A man speaks on a mobile phone as he walks past a MTN shop at a shopping mall south of Johannesburg June 6, 2012. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

The Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, has said it is looking into a plea for leniency made by MTN Nigeria Communications Limited on the fine of N1.04tn imposed on the company for its failure to disconnect 5.2 million unregistered subscribers.

This was made known in a statement signed by the Director of Public Affairs, NCC, Mr. Tony Ojobo, and made available to our correspondents on Monday, the regulatory agency hinted that the consideration of the plea had affected the deadline for the payment of the fine, which expired on Monday.

Ojobo said MTN, along with other mobile operators, had been fined in August for a similar offence, adding that while the other operators decided to comply, MTN remained recalcitrant, Punch reports.

READ: MTN Group Executive chairman in Nigeria ahead of deadline to pay fine

He added that the fine was the last resort since other avenues employed by the regulatory agency had failed.

Ojobo said:

“The fine of N1.04tn on MTN Nigeria by the NCC was done in the interest of the public, which has been at the receiving end of security challenges. Consequent upon the overwhelming evidence of non-compliance and obvious disregard for the rule of engagement by MTN, the NCC had no choice but to impose the sanctions.

MTN, in a letter of November 2, 2015, admitted the infraction and pleaded for leniency. The commission has acknowledged this and is looking into the plea without any prejudice to the fine. The fine remains but the appeal and other engagements with MTN may affect the payment deadline.

The fine that was imposed on MTN was the second within two months after the operators were given a seven-day ultimatum to deactivate all unregistered and improperly registered SIM cards. While others complied, MTN did not.”

Telling the story of the fine for the first time, Ojobo said:

“On August 4, at a meeting of all the representatives of the mobile network operators with the NCC, major security challenges through preregistered, unregistered and improperly registered SIM cards topped the agenda, after which the operators were given the ultimatum to deactivate such within seven days.

On August 14, three days after the ultimatum expired, the NCC carried out a network audit; while other operators complied with the directive to deactivate improperly registered SIM cards, MTN showed no sign of compliance at all.

Four operators, MTN, Airtel, Globacom and Etisalat, were sanctioned in August for non-compliance with the directive to deactivate the improperly registered SIM cards. MTN got a fine of N102.2m; Globacom, N7.4m; Etisalat, N7m; and Airtel, N3.8m. Others complied, while MTN flouted the fine.

Based on the report of the compliance audit team, an enforcement team, which visited MTN from September 2 to 4, 2015 wherein MTN admitted that the team confirmed that 5.2 million improperly registered SIM cards were still left active on their network; hence, a contravention of the regulations was established.”

The commission also said:

“Consistent with the commission’s enforcement process, MTN was by a letter dated October 5 given notice to state why it should not be sanctioned in line with the regulations for failure to deactivate improperly registered SIM cards that were found to be active at the time of the enforcement team’s visit of September 15

On October 19, the commission received and reviewed MTN’s response and found no convincing evidence why it should not be sanctioned for the established violations.

Accordingly, by a letter dated October 20, 2015, the commission conveyed appropriate sanctions to MTN in accordance with Regulations 20(1) of the Telephone Subscribers’ Registration Regulation 2011, to pay the sum of N200,000 only for each of the 5.2 million improperly registered SIM cards.”

Ojobo added that the regulations on SIM card registration were developed with the full participation of all key industry stakeholders, including all the mobile network operators.

Meanwhile, the MTN Group has advised shareholders to continue to exercise caution when dealing in the company’s securities until a further announcement is made on the N1.04tn fine imposed on it by the NCC.

The company also claimed that the NCC had agreed that the fine N1.04tn would not be payable until negotiations between the two parties had been concluded.

The MTN Group said this in a statement it made available to one of our correspondents on Monday through the Public Relations and Protocol Manager of MTN Nigeria, Mr. Funso Aina.

The statement read in part, “Shareholders are referred to the announcements issued by the company on the Stock Exchange News Service Limited on October 26, 2015; October 30, 2015; November 2, 2015; November 3, 2015; and November 9, 2015, respectively.

“Shareholders were advised in previous SENS announcements that the company would update shareholders on all material developments on this matter.

These discussions include matters of non-compliance and the remedial measures that may have to be adopted to address this.

Although the Nigerian Communications Commission set a deadline for the payment of the fine by Monday, November 16, 2015, shareholders are advised that the Nigerian authorities have, without prejudice, agreed that the imposed fine will not be payable until the negotiations have been concluded.”

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