Despite the grim challenges arising from the N330 billion fine imposed on it by telecommunication regulator, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) last year, MTN Group has implicit confidence in its Nigerian operations.
This was the declaration of its Group Chairman/Chief Executive, Phuthuma Freedom Nhleko, when he led a high level delegation to the NCC Headquarters in Abuja.
The telecommunications firm, which was fined by the NCC in 2015 for contravenning regulatory authorities as regard registration of subscribers Identification Modules (SIM) cards, agreed to a staggered payment pattern. The company is expected to pay N30 billion by March ending, which will put money paid for the fine so far at N110 billion.
The firm, which is expected to complete the fine payment by May 2019, had earlier paid N80 billion.
Meanwhile, Nhleko, who was received by the Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) of the NCC, Prof Umar Danbatta and top management of the Commission said the Group has faith in Nigeria and will be willing to invest more in the sector in the years to come. “We had challenges in the past, during the period of the fine, and we are grateful for the role, the Commission played towards an amicable resolution”.
According to a statement signed by NCC’s Director of Public Affairs, Tony Ojobo, and made available to journalists, yesterday, Phleko whose visit to the commission is a valedictory one as he steps down as Group Chairman in March, 2017, said MTN Group has injected over $16 billion into the Nigerian operations and “we have a very long way to go and so ask for spectrum which is the oxygen and life blood to navigate this long and tedious investment journey, without spectrum, the sector will suffocate”.
Nhleko specifically solicited for more spectrum allocation and a release of the one that belonged to Visafone, whose equity shares MTN acquired in 2015.
He also canvassed for a more level playing field “despite being dominant player”.
According to him, MTN has made its mark in voice and data services and that more services like mobile financial services are underway.
Responding, Prof. Danbatta welcomed the delegation and assured them that the Commission will always play by the rules and support every operator within the ambits of the law.
“I like to state that our word is our covenant. When we take decisions, we are concerned about the stability of the industry and there is no way we can guarantee it without considering the dominant status of MTN and its obligations and if the dominant status is becoming stringent, we are open to engagement, we will be guided by what is happening in the market, to ensure the growth and development of the sector”.
Danbatta said “the sector has contributed very well to the National Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and has shown remarkable resilience in this recession”
The NCC boss said the commission made a case for relaxing fiscal policies towards the sector to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) “and the CBN Governor is favourably disposed to our request and further engagement especially towards major players who desire to import equipment to aid deployment of broadband infrastructure services and others”.
The Commission, he explained, will always carry out interventions to cushion the operators request to provide necessary services.
On spectrum assignment, Danbatta, said MTN got six slots in the 2.6 GHz auction and full utilization of that spectrum is envisaged.
“We are open to further discussion on the areas of spectrum assignment.” He advised MTN to put across request for spectrum of interest and “we will check its availability”.
The Commission “is here to protect the interests of the operators as well as consumers, consistent with our mandate, the trust reposed on us by the government and people of Nigeria; protecting their interests and ensuring a level playing field and respect for our laws”.
The EVC said the Commission only resorts to sanctions as a regulatory action of last resort after allowing time for checking compliance.