Nigeria To Await Mtn’s Court Case Before Deciding On $3.9bn Fine

Click for Full Image Size

Nigerian authorities will wait for the outcome of a court challenge filed by South African telecoms firm MTN before deciding on whether to enforce a $3.9 billion fine, a spokesman for the telecommunications ministry said.

The ministry spokesman contradicted a source in the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), who earlier said “appropriate action” would be taken against MTN if it failed to pay the fine by a Dec. 31 deadline for failing to disconnect users with unregistered SIM cards.

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

The NCC slapped a $5.2 billion fine on MTN in October but after weeks of negotiations reduced it by 25 percent this month, setting a deadline for Dec. 31.

However, the operator was still not prepared to pay the reduced fine and said last week it would challenge the penalty in a Lagos court.

“The federal government, NCC (regulator) or any government agent will not do anything at the expiration of the Dec 31 deadline,” said Victor Oluwadamilare, the ministry’s media assistant.

“Now that they (MTN) have gone to court we will await the outcome of the case,” he added. “This is a government that believes in the rule of law.”

The ministry appears to have taken a softer stance than the regulator on the dispute. The minister Adebayo Shittu told Reuters last month the West African nation did not want MTN to “to die” from the fine.