Despite the grim challenges arising from the N330 billion fine imposed on it by telecommunication regulator, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) last year and attack on its facilities by some Nigerians in retaliation of xenoghobic attacks on Nigerians in South Africa, the MTN Group has implicit confidence in its Nigerian operations.
This was the declaration of its Group Chairman/Chief Executive, Mr. Phuthuma Freedom Nhleko when he led a high level delegation to the NCC Headquarters in Abuja recently.
Nhleko, who was received by the Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) of the NCC, Prof Umar Danbatta and top management of the Commission said the Group has faith in Nigeria and will be willing to invest more in the sector in the years to come. “We had challenges in the past, during the period of the fine, and we are grateful for the role the Commission played towards an amicable resolution”.
Nhleko whose visit to the NCC management is a valedictory one as he steps down as Group Chairman in March, 2017 said MTN Group has injected over $16billion into the Nigerian operations and “we have a very long way to go and so ask for spectrum which is the oxygen and live blood to navigate this long and tedious investment journey, without spectrum, the sector will suffocate”.
Nhleko specifically solicited for more spectrum allocation and a release of the one that belonged to Visafone, whose equity shares MTN acquired in 2015.
He also canvassed for a more level playing field “despite being dominant player”.
He said MTN has made its mark in voice and data services and that more services like mobile financial services are underway.
In his response, Prof. Danbatta welcomed the delegation and assured them that the Commission will always play by the rules and support every operator within the ambit of the law.
“I like to state that our word is our covenant. When we take decisions, we are concerned about the stability of the industry and there is no way we can guarantee it without considering the dominant status of MTN and its obligations and if the dominant status is becoming stringent, we are open to engagement, we will be guided by what is happening in the market, to ensure the growth and development of the sector”.
He said “the sector has contributed very well to the National Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and has shown remarkable resilience in this recession”
Danbatta said the NCC made a case for relaxing fiscal policies towards the sector to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) “and the CBN Governor is favourably disposed to our request and further engagement especially towards major players who desire to import equipment to aid deployment of broadband infrastructure services and others”.
The Commission, he explained, will always carry out interventions to cushion the operator’s request to provide necessary services.
On spectrum assignment, Danbatta, said MTN got six slots in the 2.6 GHz auction and full utilization of that spectrum is envisaged.
“We are open to further discussion in the areas of spectrum assignment.” He advised MTN to put across request for spectrum of interest and “we will check its availability”.
The Commission “is here to protect the interests of the operators as well as consumers, consistent with our mandate, the trust reposed in us by the government and people of Nigeria; protecting their interests and ensuring a level playing field and respect for our laws”.
The EVC said the Commission only resorts to sanctions as a regulatory action of last resort after allowing time for checking compliance.
The EVC received the delegation in company of Executive Commissioner (Technical Services), Mr. Ubale Maska, his counterpart for Stakeholders Management, Mr. Sunday Dare, Directors: Mr. Tony Ojobo (Public Affairs), Ms. Funlola Akiode (Licensing & Authorisation), Ms Josephine Amuwa (Policy, Competition & Economic Analysis), Mr. Austin Nwaulune (Spectrum Administration), Mrs. Yetunde Akinloye (Legal & Regulatory Services), Mr. Ayuba Shuaibu (Universal Service Provision Fund – USPF) and Mr. Usman Malah (Chief of Staff to EVC)
The MTN delegation included Mr. Pascal Dozie Chairman, MTN (Nigeria), Col. Sani Bello (Vice Chairman), Board members: Chief Victor Odili..