The recent deal reached between MTN Nigeria and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) over the operator's record fine has been rejected by the country's federal lawmakers.
According to the Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Communications, Saheed Fijabi, NCC's sudden shift in position is concerning, adding that the new agreement is unacceptable.
He said: "It came to us as a surprise to hear that MTN is paying NGN300 billion. How can they be paying that amount when the minister told us that everything was stalled pending the outcome of our investigation?"
Lawmakers argue that the NCC Act does not make provision for a reduction of the fine. "In fact, Section 21 of the Act stipulates that even the CEO of a defaulting firm can be made to pay additional fine of over N200,000 on each of the lines," Fijabi said. "Ordinarily, MTN's total fine should be doubled to about NGN3 trillion and not even the NGN1.4 trillion they were asked to pay."
Prof Umar Danbatta, executive vice chairman of the NCC, said the Commission entered the agreement with MTN based on professionalism and global best practices.
"(The) NCC has always carried industry and stakeholders along in taking transparent regulatory actions, adding that at no point will the regulator do anything to jeopardise the business health of the entire sector," he said.
MTN's shares rebound
The news of the fine resolution was met with an 18% increase in the value of MTN's shares. The share rose to R146 making it the company's biggest leap since April 2000. This is in sharp contrast to the 22% lost share value since the fine was announced.
The company also lost over 5 million subscribers following the enforcement of active line deactivation.
"I offer our most sincere apologies for the series of unfortunate events that led to the imposition of the fine," said MTN Nigeria Chief Executive Officer, Ferdi Moolman. "It was of critical importance to reach a solution that would be of universal benefit to all stakeholders given the importance of the ICT industry in Nigeria and its tremendous impact on socio-economic growth. Along with the authorities, we believe that has been achieved."
Despite their objection, lawmakers have limited recourse - apart from seeking explanations and clarifications from the parties involved.