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.