Nigeria open to deal with mobile group MTN over $3.9bn fine

Bystanders walk past an MTN outlet

Nigeria is open to an amicable out-of-court settlement with South Africa’s MTN over a $3.9 billion fine imposed on the cell phone operator, a top regulatory official said on Wednesday.

This represents a thaw in a three-month standoff between Africa’s largest mobile operator and the continent’s biggest economy.

The dispute began when the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) fined MTN $5.2 billion in October for failing to disconnect users with unregistered SIM cards by a set date.

After weeks of talks with MTN, which makes about 37 percent of its revenue from Nigeria, it cut the fine by 25 percent.

Nigeria has been trying to halt the widespread use of unregistered SIM cards, fearing they are being used for criminal activity, including by the militant Islamist group Boko Haram.

MTN had filed a law suit, but the NCC was told by its lawyers late on Tuesday that the firm wanted an out-of-court deal, NCC’s executive vice chairman Umar Garba Danbatta said.

“They (MTN) are trying to get this settled amicably. We have been since then informed by our own counsel that the honourable judge has granted the request for a settlement on the matter,” Danbatta said.

“The intention is not to kill MTN. We would like the industry to continue. We would like it to be vibrant and I think this is a matter that needs to be resolved amicably and we are working towards that,” he told Reuters.

MTN spokesman Chris Maroleng declined to comment.

Nigeria’s telecoms minister Adebayo Shittu said on Tuesday that the final word rested with President Muhammadu Buhari.

A judge in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, last week gave MTN until March 18 to try to reach a settlement over the fine, which equates to more than twice MTN’s annual average capital spending over the past five years.

Shares in MTN, one of the biggest investors in the west African country, were up 1.7 percent to 124.76 rand.

DCSL 90X780