Senate laments roles of CBN, AGF in settlement with MTN
Insists on Malami’s appearance
The Senate Committee on Communication has condemned the manner in which the out-of-court settlement arrangement between the Federal Government and the Mobile Telecommunication Network (MTN) was conducted regarding the N1.04 trillion fine.
Essentially, the lawmakers lamented the roles played by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister for Justice, Abubakar Malami, the Accountant General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris in the settlement. They also faulted the alleged shutting out of the Ministry of Communication and the Nigeria Communication Commission (NCC) from the deal.
At an open investigative hearing on the matter convened by the committee at the National Assembly yesterday, the lawmakers expressed shock that an account in the name of “recovery account” was opened for the N50 billion fine paid by the MTN as part of the negotiation.
The committee also expressed shock that a proposal initiated by the MTN for the reduction of the fine to N300 billion had been accepted by Malamis without recourse to the Ministry of Justice and the NCC. It also emerged at the hearing that an initial 25 per cent reduction of the N1.04 trillion fine to N780 billion was on the orders of the President.
A document displayed by the committee regarding the proposal from MTN showed that the telecommunications service provider would pay N300 billion made up of N150 billion to be paid on instalmental basis. According to the document, the N50 billion already paid is part of this amount.
The document stated: “The parties have agreed that the 50 billion paid in good faith and without prejudice by MTN Nigeria on the 24th of February, 2016, in order to commence settlement negotiations, will form part of the monetary components of this settlement.
“In five equal and annual instalments between the date of execution of this agreement and 31 December, 2020,
MTN Nigeria shall pay a total of N100 billion by electronic funds transfer to the Federal Government recovery account of the Central Bank of Nigeria. This payment will commence by 31 December, 2016 and will be made by 31 December of each subsequent year.”
The proposal further stated that the MTN would buy N80 billion of Nigeria’s foreign bond. The document which the committee said it got from the office of the Attorney General of the Federation was admitted by MTN at the public hearing.
The document states in part: “As a demonstration of its commitment to and confidence in the Nigerian economy, and subject to necessary regulatory approvals, MTN Nigeria commits to purchase of N80 billion of Nigerian Sovereign debt issued on international market in 2016 to 2017.”
The proposal also showed that MTN would provide Nigeria with access to the company’s fibre network for the purpose of allowing the Federal Government to expand its e-initiatives to the tune of N70 billion.
Defending himself on allegation of opening the recovery account, the Accountant General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris, said he acted on the demand of the Attorney General, adding that he was never aware of what money was going to be put in that account.
Representative of the Attorney-General of the Federation, Dayo Akpata, tried to convince the committee about the wisdom in opening the account but was rebuffed. He said that everything the Attorney General had done was to strengthen the constitution. The committee simply insisted that the Attorney General must appear in person before it within two weeks to explain the action.
Chairman of the committee, Senator Gilbert Nnaji, had earlier explained the mission of the panel regarding the investigation.
He said: “As a committee, we find it worrisome, on one hand, that the issue of compliance on the part of MTN could linger till now and on the other hand, that N50 billion was claimed to have been paid by MTN out of reduced fine of N780 sbillion.
“Empowered by Sections 88 and 89 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria with the power of oversight over our nation’s telecoms landscape, it becomes imperative for the committee to wade into the matter with special attention to the controversy surrounding the payment of N50 billion by MTN which accounts for a paltry 6.4% of the total reduced fine of N780 billion.
“In fulfilling our mandate of oversight, we are shocked to gather from the regulator, that is, NCC that the commission neither received the payment of the said N50 billion nor was notified of such payment. There were claims and counter-claims on the pages of newspapers that the Minister of Communications Technology has acknowledged the payment; while other sources claimed that MTN paid the money into Central Bank of Nigeria’s Recovery Account. This is the crux of today’s meeting; to establish the veracity of this payment and to which account was it paid, if paid. This is one transaction that has generated public suspicion compelling the committee to invite all relevant stakeholders to this meeting for adequate clarifications to be made on the issue.
“Issues emanating from the foregoing are: Into which account did MTN paid the N50 billion and which government agency acknowledged the payment? If MTN actually paid, why did it disregard payment into NCC’s coffers as statutorily obliged? If MTN paid into CBN’s Recovery Account, on whose directive did the network do so and what legal right does CBN have to lodge the money in a Recovery Account? These and many more are posers that this meeting seeks to unravel for Nigerians to know the true picture of the situation.
“I emphasise that our mission here today is to steady the boat of our nation’s telecoms industry and mainly to ensure that nothing is done by whosoever, either corporate or individual, to expose this government to unnecessary ridicule.”
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