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N500m MTN bribe: Buhari’s COS may be free if…, Panel source

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Following the emerging indications that the Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, Alhaji Abba Kyari is under investigation by the Special Investigation Panel of the Nigerian Police Force over bribery allegations, a credible source at the Presidency revealed Friday that unlike before, the authorities of Sahara Reporters who opened up on the matter are nowhere to be found in order to give details of the allegation.

The probe is in connection with alleged N500million bribery money said to have been paid to the Chief of Staff by officials of MTN Telecommunications Company with the intent that the COS influence government to discontinue its heavy stance on the $5billion fine imposed on the company.

It would be recalled that worried by the allegation, the Presidency had directed the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris to investigate the allegation and come out with findings regarding the accusation within a given time frame.

However, sources close to the investigation panel said efforts to get more facts the publishers of Sahara reporters to come forward and avail it with evidence of the N500million bribe; when it was given, where and how the money was collected, has proved abortive.

The source who spoke under condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to speak on the issue, said the fact that the online medium is based in the United States has not helped matters.

According to the source, “Officials of MTN, who were invited and interviewed over the allegation, have vehemently denied that any such money emanated from the telecommunication company and that since the beginning of the $5billion fine saga, nobody had been approached for bribe.

“Another thing is that if such volume of money was paid through the banks, discreet investigation of financial dealings on the part of MTN and on the part of the COS has so far not revealed any transactions of such.

The officials of MTN had drew the attention of the Police to the fact that the issue of the $5billion fine resulted into diplomatic exchanges between South African government and Nigeria to the extent that during President Jacob Zuma’s have to pay an unscheduled visit to Nigeria, the issue came up for discussion between Zuma and President Buhari and the Joint Session of the National Assembly also.

Currently, MTN officials are still in shocks as to why an issue of bribery allegation can be alleged against a government that abhors and is fighting corruption in all sectors of the economy.

Meanwhile there are indications that the Police Investigation team may conclude the report of the investigation soon if the grace period it has given the online media organisation lapses and they fail to provide evidence to substantiate the allegation.

It would be recalled the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), slammed a $5 billion fine on MTN for failing to disconnect about 5.1 million subscribers with unregistered phone lines bought before January 2012.

The fine relied on a 2011 regulatory framework introduced by the NCC and ratified by all operators including MTN which provided that defaulters in the deactivation of unregistered lines pay N200,000 for each SIM card that fall within the bracket before a January 2012 deadline.

But MTN Nigeria, the largest telecoms operator in Nigeria, failed to comply with NCC’s directive and this is believed to have facilitated activities of terrorists and kidnapping kingpins who perpetrated several of their murderous and nefarious acts that proved costly to the nation.

However, following the frustrations of the telecommunications giant’s bid to fight the huge fine imposition, firstly through the courts and later through diplomatic means, an online media (Sahara Reporters) published a report on 20th September 2016, stating that officials of MTN gave a bribe of N500million to Alhaji Abba Kyari, to intervene and use his closeness to President Buhari, to influence the federal government to give MTN a safe landing.

A source at the National Assembly who pleaded anonymity said in an interview that “Some of use interested in the matter then were still surprised over how all of a sudden, the fine was slashed without much explanation by either the presidency, the ministry or even the NCC,” saying the situation then, angered the Senate who had waded in to the matter.

Analysts say the level of anger the sudden cut of the fine and agreement on a staggered payment arrangement without recourse to lawmakers who waded in to the crisis may have caused the lawmakers to angrily begin discussions on the imposition of Communications Tax which had received massive rejection by operators and Nigerian subscribers.

If the bill scales through, subscribers will have to part with 9% of all credit so used in telecoms service to the federal government both in data and voice.


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