Resolving the MTN matter



It is just as well that the matter of the fine on MTN is approaching a resolution of some kind.  President  Muhammadu Buhari has  more or less  asked  the  company to ‘ go back and negotiate with  government agencies  on  what they consider  a very steep  fine  to be reduced and may be, given  time to pay gradually’.   Now that the  highest authority in the matter has  spoken,  there should be no reason  for  the Nigerian Communications  Commission (NCC) and  MTN not to reach  a mutually  acceptable  agreement.

Buhari  was  quite right to say that it was not so much the money to reap  from  the fine, hefty as it may appear, but that ‘ the concern of government was  basically  on (the) security of (Nigeria and its people).’ Security of life and property is precisely the primary duty of, and key constitutional purpose of government. It is this sacrosanct duty that the president accused the corporation of putting at risk. Of course, no responsible government would tolerate that.

No one can take away the good that MTN has done to, and for Nigeria. Since it opened shop in August 2011, it has added value to itself and to Nigeria in immeasurable material and non-tangible ways. Of course, it has earned tons of money for its shareholders, created an enviable niche as a pioneer and leading telecommunications company with a number of sectoral first achievements in Nigeria.

MTN has directly and indirectly created  jobs for Nigerians, including the publicity  sector of the service industry and it pays  taxes in billions of naira to government; it has imparted skills to its employees, funded projects all over the country  to the  tune of billions of naira in areas of education, health,  skill acquisition and economic empowerment; it has  strengthened the  career of  several artistes besides  handsomely remunerating the MTN ambassadors.

And the company has  engaged in  numerous other  corporate   social responsibility activities that, put together,  are  worth  billions  invested in the lives of  Nigerians  and the  structure of  the country.  And it needs to be noted, MTN continues to do these things to the extent of its financial capability. So, this country cannot seek the ruin of a responsible corporation.

But these  cannot  be an excuse  to flout the laws of the land and  to put at  risk  the very lives of the customers who, in the words of its  mission statement,  MTN seeks to make ‘a whole lot brighter’.  Besides, other operators complied with the rule that the company breached.  Sanctions needed to be meted out and it was not arbitrary. The NCC did its duty correctly until typical opacity and tardiness –some would even regard it as incompetence – in government took over.

Why did the Attorney-General and the Ministry of Communication enter into negotiations with MTN without the knowledge of NCC whose advice should guide any negotiation? Why involve the president at all in a matter that was purely of regulation and of law? It is regrettable that, for motives unclear, a straightforward matter that could prove the effectiveness of a regulatory authority and the firmness of government to enforce the rules irrespective of who is involved, has been messed up by government officials.

The Senate Committee on Communication has been reported to condemn the negotiating process by which it says an MTN proposal to pay N300 billion has been accepted by Attorney-General, Abubakar Malami. This does not reflect the ‘change’ for which Nigerians voted Buhari and his party into power. And the question must be asked: Are some high officials in government on the same transparency page with President Buhari at all?

It is hoped that the right lessons have been learnt, especially that there is a new game in town so everyone in this polity must play by the rules or face the consequences.  MTN, as well as other foreign businesses operating in Nigeria, need this country just as Nigeria needs them. But, it can never be emphasized enough that, against the backdrop of the sordid revelation of collusion between the private sector and public officials, mutual respect and international best practices must begin to define the conduct of business in this country. A Nigeria of clean government, functional system, and efficient operating environment will further the interest of business better than a dysfunctional and corrupt nation.  But the business sector must help by playing by the rules all the time.

MTN has not only scored a first in several aspects of the telecommunication industry in this country, it is a leader by subscriber base, by earnings and by taxable profit. Alas, the organisation has allowed itself to score an unenviable first to incur the biggest corporate fine to date. Needless to say, this is not good for reputation, even worse for a corporate leader.  The onus is upon the company to redeem itself by ethical and other exceptional acts of corporate statesmanship.  To this end, it must re-earn respect by a clear demonstration of desire and commitment to resolving the fine as well as all outstanding issues with the NCC and by extension, the Nigerian government and people.

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