Tobi Soniyi and Dele Ogbodo in Abuja
The Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Umar Danbatta, wednesday said the absence of instrument of negotiation on the part of government was one of the reasons MTN had not commenced the process that would lead to the full payment of the N780 billion fine imposed on it last year.
He also admitted that key agencies had not made inputs into the proposal made by MTN to government to facilitate the negotiation process, adding: “This is being collated as we speak and very soon, a team which we already have in place will enter into direct negotiation with MTN.”
The EVC spoke during a courtesy visit by the Director General of the National Lottery Regulatory Commission (NLRC), Mr. Adolphus Joe Ekpe, in his office in Abuja.
He said the N50 billion paid by MTN was a mark of good will for negotiating an out-of-court settlement, adding that it was not part of the N70 billion the commission generated within the last six months from sale of spectrum broadband.
Danbatta said: “NCC has generated N70 billion from the sale of spectrum broadband and spectrum within the six 6 months. This money belongs to the Nigeria people and is remitted into the federation account for services to be rendered to Nigerians by the government.”
On the proposal made by MTN on a convenient mode of payment, Danbatta said government is looking at it, adding however that he is not in a position to say whether it will be acceptable to government or not.
He said: “This is an ongoing process of negotiation and not until it is concluded, nobody will be able to offer a position on it.”
Asked on MTN’s preparedness to pay the fine, he said: “MTN didn’t say they were not going to pay. I did not read this anywhere in the papers, nor does their body language indicate unwillingness to pay.
Danbatta admitted that the most important thing is that the case has been struck out of the court and they have made a goodwill payment, saying. “This is an action that acknowledges their willingness to pay and to amicably resolve the matter, and it will be resolved.”
In his remark, Ekpe said the commission was visiting NCC to seek greater collaboration in the spirit of nation building that will help in the revenue generation base of government, adding that inter-governmental collaboration has not been adequate enough.
He said it had become expedient that there should be a platform for the integration of NLRC text message transaction monitoring and archiving platform for lottery schemes aided by telecommunication providers.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Communications Technology through the NCC, yesterday signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on behalf of the federal government and the West Africa Telecommunications Regulators Assembly (WATRA) at the ministry headquarters.
Meanwhile, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister for Justice Abubakar Malami (SAN), has denied any wrong doing in his handling of the settlement of the fine imposed on MTN Nigeria by the Nigerian NCC.
In a letter written on his behalf by his Special Adviser, Media and Publicity, Salihu Isah, to the Chairman, Senate Committee on Communications, the justice minister accused the Senate of failing to give him fair hearing before accusing him of wrong doing.
He said the negotiation with MTN has not been concluded as claimed by the senators.
Isah said he was compelled to respond to the spate of bad press as well as the obvious and deliberate sponsorship of same by those “who ordinarily should investigate and have the capacity to demand an explanation from the Office of the AGF (OHAGF/MOJ) on his role in the matter relating to the N780 billion fine slammed on the MTN by the NCC in which the company has made N50 billion down payment as a condition for it (MTN) to gain audience with the relevant government agencies for the out-of-court settlement as ordered by the court.”
He said: “However, for the benefit of those in doubt, it is so far, so good for the role my principal has played. I wish to state vividly that, when Mr. Eric Holder, the counsel to the MTN led a team to interface with my principal as the chief law officer of the nation- (mind you, Holder is a former Attorney General of the United States) and so wouldn’t have entered into the meeting if he was not sure my principal was most appropriate to negotiate with; even at that; the former insisted that MTN which the latter represents must show some commitment by ensuring down payment of N50 billion. The federal government insistence was that no audience could be granted to the telecom company or anyone acting on its behalf while the case is still pending in court and in the absence of demonstration of good faith by MTN.
“To this request, MTN offered to comply, and indeed complied by withdrawing the case unconditionally and to make an agreed payment of N50 billion ($250 million), an offer the FGN accepted only to grant audience to it and its counsel in relations to the settlement discussions (and without prejudice and in good faith). The payment was made on February 24th, into a Federal Government Recoveries Account with the Central Bank of Nigeria. The Company also filed an application to withdraw its pending suit in an attempt to fulfill the second condition for audience with the FGN on the matter. This was also confirmed by the Office of the AGF before it agreed to grant audience to MTN or its counsel. And having fulfilled the two conditions as demanded by the federal government through the OHAGF/MOJ; the MTN through its counsel Eric Holder and his Covington legal team thereby sought audience with HAGF/MOJ who yet denied going into any negotiations, but demanded a proposal of the terms meant to be discussed in writing. Mr. Eric Holder obliged those terms and the HAGF/MOJ who quickly despatched a mail through the normal official channel to the Honourable Minister of Communications and the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC inviting for their input before fixing any meeting.
“While still awaiting the responses of both, no meeting or discussion or negotiation has been held on the issue ever since. What the HAGF/MOJ did afterwards was to ask the MTN legal team to formally present its proposals on the matter so that technical input could be sought from all stakeholders before the FGN could grant them any audience. This proposal has now been circulated among the stakeholders for their technical contributions and that is where we were on the issue when the invitation of the Senate came in at a time when the HAGF/MOJ was embarking on a trip to attend an anti-corruption summit in the United Kingdom that he was earlier billed to attend before the invitation came handy.
“It is imperative to state at this juncture that neither an audience nor commitment was made by the HAGF/MOJ to MTN who was then waiting for the technical inputs and comments of the Ministries of Communications and Finance as well as the NCC with a view to harmonize the inputs and coordinate inter-ministerial meeting for a common position before considering an audience meeting or negotiation with MTN, all of which were aborted by the pre-emptive conclusion hastily reached by your committee.”