By Dipo Awojobi – President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday said the concern of the Federal Government has been more about the security implication of MTN allowing terrorists access to unregistered telephone line rather than the fine imposed.
Buhari spoke for the first time on the hefty $5.2 billion fine imposed on MTN Nigeria, a leading player in the Nigeria telecommunications industry and a subsidiary of MTN Group of South Africa by the regulator, Nigeria Communications Commission.
The fine is reputed to be the biggest to be imposed on any telecommunication outfit globally.
Buhari, who addressed a joint press conference with the visiting South African President, Jacob Zuma at the presidential villa, Abuja said the hefty fine was imposed due to the failure of MTN to respond fast enough to the order of the regulator, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to properly register GSM lines on its network, a fact which he said aided Boko Haram insurgency.
“The concern of the Federal Government is basically on the security and not the fine imposed on MTN. You know how the unregistered GSM are being used by terrorists.
“And between 2009 and today, at least 10,000 Nigerians were killed by Boko Haram. That was why NCC asked MTN, Glo and the rest of them to register GSM. Unfortunately, MTN was very, very slow and contributed to the casualties,” the President said.
He added that the concern of the Nigerian government is not the penalty, but the security implication of the telecommunication firm’s inaction as members of Boko Haram sect were using unregistered SIM cards.
Buhari stated that that was why his government allowed the regulator and security agencies to handle the matter.
But the President noted that unfortunately, rather than negotiating payment, MTN dragged the Federal Government to court and as such, no further action can be taken on the issue since it has become a subject of litigation.
The President however said since MTN has decided to withdraw the case from court, it is free to go back to the relevant government agencies to see if the fine can be reduced and paid in installments.
MTN has so far paid $250 million after withdrawing the suit it instituted against NCC and the President’s comments is indicative that he has given the go ahead to the regulator to further negotiate with the telecommunications firm.