a deadline of Dec. 31 was given for the payment. But MTN had sought relief in court with the belief that “there are valid grounds upon which to challenge the fine”. The court move notwithstanding, the Nigerian government says it expects MTN to pay the fine by Dec. 31 or risk more fines.

“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,” a statement by Nigeria’s Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu, said.

“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.”

However, Mr Shittu noted 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.” Mr Shittu is a lawyer.

MTN whose fortunes have suffered a dip, until recently, due to the penalty imposed by the Nigerian regulator NCC, had reportedly secured the services of about six Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) for the case filed before the Federal High Court in Lagos.

MTN Nigeria’s Human Resources & Corporate Services Executive, Amina Oyagbola, who stressed that the company holds the Nigerian Government, its national objectives, laws and regulations in the highest regard, said the court action was a last resort, following failure of negotiations to yield any good fruit.

“The N780 billion fine has potentially dire consequences for the company, its employees, partners, stakeholders as well as the entire Nigerian telecommunications industry,” she said.

“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.”