Daily Trust - - OPINION -

Idon’t know about the ex­pe­ri­ence of other Nige­ri­ans, but in the past sev­eral weeks, the qual­ity of ser­vices ren­dered on the MTN net­work have been hor­ren­dous, to say the least. I have ex­pe­ri­enced dropped calls on too many oc­ca­sions to be counted, and, in most other in­stances; even when you suc­ceed in plac­ing the call the per­son at the other end can­not hear a word from your at­tempted con­ver­sa­tion.

It may well be true that all the other net­works are also guilty of the same charge of poor ser­vice de­liv­ery; but for me, MTN has been my pri­mary medium of com­mu­ni­ca­tion since the in­tro­duc­tion of GSM ser­vices into the coun­try. In the early days pre­ced­ing the ex­plo­sion and vir­tual rev­o­lu­tion in the telecom sec­tor, it seemed like the cor­rect thing to do.

Not only did MTN hit the ground run­ning in the rapid ex­pan­sion of its telecom masts to the re­mote and more di­verse parts of the coun­try; it also quickly es­tab­lished a de­ci­sive lead in the vol­ume of its sub­scriber base. Also, un­like Air­tel, which suf­fered from nu­mer­ous board­room tus­sles and change of own­er­ship and brand-name, the MTN has en­joyed rel­a­tive sta­bil­ity.

Free from board­room cri­sis in its Nige­ria op­er­a­tions, the MTN group swiftly dis­placed Vo­da­com as the lead­ing telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pany in the whole of Africa with 227.5 mil­lion sub­scribers in 20 coun­tries strad­dled across Africa and the Mid­dle East. Nige­ria, with its near 60 mil­lion MTN sub­scribers, is the com­pany’s big­gest mar­ket and de-facto hon­ey­pot. In suc­ces­sive years of op­er­a­tions in Nige­ria, MTN Nige­ria ex­pe­ri­enced a rapid growth of profit earn­ings that was vastly su­pe­rior to that of its par­ent com­pany in South Africa.

In saner climes with re­spon­si­ble reg­u­la­tors in place, the story of MTN should be good news to the lo­cal econ­omy. The min­i­mum ex­pec­ta­tion for a com­pany op­er­at­ing even in a neo­colo­nial econ­omy such as ours, would be for the MTN Nige­ria to ful­fil its role as a re­spon­si­ble cor­po­rate cit­i­zen; not only in the prompt pay­ment of lo­cal taxes fully when they are due; but also in ex­hibit­ing its fair share of cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity that is com­men­su­rate with the financial con­tri­bu­tions of its Nige­rian arm to the growth and prof­itabil­ity of the group. But that has not been so.

Not only have Nige­ri­ans had to put up with the in­ter­mit­tent cases of poor ser­vice de­liv­ery from the com­pany, a mind-blow­ing re­port car­ried by the on­line me­dia plat­form Premium Times yes­ter­day re­vealed that MTN Nige­ria had de­lib­er­ately en­gaged in un­der­hand deal­ings to avoid the pay­ment of its fair share of lo­cal taxes to the detri­ment of the na­tion’s econ­omy badly in need of im­prov­ing its In­ter­nally Gen­er­ated Rev­enue (IGR) due to the vir­tual col­lapse of the in­ter­na­tional price of crude oil.

In the 11-month in­ves­ti­ga­tion it car­ried out, Premium Times dis­cov­ered that MTN Nige­ria, like nu­mer­ous other multi­na­tional com­pa­nies op­er­at­ing in Africa, used “a com­plex but nox­ious tax avoid­ance scheme” it re­ferred to as “Trans­fer Pric­ing” to re­mit bil­lions to tax heav­ens lo­cated in Mau­ri­tius and Dubai for the pur­pose. Ac­cord­ing to the Premium Times, “In a rare dis­clo­sure in 2013, MTN ad­mit­ted it made unau­tho­rized pay­ments of N37.6 Bil­lion to MTN Dubai be­tween 2010 and 2013. The trans­fers were then “on-paid” to Mau­ri­tius, a shell com­pany with zero num­ber of staff and which phys­i­cal pres­ence in the cap­i­tal Port Louis is noth­ing more than a post of­fice let­ter box. The dis­clo­sure amounted to a con­fes­sion given that MTN made the dodgy trans­fers with­out seek­ing ap­proval from the Na­tional Of­fice for Tech­nol­ogy Ac­qui­si­tion and Pro­mo­tion (NOTAP), the body man­dated to over­sight such trans­fers.”

The re­port also con­cluded that an es­ti­mated 90.2 bil­lion Naira could have been fraud­u­lently chan­nelled out of Nige­ria us­ing the same il­le­gal meth­ods since 2002 when the com­pany made its en­trance into the vastly lu­cra­tive Nige­rian mar­ket. The rev­e­la­tion in­stantly ques­tioned the role of the Nige­ria Communications Com­mis­sion (NCC), as well as the com­pe­tence and ef­fi­cacy of the over­sight roles of the rel­e­vant Com­mit­tees of the Na­tional As­sem­bly (NASS).

