Ahead of the December 31, 2015 deadline, which the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, gave MTN Nigeria to pay a N780 billion fine for refusal to disconnect some 5.1 million improperly registered subscribers on its network, the regulator is also warning all the telecom operators to get their acts right because it is no longer going to be business as usual.
The commission said it has discovered that dealing with the operators with kid gloves will breed impunity, capable of retarding development in the sector.
Director, Public Affairs of the commission, Mr Tony Ojobo, said that the operators should take the MTN fine as a warning against flagrantly disrespecting laid down rules and laws governing their operations in the country.
He warned that the commission would not hesitate to come down hard on erring operators, not only to protect the operators themselves, but the subscribers and the operating environment as a whole.
“If you don’t create room for punishment,” said Ojobo, it can lead to impunity. So you have to apply the law to show that you are dispassionate, not biased, but following the rule of engagement.
According to him, “there is a signal now that it won’t be business as usual. We have received accolades worldwide and cannot now make a mess of ourselves back home. The way we manage this situation sends signals outside, on how we are operating our services here. If you don’t sanction, there are consequences.
“This sanction is good for us because it will instil discipline, move our market forward, sanitise our operating environment, and also show that the regulators are alive to their responsibilities in the sense that we don’t have any preferences when our regulations are abused. What we have applied is a carrot and stick approach. The stick was the sanction, the carrot was the waiver of 25percent” he added.
The controversy surrounding the unprecedented One trillion, four hundred million Naira fine the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, slammed on MTN Nigeria for allegedly not being able to disconnect about 5.1 million improperly registered subscribers on its network, appeared settled, last week, when the regulator reduced the fine by 25 percent.
However, the commission’s decision to reduce the fine and the figure at which it arrived at, have also elicited reactions from the Nigerian public. Although, notable Information technology practitioners have refrained from making comments on the whole issue, they however, expressed optimism that the telecommunications company would show good corporate practice by paying the fine as reduced.
Those who pleaded to be left out of the debate, argued that the sensitive nature of the fine makes industry players’ opinion very implicating.
One of them told our reporters: “We are praying that these whole issue comes to rest. There are a lot of implications in commenting on the issue. Both MTN and NCC are very important industry stakeholders who we all do businesses with. Besides, their contributions to the growth of the sector is not hidden. So we can only pray that things are resolved amicably”
Meanwhile, social commentators and avid industry watchers are not looking at those considerations. An army of Vanguard online community participants among other social media commentators who said they’ve been monitoring the issue from day one, do not want their voices lost in the whole saga.
While some cautioned the NCC to tread softly considering MTN’s level of investment in the country, others condemned the commission for even daring to reduce the fine. For them, some foreign organisations who have their businesses in Nigeria are wont to engaging in some practices they would never attempt in their home countries and so the earlier Nigeria showed that the country was not where anything goes, the better for her business economy.
However, in defence of the fine and its 25 percent reduction, the commission said it used the carrot and stick method so that the balance already achieved in the industry will not be distorted.
According to Ojobo, “before now people have said that the reason why we have had these infractions in this industry is because the penalties were just a slap on the wrist and there was need for us to review our guidelines. And we actually discovered over time, that for some people it was easy for them to pay the penalty and get away with the infraction, so in 2011, when the decision was reached on the guidelines for SIM card deactivation, all stakeholders agreed and thought it wise to embark on such an action in the light of the security challenges we are having in the country today, and so there was a need for a kind of penalty that will be a disincentive to anyone operating in this environment to willfully commit infractions”
He stated that “after the fine, however, MTN wrote the commission, acknowledging that there has been an infraction and are now pleading for leniency from the commission. In the past we have also had people plead for leniency on their sanctions. As at the time MTN pleaded, the NCC board has not been constituted and there was no Minister. So the authority of the president was required for such a decision to be taken in the absence of the minister, and so the commission had to notify the presidency.
“The stakeholders looked at it with all the pros and cons and reduced the fine by 25 percent. We are aware and conscious of the level of investment MTN have made in this market; they have the largest number of subscribers, it is also important to know that Nigeria remains their biggest market. We have taken all into considerations, and that was what even informed the discussion in the first place.”
By Prince Osuagwu