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Fear grips FG over ‘rumoured’ exit of telecoms giants, MTN, Airtel

Starting with MTN Nigeria, the trouble began when the company failed to meet up the unregistered SIM deactivation deadline, leading to imposition of fine by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). The original fine by the provision of the applied regulation was N1.04tn but was cut down to N330bn.

Just as this was to be handled, Senator Dino Melaye raised the issue of illegal repatriation of about $14bn in some ways he felt was against extant laws. Since then, the lawmakers had continued to look into the matter endlessly after all.

Earlier this year, an official of MTN had hinted that the company may be compelled to quit going by series of challenges it has been facing lately ranging from NCC fines, lawmakers endless probes and regulatory ups and downs especially the recent U-Turn by NCC in reversing self in data price floor provisions.

But in a sober remarks recently, the Minister of Communications, Barr. Adebayo Shittu stressed that Nigeria must not scare away MTN, as lawmakers investigate alleged illegal money transfers just three months after the government fined Africa’s biggest telecoms firm over $1 trillion and slashed it.

The remarks is contained in a terse statement from the ministry on the latest investigation into MTN, indicating the government does not want to see the South African company punished unduly in Nigeria, its biggest market, if the latest allegations prove to be true.

The Minister had told foreign news agency, (Reuters) in an interview, conducted weekend that “Nobody will say that MTN is not important to Nigeria – we must encourage them, we must not scare them away from Nigeria”.

Unlike MTN Nigeria, Airtel’s consideration to leave not Nigeria but some non-performing economies can be said to be open-ended, even though it did not name Nigeria. Experts say Nigerian economy, no matter what it’s currently passing through cannot be said to be non-performing after all, because Nigeria remains the largest market to beat in Africa as a whole.

However, the hint to pull out of economies in Africa that is not doing well was dropped by the parent company some time ago.

Still on MTN Nigeria, analysts had time without number since the beginning of the Senate probe called on the lawmakers to base their probe on the revelations by the head of Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria (FRCN) who told the Senators during the probe that it may be wrong to worry MTN for the transfer considering the failure of the regulatory agencies to do the right thing even before the said transfer.

Whereas Nigeria accounts for a third of MTN’s revenue, the key issue of contravention according to the lawmakers was that MTN did not obtain certificates declaring it had invested foreign currency in Nigeria within a 24-hour deadline stipulated in a 1995 law, and so the repatriation of returns on those investments was illegal.

According to the ‘weeping’ Shittu, “They have a right to repatriate their profits as long as it is legitimately done”. He added that “any time MTN is suspected of breaking the law it will be investigated, though the facts against them must be established beyond reasonable doubt”.

“Everyone who is in business will have ups and downs. You don’t throw away the baby with the bathwater.”

Even though MTN has said it did not break Nigeria’s currency transfer rules, soberly Shittu maintained that MTN’s investigation was an issue for financial regulators and did not fall within his “constitutional responsibility,” stressed that “The government, however, can influence the size of the penalty, as in the case of the SIM card issue”.

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