The Senate Committee on Communications headed by Senator Gilbert Nnaji, on Thursday, revealed how the Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) were sidelined in the process of negotiation of the out of court settlement concerning the fine imposed on MTN Nigeria by the NCC.
The senate committee, which held an investigative hearing into the N1.04 trillion fine imposed on the telecommunications giant, MTN was also told on Thursday that the company had proposed to pay the sum of N300 billion between now and 2020.
The committee was told that a proposal for out-of-court settlement of the fine was already ongoing between the MTN and the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, (SAN) in respect of the fine which has been reduced to N780 billion.
Vice Chairman of the communications committee, Senator Adeola Olamilekan (Lagos West), during the sitting, displayed a proposal from the MTN, which was acknowledged by the solicitor-general of the federation, Taiwo Abiodun, and which he said was made to the government by MTN.
In the proposal, the telecommunications company told the government it could only pay the sum of N300 billion between now and 2020.
A breakdown of the proposal which the Solicitor General forwarded to the Minister of Communications and Finance as well as the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Professor Umar Dambatta, indicated that the telecoms company, having already paid N50 billion to a recovery account at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), would pay another N100 billion via electronic transfer between December 31, 2016 to December 31, 2020.
The proposal further indicated that another N80 billion would be paid by MTN “as a demonstration of its commitment to and confidence in the Nigerian economy and subject to necessary regulatory approvals,” adding: “MTN Nigeria commits to purchase of N80 billion of Nigerian sovereign debt issued on international market in 2016-2017.”
It stated that the last tranche of the payment proposal is N70 billion which MTN said it would pay as “MTN will provide the FGN with access, subject to excess capacity to the company’s fibre network for the purposes of allowing the FGN to expand its e-initiatives (e.g visa processing, public service, connecting schools, registration etc.), from the date of the execution of this agreement through December 31, 2020.”
Senator Olamilekan, while displaying the document, accused the AGF of deceiving Nigerians that negotiation was still ongoing with MTN, whereas it had already sealed an agreement with the company to the effect that it would only payN300 billion in four years.
But a representative of the AGF, Dayo Apata said that the document was not a final agreement but a “mere” proposal which he said was not an end in itself.
The Lagos lawmaker, however, insisted that the proposal had been adopted secretly by the AGF, adding that the government was only playing on Nigeria’s intelligence.
He questioned the rationale behind the payment of the N50 billion by MTN, adding that since the government had collected the first trance of the money being proposed, it was wrong to claim that negotiations were still on.
While speaking at the hearing, Shittu told the senate committee that he was not part of the negotiations with the MTN.
Executive vice chairman of the NCC, Dambatta also told the committee that he was also not involved in the negotiations with MTN. He added that the NCC was also not responsible for the reduction of the fine from N1.04 trillion to N780 billion.
He said that the NCC was only invited to a meeting of inter-agency committee set up by President Muhammadu Buhari, adding that the committee reduced the fine by 25 per cent following the president’s approval after MTN wrote a letter of apology.
Both Shittu and Dambatta confirmed that the negotiations had been between the AGF and MTN, which they said led to the payment of N50 billion by MTN into CBN’s recovery account on February 24.
The minister said since MTN went to court on the matter, he and the NCC had been kept at arms length despite NCC being the first defendant in the suit.
While speaking on the basis for the fine, Dambata told the committee that MTN was charged N200.00 per line adding that each unregistered line was so charged.
MTN’s Chief Executive Officer in his submission, said the company was told that federal government’s interest in the matter would be dependent on its preparedness to fulfil the two conditions enumerated by AGF which he said his company fulfilled.
Those who attended the hearing included the Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu, Executive Secretary of Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Umar Dambatta, representative of AGF, Dayo Apata, Acting Director of Banking and Payment System Department of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Accountant General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris.
The committee questioned the process which empowered the AGF to sideline the relevant stakeholders and enter negotiations with MTN .
Senator Abiodun Olujinmi (Ekiti South), who also spoke at the sitting said that acts of impunity usually begins with the abuse of a process, adding that having served in the board of NCC, she was aware that imposition of fines on telecommunications companies by NCC is a regular occurrence.
The senator described the decision to sideline the minister and NCC as “voodoo” while faulting the decision to open a recovery account for the money paid by NCC.
“You asked them to pay six per cent of N780 billion. And you said it was in good faith. Who determined that? You asked them to withdraw the case from court and you said the case is still in court,” she said.
Senator Isa Misau (Bauchi Central) also accused the AGF, CBN and accountant-general of criminal conspiracy with MTN, but the agencies disagreed with the Senator.
Committee chairman, Senator Gilbert Nnaji, said that since the AGF, who is the principal player in the matter was not available for comments, the meeting would be adjourned.