By Amechi Ogbonna with agency report
PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari yesterday hinted that MTN has opened talks with the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to reduce the $3.9 billion fine imposed on it for failing to disconnect unregistered SIM cards from its local network.
He made the revalation at a joint news conference with his visiting South African counterpart, Jacob Zuma, at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
Africa’s largest mobile networks operator, which makes 37 per cent of its sales in Nigeria, its biggest market, last month said it had made a $250 million “good faith” payment towards reaching a settlement
after dropping a legal case against the NCC.
“MTN had withdrawn its case from the court and decided to go back and renegotiate the fine, which it considered very stiff, with NCC to find ways it can be reduced and given time to pay gradually,” Buhari told reporters in the capital, Abuja.
The President did not say when talks began as Zuma did not comment on the matter. MTN spokesman, Chris Maroleng, declined to comment.The NCC had given a deadline to mobile operators to disconnect unregistered SIM cards, but MTN declined to heed the directive, amid fears the lines were being used by criminal gangs, including militant Islamist group, Boko Haram.
The fine, initially set at $5.2 billion on the basis of charging $1,000 for each unregistered card remaining connected, is the latest sign of tension between the countries struggling for economic and political dominance in Africa.
A number of South African companies have said they will leave Nigeria, citing currency restrictions imposed by the central bank in its bid to defend the naira as the country battles the economic crisis caused by the plunge in oil prices.
But Zuma said Nigeria and South Africa were forging closer ties. “Our two countries have signed over 30 bilateral agreements and memoranda of understanding,” he said, in areas including trade, industry security and immigration.