The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has issued a landmark fine of N1.04 trillion ($5.2bn) against MTN Nigeria, the largest mobile network operator in the country for failing to disconnect subscribers with unregistered and incomplete subscriber identification modules (SIM) cards within the stipulated time.
The fine which is the largest in the history of telecom infringements may redefine the relationships between telecommunications operators and the regulator. Technology Times which broke the story last night said NCC fined MTN Nigeria “for allegedly undermining efforts by the Nigerian government to tackle security challenges and the war on terror and allied crimes, as the telecoms operator has allegedly refused to deactivate unregistered mobile phone lines on its network”.
A top official of MTN Nigeria who is not authorised to speak on the matter however confirmed to LEADERSHIP that NCC truly issued the fine against MTN Nigeria. The official said “This fine is unprecedented in the history of Nigeria. The amount is even bigger than the entire budget of the Federal Government of Nigeria. It is enough to make the operator close its operations in the country.”
Another top telecom official in the industry also questioned the motive behind this gargantuan fine said the highest fine ever fined an operator in the country is N200 million. Last Thursday, MTN Group had announced that its Nigerian operation lost 5.1 million subscriber lines in the month of August to the deactivation of incomplete SIM registrations ordered by NCC. This has led to MTN cutting its full-year forecast for subscriber numbers.
Nik Kershaw, MTN Group spokesman confirmed that MTN Nigeria is also facing “ongoing regulatory restrictions” related to its market-leading position in Africa’s most populous country. About 3.4 million of the customers have been reconnected, the company said.
While the loss of Nigerian customers is a short-term setback, “it does point to a tough regulatory environment,” Steve Minnaar, a money-manager at Cape Town-based Abax Investment, said by phone according to agency reports. “They have been struggling with the regulator for many years in the Nigerian environment.”
Efforts to reach Mr. Tony Ojobo, director of Public Affairs NCC failed as calls to his phone line were not picked. LEADERSHIP learnt that MTN Nigeria will issue an official statement on the matter today (Monday).
In August, MTN, Airtel, Glo and Etisalat, the four leading mobile operators in the country took their subscribers by surprise deactivating all lines with unregistered or improperly registered mobile subscriber data on their networks. This has resulted in a deluge of crowds at the various services centres of the operators round the country.
Mr. Idehen Efosa, head of enforcement and monitory department of Nigerian Communications Commssions (NCC), the nation’s telecom regulator informed LEADERSHIP that out of the 37.79 million lines, Etisalat had 19.46 million improperly registered lines followed by MTN with 18.6 million lines. Airtel has 7.4 million lines while Glo has 2.33 million lines only.
The order to deactivate the lines followed a meeting between Office of the National Security Adviser (NSA), Department of State Service (DSS), the network operators and the NCC to examine the security threats posed by unregistered SIMs. Thereafter, the NCC handed down a seven day ultimatum starting from August 4, 2015 to GSM operators to deactivate unregistered subscriber identification modules (SIMs) with invalidity status.