As NCC wields the big stick on MTN
The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC’s) axe once again fell on MTN Nigeria when the telecoms industry regulator Monday slammed a fine of N1.4trillion on it over unregistered subscribers on its network.
NCC said the South African telecoms operator would have to pay N200, 000 for each of the 5.2million subscribers it failed to disconnect from its network at the end of the August deadline set by the regulatory body.
From 2012 when the SIM registration started, anyone buying a SIM card in Nigeria has had to register it under their name by law.
But the telecoms regulator found out in August that the telecoms operators did not carry out the exercise properly on 38.78million subscribers, and they were directed to reregister the subscribers within one month or be sanctioned.
NCC’s Head of Compliance and Monitoring Unit, Efosa Idehen said NCC had identified the defects that made the subscribers' registration to be irregular to include poor finger prints, no facial information and other biometric challenges.
A source in NCC said MTN failed to carry out the commission's directive after repeated warnings, hence the fine.
The fine is the largest in the history of telecom infringements in Nigeria and may redefine the relationships between telecommunications operators and the regulator.
But MTN in a statement on Monday said it was in talks with the NCC over the fine and hoped to resolve the matter soon.
NCC had earlier in September fined MTN, Glo, Airtel and Etisalat N120m for failing to disconnect subscribers with incomplete registration but it is not clear whether they have paid the fine or not.
A senior NCC official had told Daily Trust that the commission was firm on implementing this latest sanction on MTN.
NCC’s spokesman, Tony Ojobo declined to comment yesterday but a senior official in the commission confided in Daily Trust that NCC is yet to enter into any talk with MTN.
The official who pleaded anonymity said the telecom firm was economical with the truth for saying “we are in talks.”
“They (MTN) are not telling the truth. We are not aware of any talk; maybe they are talking with different people not us. As I am talking to you now our resolve at the commission is to see through this fine issue”, the NCC official said.
But when contacted an executive member of the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) said “a big legal tussle may be in the offing since the regulator has said it is not aware of any talk. That is not another way of saying they are not ready for talks.”
MTN’s Public Relations and Protocol Manager Funso Aina insisted yesterday that the telecoms operator is in talks with NCC and the matter may be resolved soon.
“All I know is that we are in talks and I am not aware of anything apart from this. We are still discussing with them (NCC) to find an amicable resolution to the issue”, Mr Aina told our reporter by phone.
On whether the South African company is considering a legal suit, Mr Aina simply said “well, I am not aware of that.”
NCC said it had warned MTN and other operators of the impending punishment. It said: “On November 2013, operators were directed to fully bar any newly registered SIM card, which failed to perform a voice or data communication within 48 hours after its registration.
“On September 2014, the NCC, to whom operators upload registrations every month, shared details back to the operators of registration records that the NCC judged as invalid on the NCC system. Operators were directed to clean up their registration records through deactivation or reconcile the records within a 30-day period.
“And on July 8, 2015, the NCC directed operators to deactivate all pre-registered SIM cards (SIMs registered but without a record of activity) within a period of 21 days - from July 8, 2015 to July 29, 2015.
“On August 4, 2015 operators, representatives of the NSA, Director State Security (DSS) and the NCC held a meeting to discuss issues around SIM registration in Nigeria. The issue of invalid registrations was highlighted as a major threat to national security and a directive was issued to all telecommunications operators to deactivate all SIM cards with improper/invalid registration details by August 11, 2015.
“August 17, 2015: The NCC and security agencies conducted a compliance audit on all operators between August 17, 2015 and August 19, 2015 following the expiry of the deadline of August 11, 2015, for deactivation of improperly registered SIM cards. The NCC disclosed, at a press conference on the same day that despite sharing a list of invalid registration details with operators, MTN had made little or no effort towards compliance with the deactivation directive whilst other operators had largely complied.
“September 4, 2015: A high level meeting chaired by the Chief of Staff to the President of Nigeria was called at the presidential villa. This meeting is unprecedented in the Nigerian business industry as the telecom CEOs were brought to meet the heads of the main security agencies and the Executive Vice-Chairman of the NCC, in order for the compliance with the deactivation directive to be emphasised.
“MTN’s noncompliance with the directive is unfortunately not an isolated incident. It needs to be seen in the context of a general pattern of non-compliance with regulatory directives that actually predates the current SIM registration infractions.
Speaking on the fine, Chief Deolu Ogunbanjo, the President, National Association of Telecoms Subscribers said NCC’s fine against MTN is double jeopardy.
This he said is because MTN alone could not be blamed for the woes in the SIM registration exercise.
According to him, the agent hired by the NCC to carry out the exercise also failed to do due diligence to SIM registration activities.
He noted that the personal employed by those agents lacked the technical skills to carry out the exercise apart from the factor of meeting with the daily targets of 50-70 daily registration.
Ogunbanjo said NCC hasn’t come to term with its failure in the SIM registration scheme, adding that the commission employed an agent for each geo political zones and one for Lagos considering the state population making a total of seven agents and it should admit failure.
Meanwhile shares in South Africa’s MTN stabled yesterday after buyers were reassured of the amicable settlement of the dispute between MTN Nigeria and the Nigerian telecoms regulator.
NCC Executive Vice Chairman, Prof Umar Danbatta