Also, if truth must be told, it is very doubt­ful if MTN, like nu­mer­ous other multi­na­tion­als op­er­at­ing in the coun­try with scant re­gards for our lo­cal laws, would have contemplated the fraud with­out the ac­tive con­nivance or crim­i­nal neg­li­gence of the lo­cal di­rec­tors and share­hold­ers of the com­pany whose pa­tri­o­tism Nige­ri­ans will be fully jus­ti­fied to in­ter­ro­gate if this re­port turns out to be fac­tual.

We know, only too well from the widely re­ported scan­dal in­volv­ing Siemens and Hal­libur­ton op­er­a­tions in Nige­ria, that such multi­na­tion­als hardly per­pe­trate their crimes against the Nige­rian state with­out lo­cal col­lab­o­ra­tors in of­fi­cial­dom. It is equally fac­tual that while nu­mer­ous for­eign col­lab­o­ra­tors of such com­pa­nies were se­ri­ally jailed, not a sin­gle Nige­rian has been brought be­fore a judge as of to­day to an­swer for their crimes.

Even more an­noy­ing still, the judge­ments against Hal­libur­ton and Siemens, ob­tained in Amer­i­can and Ger­man courts, re­sulted in the pay­ment of bil­lions of dol­lars in fines to their home economies with­out a sin­gle cent ac­cru­ing to the Nige­rian econ­omy. In 2009, Hal­libur­ton paid $579 mil­lion - largest cor­rup­tion set­tle­ment ever paid by Amer­i­can com­pany un­der the U.S. For­eign Cor­rupt Prac­tices Act (FCPA) for the pay­ment of $180 mil­lion to Nige­rian col­lab­o­ra­tors to win a con­tract for the con­struc­tion of the Liq­ue­fied Nat­u­ral Gas Plant in Bonny Is­land in the Niger Delta.

Sim­i­larly, in the case in­volv­ing Siemens for which Nige­rian col­lab­o­ra­tors re­ceived ten mil­lion Eu­ros in bribes; the com­pany was fined 30 mil­lion Eu­ros while the top Ger­man of­fi­cials in­dicted re­ceived hefty fines and sus­pended sen­tences only be­cause they not only they not only owned up to their crimes; but also de­fended them­selves by claim­ing that their crimes were not for per­sonal gain and could be con­sid­ered to be stan­dard busi­ness prac­tice in the coun­tries where they did busi­ness!

At this point, the log­i­cal ques­tion to ask is: what kind of na­tion is ours, and what sort of peo­ple are we? As I write this, most of the lo­cal col­lab­o­ra­tors in­volved in such crimes are still laugh­ing in our faces. Chances are that some could even be in the NASS charged with the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the crit­i­cal over­sight of the very sec­tors in which they have pe­cu­liar in­ter­ests.

It is, there­fore, no sur­prise at all that most multi­na­tion­als op­er­at­ing in Nige­ria have scant re­gard for the feel­ings of their cus­tomers. And what about the role of the Nige­ria Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion agency? Are the pub­lic of­fi­cers charged with that crit­i­cal role above board and im­mune to the un­savoury pa­tron­age of the multi­na­tion­als?

Only yes­ter­day, I re­ceived a text mes­sage from nu­mer­ous sources that DSTV Nige­ria was plan­ning to com­mence air­ing a pro­gram they be­lieved was cer­tain to en­cour­age trans­gen­der re­la­tion­ships among Nige­rian chil­dren. Now; with the ease with which pub­lic of­fi­cers are com­pro­mised in Nige­ria; who will pro­tect us from such un­war­ranted cul­tural in­va­sion and as­sault on our col­lec­tive sen­si­bil­i­ties?

Can the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion re­store hope and dig­nity to Nige­ri­ans in the same re­spect? How can Nige­ri­ans even trust that the Nige­ria Broadcasting Com­mis­sion will do the right thing all that we al­ready know?

It is easy to com­plain about the poor qual­ity of MTN ser­vices, but the tragic re­al­ity is that for as long as un­pa­tri­otic lo­cal col­lab­o­ra­tors ex­ist in our midst whose pri­mary con­cern is the prim­i­tive ac­cu­mu­la­tion of wealth; we will for­ever re­main at the mercy of the multi­na­tion­als. Un­less they are weeded out and se­verely pun­ished to serve as ex­am­ples to oth­ers; the multi­na­tion­als will have no com­pul­sion to im­prove their ser­vices and the na­tion will con­tinue to bleed be­cause a few greedy peo­ple have sold us cheap.

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