Telecoms lawyer, Barrister Jitty Ogunye has called for caution over the N1.04 trillion fine slammed on MTN by the telecoms industry regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).
Ogunye said the huge sanction imposed on the MTN could ground its operations within few months and split the telecoms sector if not checked.
The NCC on Monday, slammed N1.04 trillion on MTN alone for non-compliance with its directive on SIM card deactivation.
The fine came at a time the telecoms firm is still grappling to pay the N102.2 million fine imposed on it by the NCC in August this year for contravening its directive on SIM card deactivation. The fine has risen to about N5.3 million following the accumulation of the additional fine of N100,000 per day for 53 days.
NCC had explained that the N1.04 trillion fine was in line with Section 19 of the SIM Registration Regulations, which stipulated a fine of N200,000 per unregistered SIM. The penalty was based on the 5.2 million MTN SIM card registration records found to be non-compliant by the NCC.
Ogunye queried if NCC was aware of the amount that each SIM, which sells for N100 generates for MTN, for it to have pegged the fine for the offense at N200,000 per defaulting SIM card.
“How does the NCC expect MTN to pay the fine and remain in business that is already creating jobs for Nigerians, without transferring the cost to its over 62 million subscribers, who are likely to bear the brunt, Ogunye rhetorically asked.
Describing the fine as a rip off on both the operator and the subscribers, Ogunye called on other telecoms operators to collectively resist the fine by seeking legal redress in the court of law.
“If this is allowed, all operators will find themselves at the mercy of NCC in carrying out their legitimate business in the country, and this has to stop,” Ogunye warned.
Ogunye argued that the NCC should have put in place other measures to ensure compliance, instead of waiting for an operator to commit an offence.
“How many notices and warnings as well as stakeholders meetings did the NCC carryout before settling for fines, Ogunye asked, insisting that NCC must tell Nigerians about all the measures it applied and exhausted, before resorting to the fine.
“He added: “N1.04 trillion fine on a single operator that is operating in a harsh telecoms environment, is capable of stifling the telecoms business, and must be vehemently resisted.”
Pointing out the likely dire consequences of the huge sanction on the telecoms industry, the Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Mr. Gbenga Adebayo, warned the NCC against the use of fine in addressing telecoms issues. He said such decision was capable of destroying the industry it laboured to build over the years.
He also noted the recent fine on MTN could ground the entire telecoms industry, if allowed to stand.
Challenging the rationale behind the whopping fine on MTN, Adebayo, said he was wondering whether the fine could be regarded as a preventive measure, corrective measure, punitive measure, or execution measure and concluded that he could not understand what the NCC wants to achieve with the use of fine, in a harsh telecoms environment.
The fine is capable of sending wrong signals to local and foreign investors, who are thinking of investing in the telecoms business in Nigeria, Adebayo said, and advised the NCC to go back to the basis to consider other viable measures of addressing the challenges in the sector.
Justifying its action, the NCC said it carried out independent investigation across networks last month and discovered that MTN only made a partial attempt to bar unregistered subscribers in selected areas over a few days in September 2015, when other operators had fully complied and reconciled their deactivations with the invalid registrations shared by the NCC up to four weeks earlier.