MTN’s Final Payment: A Demonstration of Commitment to Sustainable Investment in Nigeria


"Commitment is an act, not a word." – Jean-Paul Sartre

Fifteen years ago, in January of 2001, the house of “Y’ello!” paid $285 million for one of four

GSM licenses to operate in Nigeria. This was an investment decision predicated on the growth

potential of the Nigerian economy. An investment of that magnitude, amounting to over N103

billion in today’s Naira, was a seismic statement of faith in doing business in Nigeria by MTN.

Over the years since that bold decision by Africa’s largest mobile operator to break new ground

in Africa’s largest economy, the relationship has broadened in the form of more positive acts of

intent to expand growth that the Nigerian populace has benefitted from. Take for instance, the

MTN Foundation. Established in 2004 as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility plan, the

company set up three portfolios of focus in the areas of Health, Education, and Economic

empowerment. This was part of a wider strategy to reduce poverty and contribute towards

sustainable development in the Nation.

"Without commitment, you cannot have depth in anything, whether it's a relationship, a business

or a hobby." – Neil Strauss

The roots of the depth of MTN’s quest for sustainable investment extends beyond the Nigerian

public sector into the private sector. In March of this year, Africa Internet Group, a Nigerian e-

commerce company, announced it has received funding to the tune of $245 million (N89 billion)

from investors that included MTN and U.S Investment Bank Goldman Sachs. MTN recognizes

the need to invest in the expansion of e-commerce in Nigeria because of the impact on jobs and

the economy at large.

But even the most noble amongst us has the occasional lapse. Even the most well intentioned

can make a misstep. Eight months ago, in October of 2015, the Nigerian Communications

Commission levied a $5.2 billion (N1.04 trillion) fine against MTN for failing to disconnect

subscribers with incomplete SIM cards. In an effort to curb Terrorism and Kidnappings, among

other crimes, the Federal Govt required all registered lines to have updated SIMS. This exercise

was in line with Section 20(1) of Registration of Telephone Subscribers Regulations (TSR) 2011

which stated:

"Any licensee who activates or fails to deactivate a subscription medium in violation of any

provision of these Regulations is liable to a penalty of N200,000.00 for each unregistered but

activated subscription medium."

As a follow up to this regulation, a compliance audit of all Mobile operators in the country was

carried out in August of 2015 by the NCC. The audit discovered that 5.2 million subscribers

were not properly registered by MTN. Multiplying by the fine per subscriber gives us the

gargantuan N1.04 trillion ($5.2 billion) figure. In line with its high standards of Corporate

Governance, MTN owned up to its culpability and commenced negotiations with the NCC to

reduce the fine. A N50 billion payment was made by the company in February in good faith

towards a settlement.

Taking a macro view of MTN’s growth impact on the Telecoms sector, jobs, and Nigeria’s GDP,

the Federal Govt decided to reduce the fine from N1.04 trillion to N330 billion, payable over the

next three years. As a possible condition of the settlement, MTN might even list on the Nigerian

Stock Exchange, thereby allowing shareholders to partake in profit sharing in the form of

dividends. A win-win scenario for the country and the company. Speaking to reporters in Abuja,

the Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu, explained that the reduction of the fine was in

the best interest of the economy:

"We need private sector to thrive just as they need us to thrive. We, in government, do not want

to kill any business. All the decisions that have been taken on the MTN issue are on the best

interest of Nigeria and Nigerians."

So a prudent decision by the Government ensured that all’s well that ends well. MTN learned

from its mistake, made yet another financial contribution to Nigeria (which will go a long way

during this tough economic cycle when the nation’s revenues have been greatly reduced by the

fall in oil prices), and was met halfway by a government that recognizes its stellar contributions

to a better Nigeria over the past 15 years. We as Nigerians are better off for it.

"We have to recognize that there cannot be relationships unless there is commitment, unless

there is loyalty, unless there is love, patience, persistence." – Cornel West



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