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Tell Nigerians what transpired within presidency on ‘magical’ slash of MTN’s fine—PDP

Ahead controversies’ surrounding the ongoing fight against corruption regarding selectivism and avoidance of members of ruling All Progressive Congress (APC), the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has charged President Muhammadu Buhari to come up with clearer explanations on what actually transpired at the presidency leading to the slashing of the initial fine of N1.04tn imposed on MTN Nigeria to N330bn at the onset of the administration.

Business Hilights recalls that MTN Nigeria had been fined $5.2b (approximately N1.04tn) based on about 5.2 million SIM cards that were not deactivated upon the directive of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) from the SIM registration regulations which MTN and other operators were signatories few years ago.

According to the regulations, a fine of $200,000 is placed on each SIM card that is not deactivated by any telecoms operator.

According to the PDP, “Buhari and his administration have questions to answer on how the sum was allegedly reduced to N330 billion, especially in the face of allegations that certain interests in the Presidential Villa, said to be very close to the President, ‘took a bribe of N500 million’ before the reduction”.

PDP’s anger grew when it observed that whereas no clear explanation had been given by the government on the alleged N500m bribe taken within the Villa, the same government went ahead to approve payment of N500 million to a team of external lawyers including seven Senior Advocates of Nigeria, who facilitated the recovery of the fine slammed on the telecommunications giant.

Some of the questions raised by the PDP include the rationale and business intelligence behind paying lawyers in recovering fines that were also slashed in a controversial circumstance at the presidency; when has it become a routine to assign lawyers in recovery of fines from a regulatory breach?

It would be recalled that at the end of last week’s Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami, disclosed that the Federal Government approved the payment of N500 million to a team of external lawyers including seven Senior Advocates of Nigeria, who facilitated the recovery of the fine slammed on MTN.

According to the minister, “The Federal Government engaged the services of lawyers to put up defence on its behalf.

“The Federal Government has now sanctioned the payment of N500 million for the N330 billion agreed upon for the alleged breaches in their (MTN’s) operations.

While observing that the approved payment is less than one per cent of the fee, instead of the internationally recognised fee, which is pegged at five per cent, angry PDP argued further, saying “It is, to say the least, disgusting that while this allegation of bribery at the Villa has remained uncleared by the Presidency, President Buhari, the same African Union (AU) Anti-Corruption Champion, on Wednesday last week, approved the frittering of another N500 million from the same fund, under controversial claims of professional fees to unnamed persons for unspecified services.”

A statement issued by the party’s National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, stressed that “The nation had long expected Mr. President to clear the air on the sordid allegation of bribery in the Presidential Villa.

The PDP challenged Buhari to disclose the basis for the N500million professional fee, asking: “What due process instruments did he rely upon? Who are these lawyers?

“Who contracted them? Under what terms and what services did they render that…beyond the Attorney General of the Federation and the team of lawyers at the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) and the Ministry of Justice?”

PDP added further that “Now that it has become clear that the Buhari Presidency is entangled in sleazes over the MTN fine saga, the PDP charges President Buhari to end his concealment of corruption in the villa and show his sincerity by allowing an open inquest into his administration’s dealings on the MTN fine payment.”

However, in a swift response, the spokesman for the All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr. Bolaji Abdullahi, averred that the Presidency would not be distracted by spurious allegations, coming after Buhari delivered a crucial blow to the PDP, with the recent declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day.

Besides, whereas the PDP saw APC’s response as a cheap diversion, it still maintained that Nigerians need to know more on the MTN fine and how and why it was suddenly slashed as the issue of lawyers’ involvement within the period of the fine never arose then.