Nigeria and the MTN Fine - A Nigerian's Perspective

2015-11-12 21:24

I would like to add my voice to the public discussion about MTN’s misdemeanour in Nigeria and the consequent fine by the Nigerian government. Although I am Nigerian, I subscribe to a pan-Africanist perspective which Wikipedia puts this way, “Pan-Africanism is an ideology and movement that encourages the solidarity of Africans worldwide. It is based on the belief that unity is vital to economic, social, and political progress and aims to "unify and uplift" people of African descent.”

I believe that for the Black man to take his position in the world, he needs to learn to treat himself and his brothers with deep-seated love and respect. A few decades ago, the Western world looked down on Asians as it continues to do Africans today, but not anymore towards Asians. Why? Asians rose up and showed that intelligence or development are not correlated with race.

On the one hand, I am disappointed in MTN for a number of reasons. One, they flouted the regulations of the country in which they do business. This is what many western companies have done in Africa for many years due to greed and disregard for the continent and of course the weakness of our leaders. One would have expected MTN to do better in Africa, but for many years, Nigerians have complained about the disdain by MTN and now the Nigerian government is doing the same. My question is: “Would MTN do the same in Dubai or a Western country if it operated in one?”

Second, MTN failed where other network providers did not. Other mobile companies in Nigeria adhered to the Nigerian Communication Council (NCC) deadline to have all unregistered sim cards disconnected. Why would a foreign company flout rules in their host country when local companies adhere to the same? So in a way, MTN was disrespectful and it can be argued that they deserve what hit them.

Third, by their refusal to meet the deadline, MTN exposed Nigeria to security risks. Nigeria has been battling Boko Haram for many years now and one of the measures the country undertook recently was to tighten access to telecommunication network. Like in many countries, the obvious way to do so was to register every sim card user in the country and deregister those which were unregistered. So the NCC imposed the penalty of $5.2bn on MTN for failing to meet the deadline to disconnect 5.1 million unregistered subscribers of their 60 million subscribers.

On the other hand, from the perspective of fairness, I have a number of problems with the fine. First, I believe that the fine was ridiculous and disproportionate; although, the Nigerian government would argue that MTN knew the fine amount before the deadline since the fine was calculated per sim. The 1.4 trillion Naira fine is 28% of Nigeria’s budget for 2015 and 25% of MTN’s total value and more than two years of MTN’s profit. Of course there are companies who have received similar or bigger fines in the past in different countries, but you cannot wipe out 25% of a company total value in the name of a fine. It is morally wrong. No one is saying that MTN did right but the fine was absolutely disproportionate, causing commentators to wonder if Nigeria has other reasons for the fine beside the offence.

Second, how much hypocrisy is in Nigeria’s action? Are there not many Nigerian companies who break government laws in that country all the time? The bible is replete with admonition on the need to start cleansing from inside. In Matthew, for example, Jesus said, “Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside, they are full of robbery and self-indulgence.” Elsewhere, the Apostle Pauls says, “After you have become fully obedient, we will punish everyone who remains disobedient.” What has Nigeria done to the many western and Asian companies who continue to take advantage of the Nigerian people? Why is the Black man willing to accept nonsense from Whites and Asians but cannot tolerate an error from his own?

Third, has Nigeria thought of the effect of crippling MTN on the Nigerian economy? MTN stock has been declining since the fine and a continual downward trend would be bad for MTN and all individuals and industries in Nigeria that benefit from MTN. MTN is estimated to employ about half a million Nigerians directly and indirectly. Apart from that, competition from local and international players are needed to ensure quality in the industry.

Fourth, Nigeria should know that it is shooting itself in the foot with this fine. Every country does what it can to attract foreign investors and surely, an unreasonable fine of this nature is not one of the ways to do so. If anything, to foreign investors, it colours Nigeria as a high risk business environment with uncertainty. Of course, Nigeria’s argument is that if you toe the line, you will make profits and be happy as MTN has been doing for many years. That being said, no investor wants to think that should his company err, the host government will wipe out 25% of its value in one fine.

My last submission is that Nigeria should consider revising down the fine and also increasing the duration MTN is required to pay it. Nigeria and South Africa are the giants of Africa. They should be working together to pull the continent out of its current state. If both countries can put aside their ego, they will continue to benefit from each other and the continent will be better for it. Nigeria and South Africa must stand up and steer this continent forward. The black man must stand up and treat his black brother with honour, then other races will learn to treat us with the same honour.

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