The former Minister of Communication, Adebayo Shittu, on Thursday said MTN practically blackmailed the Federal Government to reduce the $5.2 billion fine imposed on it by the National Communication Commission (NCC) over subscriber identity module (SIM) card registration infraction.
He said the telco told President Muhammadu Buhari that if they were made to pay the fine, they may have to shut down operation and sack all their workers. This, MTN said may have negative impact on the banking sectors as they will have to also withdraw their deposit with which the banks with which it was doing business.
The telco said its major shareholder, South Africa’s Public Investment Corp (PIC) was not looking for changes to the board, adding that report suggeting that was an unsubstantiated rumours and inaccuracies.
Bloomberg had reported that PIC, which owns 26 per cent of MTN, wanted change following regulatory, legal and political disputes which have impacted the company’s operations, particularly in Nigeria.
Among its requests was the replacement of chairman Phuthuma Nhleko and a reorganisation of the board.
However, MTN said “contrary to what the story alleges”, PIC requested it extended Nhleko’s term longer than originally intended, until December15, to ensure an orderly hand-over to designated successor Mcebisi Jonas.
Also under debate was the role of MTN’s International Advisory Board (IAB), which Bloomberg described as a “council of wise old men, who can directly contact lawmakers and decision makers in the countries where MTN operates”.
MTN in a statement said the primary purpose of the group is “to provide general global and/or sector specific perspectives that may enrich the perspectives of the operating company’s board as it strives to contribute to certain areas of development in the countries in which it operates”.
The group was “conceptualised” before PIC increased its shareholding in MTN, it stated.
MTN previously said the IAB “is a non-statutory entity comprised of selected members” which doesn’t perform any “fiduciary duties nor does it assume any accountability for the publicly quoted entity”.
“IAB will not opine on any matters that have to do with the operations of the business.”
It is headed by Thabo Mbeki, former president of South Africa.
Adebayo denied report that he took bribe from the telco to influence the reduction of the fine.
He also explained to reporters that Buhari acted in the national interest in authorising the reduction of the fine, adding that it would have been wrong to create an impression that there was no ease of doing business in Nigeria
He said: “A lot of blackmailers have been blackmailing me that I took money. Even if I wanted to take money, the opportunity never arose because the file on the MTN crisis never got to my office and I never had a role to play. If you know the working of the Ministry and its agencies, you will realize that each of its agencies has their separate laws.
“Remember that the NCC laws predates the establishment of the Ministry of Communication. The NCC laws took care of any supervisory role the Ministry would have played which is the role of policy formulation and not operational engagement. NCC has a board which takes care of implementation.
“I did not have a role to play in the implementation, but what happened was that MTN, as an international company cried out to the president to say that if they had to pay the amount of fine imposed that at that time, they are likely to close shop and there will be consequences.
“The consequences included that all Nigerian staff of MTN will lose their job, all the banks they operate with will have serious upheaval in term of the fact that they will have to withdraw their money from Nigeria an some banks will be in a state of near collapse if that happens.”
Thirdly, recall that Nigeria invited them to come and invest in Nigeria. If we give the impression that there is no ease of doing business in Nigeria or that government will rush to “kill” foreign companies in Nigeria, other foreign companies we are inviting to come and invest will not come.
“So, because of the intervention of the international community, the president had to wade in to reduce the cost and he did that in consonance with what happen in the court system. What the President did was to play the role of an appeal platform in reducing that cost.
“Even in reducing that cost, conscious of the fact that in MTN itself, heads had to roll because it was an act of negligence that more than 5 million subscribers were not captured. But for Nigeria, I would say that the N330 billion is a money we have not really worked for.
“It is unfortunate that MTN violated the laws and we are not saying they should continue to violate the laws. When they did, sanction was imposed on them and I didn’t think Nigeria should regret the reduction of the fine”.