By Emeka Aginam
Despite the challenges arising from the N330b fine imposed on it by the telecommunication regulator, Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, last year, MTN Group while expressing implicit confidence in its Nigerian operations, has disclosed that the mobile operator has injected over $16 billion into the Nigerian operations.
This was the remarks of MTN Group Chairman/Chief Executive, Mr. Phuthuma Freedom Nhleko when he led a high level delegation to the NCC headquarters in Abuja.
Nhleko, who was received by the Executive Vice Chairman, EVC, of the Commission, 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”, he said.
Nhleko whose visit to the NCC management is a valedictory one as he steps down as Group Chairman in March, 2017 said that, “we have a very long way to go and so ask for spectrum which is the oxygen and life 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.
While canvassing for a more level playing field “despite being dominant player”, he said that MTN has made its mark in voice and data services and that more services like mobile financial services are underway.
Meanwhile, reacting to recent events that appear to be directed against non-nationals both in South Africa and Nigeria, MTN Group has expressed concern over the violence. MTN requests people to exercise restraint and remain calm, the mobile phone operator said in a statement.
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 ambits of the law.
According to the NCC EVC, “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”, adding that, “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 favorably 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 operators 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 on the areas of spectrum assignment.” , he said, even as 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 on us by the government and people of Nigeria; protecting their interests and ensuring a level playing field and respect for our laws”, he said.
The EVC said the Commission only resorted to sanctions as a regulatory action of last resort after allowing time for checking compliance.
The MTN delegation included Mr. Pascal Dozie Chairman, MTN (Nigeria), Col. Sani Bello (Vice Chairman), Board members: Chief Victor Odili, Chief Gbenga Oyebode, Mr. Ferdi Moolman (CEO) and others.