MTN Nigeria saga: Whose continent is it anyway?

2015-11-08 13:57

South Africa’s corruption levels frequently come under scrutiny but direct measures to alleviate corruption are rare. MTN’s $5.2 billion fine in Nigeria, for their non-compliance of rules and regulations, demonstrates Nigeria’s seriousness in eliminating illicit and defiant activities. MTN, the Johannesburg based mobile-phone company, has provoked a battle between Africa’s leading nations.

Following the election of President Muhammadu Buhari in March, Nigeria has acknowledged the importance of reducing corruption and protecting the interests of their population. The oil exporting country has also taken a knock with the fall in oil prices and the $5.2 billion fine would surely lessen their budget tensions. However, MTN is not the sole recipient of Buhari’s embargo; two Nigerian banks have also been side-lined for violating banking regulations.

South Africa’s rising tensions over economic equality is similar to the pressures in Nigeria. On-going corruption allows for the rich to exploit the poor and leaves little room for sustainable population development and economic growth. The only difference between the countries is the actions taken by the particular governments in addressing the issue.

While the Nigerian administration is determined to call out immorality - even if it is at the expense of scaring away private foreign investors and destroying alliances - South Africa’s focus on economic indicators above the livelihoods of ordinary South Africans may signal a new era of African politics.

MTN has been under the keen watch of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) over the past few years and were ordered to remove their R0.25 termination fee for calls made between networks in March this year. The South Gauteng High Court ruled that the mobile termination fee was “unlawful and invalid” and the termination fee has since been reduced – not removed entirely.

The kidnapping of former Nigerian finance minister Olu Falae on 21 September catastrophically revealed MTN’s refusal to deactivate approximately 5.1 million unregistered SIM cards in Nigeria. In a country where threats from the terrorist group Boko Haram are a reality, MTN’s arrogant dismissal of Nigerian regulations unmasked their greed and nonchalant attitude to the consumers of their host nation.

The South African attitude of waywardness and avoidance has seen MTN Nigeria rebel against Nigerian lawmakers a reported 28 times since operating began. A gentle slap on the wrist is no longer applicable, especially if Buhari’s leadership continues on cranking down on investors and corporates that refuse to abide by laws.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, also a former Chairperson of MTN, had little to say on the matter besides urging local companies to abide by the laws of the countries in which they operate. Perhaps it is time for our own administration to pull up their socks in addressing issues of noncompliance directly instead of sweeping them under the carpet or associating with the corruption themselves.

Following the MTN Nigeria saga, Parliament’s telecommunications committee intends on addressing the compliance of MTN with local regulations next year. Whether this wake-up call will allow for MTN - and other large South African corporations – to be more strictly examined in the future remains to be seen but the Nigerian administration has proven itself to be the new watch dog of Africa.

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