Conflicts roused yesterday, March 10, at the Senate Committee on Communications hearing on MTN fine, when officials of the federal government pointedly accused each other for secretly negotiating with the telecom company and deceiving Nigerians.
During the meeting, the vice chairman of the committee, Senator Adeola Olamilekan (Lagos West), unveiled a settlement proposal made by the company to settle the N300 billion fine imposed on them by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NNC).
Olamilekan, who set the tone for what would become shocking revelations, accused the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), of deceiving Nigerians that negotiations were still ongoing with MTN, despite endorsing an agreement with MTN that will allow the company pay the proposed N300 billion in four years.
Although an official from the AGF’s office took exception to the allegation, Olamilekan, according to This Day, insisted that government was playing on Nigeria’s intelligence.
He wondered why government decided to accept N50 billion from MTN, when the AGF told the world that negotiations on the fine were still ongoing.
Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu, who attended the hearing along with NCC Executive Vice Chairman, Prof Umar Dambatta, AGF representative, Dayo Apata, MTN Chief Executive Officer, Ferdinand Moolman, acting CBN Director of Banking and Payment System and Accountant General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris, stated that the AGF sidelined his Ministry and the NCC in the talks.
While Shittu said he was not part of the entire negotiation process, Dambatta said NCC was not responsible for the reduction of the fine from N1.04 trillion to N780 billion, and that it was only invited to a meeting of an inter-agency committee set up by President Muhammadu Buhari.
He noted that the committee reduced the fine by 25 per cent following the president’s approval after MTN wrote a letter of apology to the government.
Furthermore, both Shittu and Dambatta said they were not aware of negotiations between Malami and MTN that led to the payment of N50 billion into the CBN recovery account on February 24.
Continuing, Shittu maintained that the agreement reached was between Malami and MTN, adding that when MTN indicated its decision to settle the matter out-of-court, the AGF gave it two conditions for the out-of-court-settlement – making a down payment of six per cent of the total fine (N50 billion) and withdrawal of the suit.
In his submission, Dambatta disclosed that the fine of N1.04 trillion imposed on MTN by NCC was predicated on a charge of N200 per line that was not registered by the company, in line with its directive at the time.
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Dambatta explained that the reduction of N1.04 trillion fine down to N780 billion was handled by an inter-agency committee upon Buhari’s approval following MTN’s letter of apology.
He further disclosed that NCC was not informed about the move to settle the case out of court neither and that the commission knows nothing about the payment of N50 billion to CBN.
MTN In Denial
Defending itself, MTN recalled that the process leading to the payment of N50 billion began when it made its intention to settle out-of-court known to the AGF.
Representative of the AGF who said Malami was unavoidably absent due to a trip out of the country, said on January 22 while in court, that MTN had indicated its interest in settling the matter out of court and after being told to do so in “good faith” by meeting the two conditions, it requested for a long adjournment, which he said was granted by the court.
He said it was these actions that led to the adjournment of the case to March 18 by the court.
When asked why MTN was asked to pay the money into a CBN account and not the NCC account, Apata said he did not know.
However, the Accountant-General said though his office was not part of the negotiations, he only got involved in the matter when the AGF asked him to facilitate the opening of an asset recovery account with the CBN.
He said the account was credited with N50 billion on February 24.
When the committee questioned the AGF’s representative on the legality of the account, he said he was not in a position to say whether it was legal or not.
While Olamilekan re-echoed his anger at why the AGF entered into negotiations with MTN while sidetracking Ministry of Communications and NCC, Senator Abiodun Olujimi (Ekiti South), said impunity usually begins with the abuse of a process.
According to her, having served on the board of NCC, imposition of fines on telecommunications companies by NCC was not abnormal. She also noted that such fines are usually paid into the NCC account for subsequent transfer into the Federation Account.
Condemning Malami and Idris for keeping out Shittu and the NCC boss during the negotiations, Olujimi also queried the rationale behind the determination of 6 per cent of the fine, amounting to N50 billion paid by MTN.
You asked them to pay 6 per cent of N780 billion. And you said it was in good faith. Who determined that? You asked them to withdraw the case from court and you said the case is still in court.
Another member of the committee, Senator Isa Misau (Bauchi Central) accused attorney general, CBN and accountant general of a criminal conspiracy with MTN.
Committee chairman, Gilbert Nnaji, said the AGF would be summoned to hear his side of story, saying events surrounding MTN fine negotiations would be thoroughly investigated.