The kidnap of a former Secretary to the Federal Government of Nigeria and Chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Chief Olu Falae, may have stoked the most anger within government circles leading to the landmark fine handed down to MTN Nigeria, the leading mobile operator in the country, recently by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).
The telecom regulator, NCC, slammed a fine of N1.4 trillion ($5.2 billion) on MTN Nigeria for failing to disconnect around 5.1 million subscribers from its network for not having been registered as of September 2015, as prescribed by the regulatory agency. The total sum is based on a fine of N200,000 for each unregistered subscriber.
Chief Falae, a former minister of finance in Gen. Ibrahim Babangida’s administration, was kidnapped on his 77th birthday, on September 21, 2015 at Ilado, along Igbatoro road, in Akure, the capital city of Ondo State, in a manner that threw the country into shock in the rising spade of cases of kidnaps, insurgencies and the likes, thereby making nonsense of the well-meant efforts by government to keep the insurgents and criminals at bay. It was a national embarrassment that caused vexation in the bellies of security agencies and President Muhammadu Buhari, who has vowed to wipe out insecurity and insurgency in the country.
To prove their seriousness at combating the kidnappers and bringing them to book, the Nigeria Police Force, led by the Inspector-General, Solomon Arase, took the battle to the kidnappers den, and, in an equally unprecedented move, the kidnappers were arrested. In a short time they were singing out how they shared the ransom-money of N5 million, which was paid to secure Chief Falae’s release.
It was learnt however that the kidnappers’ mobile phone number which was specifically used during the process of arranging and kidnapping Chief Falae, as well as receiving the ransom, was an MTN Nigeria line. But the crux of the matter, which revved the angst of government and incurred the wrath of the regulator with the unprecedented fine, was the discovery that the mobile line was an unregistered MTN Nigeria subscriber identification module (SIM) card.
It is on record that NCC had, in efforts to help security agencies combat insurgency, kidnapping, militancy, arm robbery and sundry crimes in the country, issued repeated notices to all existing mobile operators to disconnect all unregistered SIM cards in the country.
Once security agencies found the Chief Olu Falae’s kidnappers’ mobile line used for the heinous and dastardly crime to be an MTN Nigeria SIM, it was left to the NCC to investigate who the line was registered or assigned to. Upon investigation however, it was discovered to be one of the five million MTN Nigeria unregistered lines, which ought to have since been disconnected in line with the regulator’s directives.
It was further learnt that before the kidnap of Chief Falae, the NCC had made several attempts to gain access to the MTN Nigeria switches at various points, to ascertain in practical terms, its registered and/or unregistered subscribers so as to be sure of the numbers that must be disconnected, all to no avail, as the mobile operator was said to have prevented NCC’s monitoring officials gaining access.
Saying other operators allowed the Commission’s officials access except MTN Nigeria, a source said this might have exposed the operator “even if not intended to be so” to the ugly turnout of events, as the regulator and security agencies were rightly angered and appalled that the kidnappers’ mobile number was unregistered by the operator and therefore, there was no record of the owner of the SIM in the operator’s network after call record/log was made available.
Although viewed as a lesser offence that could have been managed differently, “huge profits being made by MTN Nigeria and being repatriated without commensurate investment in Nigeria” was alleged as another ‘offence’ that might have angered the regulator and the government in using the thunderous sledge hammer on the baby ant, sources say.
This is already a well-worn argument, which MTN Nigeria has repeated explained: the company is part of a quoted Group, whose accounts, having been audited by well-tested internationally acclaimed auditors, are published always hence in the public domain; therefore the question of ‘huge profits’ away from the public domain does not arise.
While formally announcing the development, MTN Nigeria’s parent body, MTN Group Limited, which is quoted on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, wrote in a statement made available to IT & Telecom Digest, last week:
“The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) imposes fine on MTN Nigeria
“Shareholders are advised that the NCC has imposed a fine equivalent to $5.2 billion on MTN Nigeria.
“This fine relates to the timing of the disconnection of 5.1 million MTN Nigeria subscribers who were disconnected in August and September 2015 and is based on a fine of N200, 000 for each unregistered subscriber.
“MTN Nigeria is currently in discussions with the NCC to resolve the matter in recognition of the circumstances that prevailed with regard to these subscribers.
“We will continue to update shareholders in this regard.”
The statement was issued through Deutsche Securities (SA) Propriety Limited from its Fairland offices in Johannesburg, South Africa, on October 26, 2015.