MTN as a corporate outlaw, by Jerry Uwah

MTN Nigeria Communications Limited, the South African outfit that controls close to 50 per cent of Nigeria’s telecommunication industry is something of a corporate outlaw.
The company has no iota of respect for Nigeria and its laws.
Sometime in 2017 when it became obvious that kidnappers, armed robbers and even terrorists were using unregistered telephone lines to coordinate heinous crimes, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) set a deadline for all telecoms operators to capture their subscribers’ bio-data.
NCC made it sufficiently clear that after the deadline all unregistered subscribers should be barred from making or receiving calls.
To ensure compliance, a huge penalty was imposed.
MTN ignored NCC’s warning and allowed the use of 1.5 million unregistered lines several months after the regulator’s deadline.
Attempts by NCC officials to enter MTN facilities to verify compliance with the directive were arrogantly rebuffed.
The company operated with the conviction that no one in the federal government would shut down MTN since that would simply yank off 60 million phone lines.
But NCC called MTN’s bluff and imposed a fine of $5.1 billion on the lawless firm.
MTN’s share price in South African stock market plunged precipitously as a result of NCC’s penalty.
Then South African president, Jacob Zuma, a man with MTN’s level of integrity, flew down to Nigeria and negotiated the fine to $1.3 billion.
People thought that MTN’s decision to empower criminals with 1.5 million unregistered phone lines was the biggest crime committed by the telecoms giant.
Last week, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) opened a can of worms that makes the crime of operating 1.5 million unregistered phone lines pale into insignificance.
CBN ordered the telecoms giant to refund $8.1 billion that was illegally transferred to South Africa.
Between 2001 and 2006, the shareholders of MTN invested $402.590 million in their company in Nigeria.
Out of that sum, $343.153 million was declared as equity capital while $59.436 million was shareholders’ loan to the Nigerian subsidiary of the South African company.
The money was imported into Nigeria through Stanbic IBTC, Standard Chartered and Citibank.
Diamond Bank was the only Nigerian bank involved in the transaction.
Diamond’s share in the deal was infinitesimal.
Under normal circumstances, return on investment on equity capital is the dividend declared by the company at the end of every financial year, while loans only attract fixed interest.
However, MTN worked out a dubious way of paying both interest and dividend on what was brought into Nigeria as equity capital by the company’s foreign shareholders.
For a paltry sum of $402.590 million invested in Nigeria over a period of six years, MTN dubiously repatriated a colossal sum of $8.1 billion to South Africa.
That probably explains why MTN operates in Nigeria more like a portfolio investor.
It has practically no capital except the corporate headquarters building it grudgingly bought from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) at Falomo, Lagos.
MTN’s base stations are owned by IHS Towers.
The company practically repatriates all its huge earnings to South Africa without investing in Nigeria.
It has refused to list its shares in the Nigerian Stock Exchange to enable Nigerians benefit from the N55.2 billion it makes monthly from fleecing 60, 553,569 subscribers.
Ironically, MTN has invincible Nigerian defenders who see nothing wrong with the economic crimes of the telecoms giant.
The Association of Licensed Telecommunication Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) believes that CBN is sending wrong signals to foreign investors by asking MTN to refund the money it repatriated through corporate lies.
ALTON wants NCC as the regulator of the industry to be empowered to allocate forex to telecommunication companies so that CBN would not regulate companies under NCC’s purview.
The telecoms operators’ umbrella body sees CBN’s role in regulating the forex used by MTN as irrelevant duplication of regulatory functions.
When it comes to lawlessness, there is no limit in Nigeria.
The stakeholders in the telecoms industry are blindly and selfishly defending MTN’s corporate criminality.
Everywhere on earth, the disbursement of forex is done by banks regulated by the country’s central bank.
Only outlaws like MTN would want Nigeria to do the reverse.
South Africa has been too hostile to Nigeria.
Nigeria in turn is docile.
Even Julius Malema, the irascible antiapartheid activist, agrees that South Africa does not treat Nigeria well.
Nigeria spent billions of naira in the 1970s fighting oppressive white minority rule in South Africa.
Now the blacks that Nigeria defended are murdering scores of Nigerians with impunity.
Besides, South African firms are robbing Nigeria in its own territory.
Nigeria has practically no investment in South Africa.
Ironically, South Africa dominates Nigeria’s pay TV industry with DSTV that renders poor quality service at prohibitive rates.
MTN makes more money in Nigeria than the whole of Africa put together.
South Africa dominates Nigeria’s hospitality industry with the Protea Group.
It controls foreign transactions in the banking industry with Stanbic IBTC and Standard Chartered.
MTN must refund the $8.1 billion it illegally repatriated from Nigeria.
Besides, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) must prosecute the directors of MTN and the banks that collaborated with it in the heinous economic crime. MTN must be compelled to obey Nigerian laws.

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