The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) shows no sign of backing down over a record-setting US$5,2bn (R72bn) fine against the local subsidiary of South African-headquartered mobile phone group MTN.
According to a report by the news wire service AFP, the commission has given MTN until 16 November — just 18 days from now — to cough up the punitive amount, or face the consequences.
MTN is facing the NCC’s wrath for failing to disconnect 5,1m unregistered Sim cards from its network by an 11 August deadline. The commission has imposed a fine of 200 000 naira (or about R14 000) on each unregistered Sim that was not disconnected in time.
The tough sanctions are permitted under the country’s Sim card registration regulations, which are designed to combat crime and terrorism, a major problem in the country’s north.
“The deadline set for the payment of the fine is 16 November,” NCC spokesman Tony Ojobo is quoted by AFP as having said. “The key issue is if MTN breached the law or not. Certainly, there was a breach. And if there is a breach, we will apply the law.”
News of the fine, which first appeared in the Nigerian media early on Monday morning, has sent MTN shareholders diving for cover. The group’s market capitalisation fell by R64bn between Monday and Wednesday this week. It recovered some ground during intraday trading on Thursday, but was unable to hold on to those gains and ended the session down a further 1% at R154,38 on heavy volumes.
According to AFP, top-level talks kicked off in Abuja on Thursday between MTN, the NCC and officials from the Nigerian government in an effort to find a compromise solution.
The news wire said Ojobo did not specify what further sanctions MTN could face if it fails to meet the 16 November deadline to settle the fine. “If the situation will change in any way, then the government at the top will have to [intervene] direct[ly]. But for now, the mood is to apply the law,” AFP quoted him as saying.
The fine comes as MTN seeks to renew its operating licence in Nigeria. The licence expires next June. — © 2015 NewsCentral Media