A recent 14-day ultimatum given by the Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA) to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to delist some members of the newly constituted board of MTN Nigeria appears to be in bad taste, particularly for Nigerians with genuine desire to see the country join the comity of developed nations.
In a petition sent to Mary Uduk, the acting director-general of SEC, HEDA alleged that the new board members including Dr Ernest Ndukwe, a former chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) now MTN chairman; Muhammad Ahmed, former chairman of the technical committee of the Nigerian Code on Corporate Governance; Omobola Johnson, a former Minister for Communication; and Ifueko Okauru, a former chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), were “picked to offer the South African communications concern undue advantage in Nigeria’s political and economic environment”.
It further said the appointments were an attempt to “insulate MTN from adverse local political action given its recent history with the regulatory agency, the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, and the office of the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF”.
The group had argued that MTN flouted regulatory instructions, that left leaving 5.2 million unregistered users on its network and the fine was due on November 17, 2015, but MTN managed to secure a cover-up and delayed fines until a new management and government came into office.
However, while HEDA is entitled to its own opinion on issues that concern MTN and the management of other telecommunications organisations in the country, it is important for Nigerians to know that denying the company the services of these eminent Nigerians would amount to throwing away the child with the bath water.
Although MTN is originally a South African entity, events in the last 18 years it has operated in the country have shown it has transformed into a Nigerian firm that shares in the vision of successive governments thus contributing its quota toward the growth of the economy.
It is against this backdrop that we think that than canvassing for ideas that would hurt the operator, HEDA and other human rights advocacy groups should indeed give credible suggestions on how to build a bigger organisation that would contribute more to the country’s GDP, job creation and better customer service experience.
For all intents and purposes, serving in public offices should not be seen as a death sentence that excludes eminent Nigerians from offering their services to any segment of the economy that needs them particularly when such retirees are still active and can still make positive contributions to grow the economy.
There are many cases of former bank Chief Executives who are today chairmen or board members of various financial institutions and nobody has called for their suspension and withdrawal as long as no criminal records are traced to them.
Available records show that the company had paid the agreed fines and penalties and has continued to run its affairs as a going concern against which it should be allowed to enjoy all privileges that accrue from the communities where it does business.
From the regulatory standpoint, the infraction for which the company was indicted cannot be seen as an unpardonable offense or board members was it too grievous that it cannot be erased with time given it’s eminent placing in Corporate Nigeria. With over 65 million subscribers across the country, MTN’s impact can be visibly seen in virtually all aspect of the Nigerian economy including banking and financial services, sports, economic empowerment, arts /culture, and the entertainment industry among others.
Already listed on the floor of the Nigerian Stock Exchange as one of the most capitalized securities on the nation’s bourse, MTN has employed and empowered millions of Nigerians since opening its shop for business in 2001.
It is therefore pertinent that since human capital remains the greatest assets of every business enterprise, that the infusion of tested and credible personalities such as those listed for expulsion by the social advocacy group should be allowed to bring their wealth of experience to bear on what its current board had done in the past in order to build a modern enterprise that can compete with any other anywhere in the world .
There is no gainsaying that the inclusion of Ndukwe, a former regulator, Omobola Johnson, a former communications minister, Okauru , ex FIRS boss and , Mohammad former chairman of the Technical Committee of Nigeria Code of Corporate Governance would bring renewed impetus in making MTN a better -run organisation.
So far, neither the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), nor the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) or any other agency of the Federal Government had objected to these appointments, based on the profiles of the appointees before them, it is only pertinent that these eminent Nigerians should be allowed to serve on the board of MTN to make a better company the would continue to meet the needs of its Nigerian stakeholders.
Ezeoha writes from Lagos.