Last month in Lagos, a judge gave the Mobile Telecommunication Company, MTN Group, and Nigeria’s National Communications Commission, NCC, until March 18 to reach a settlement over a fine of N780 billion fine levied against MTN by NCC. However, MTN Group made a deposit of N50 billion as a commitment to a possible settlement of the case and has withdrawn its lawsuit against NCC, over the fine. The settlement was opted for after MTN had asked the court to arbitrate over the dispute, saying the NCC had no legal grounds to order the fine.
The South African based telecom, which makes most of its sales in Nigeria, said the case withdrawal from court is an effort to reach an amicable settlement as well as make a good faith payment of N50 billion.
“This is a sign that the fine could be reduced much further. There is some sort of negotiation taking place and the parties are migrating toward a common ground,” said Dobek Pater, Managing Director of Africa Analysis.
The Chief Executive Officer of MTN Nigeria, Ferdi Moolman, said the decision to withdraw the case was to create a conducive atmosphere for further negotiations with the Nigerian authorities.
“This is a most encouraging development,” Mr. Noolman said. “It demonstrates a willingness and sincerity by both parties to work together towards a positive outcome.”
Nigeria has been trying to halt the widespread use of unregistered SIM cards due to fear of insecurity and foreseen criminal activities, including that of the Islamist group, Boko Haram. So in October 2015, the NCC imposed a N1.04 trillion fine on MTN Nigeria for its failure to disconnect 5.1 million improperly registered lines within the prescribed deadline. The penalty was based on fining the company N200,000 for every unregistered SIM card in use.
Although the fine was subsequently reduced by 25 percent to the sum of N780 billion, MTN Nigeria initially refused to pay, saying removing such a chunk of money could bankrupt the company. Instead, they took NCC to court, but after analyzing the case thoroughly, decided to corporate. According to CEO, MTN Nigeria, this move would hopefully lead to a resolution of the crisis.
“Along with the authorities (NCC), it is clear that we are collectively committed to working towards a solution that is of mutual benefit to all parties. Our industry in Nigeria is an incredibly important example of the remarkable progress in ICT, particularly as a much-needed catalyst for socio-economic growth and development at this time,” Mr. Moolman said.
It is not know yet whether the NCC accepted the condition under which the case was withdrawn by MTN. However, the Director of Communication, NCC, Tony Ojobo said it was quite early to comment.