"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
"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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