Minister denies role in secret MTN N50 billion deal, names Attorney General

The Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, on Monday confirmed the Federal Government received N50 billion from MTN Nigeria towards the settlement of the N780 billion fine imposed on the telecoms firm.

The confirmation came as the Minister of Communication, Adebayo Shittu, denied any role in either negotiating with MTN or directing or receiving the N50 billion from the company.

MTN said last week it had withdrawn its lawsuit challenging the fine, and that it had paid N50 billion to the government.

NCC denied knowledge of the negotiations or payment, while ministry of communications admitted the money had been paid.

The disclosure that the ministry received the payment without the knowledge of the NCC angered many Nigerians.

But the minister, Mr. Shittu, said he was told that negotiations took place between MTN and the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, but that he was never involved.

“I have not negotiated with anybody,” Mr. Shittu told PREMIUM TIMES exclusively on Monday. “Remember I was not yet a minister when the matter started. At no time was any file ever brought to me on the matter even after my resumption.

“The MTN went to court to buy time, but then realized that they were not likely to win in court, and now they are anxious to negotiate. They only told me unofficially that they were withdrawing the case; that they had gone to the Attorney General of the Federation who, they said, asked them to make some down payment for any negotiation to begin.”

The minister, who insisted that his ministry played no role in any negotiation with MTN, said all the information about what transpired were reported to him by top officials of MTN, whom he said he had no reason to disbelieve.

The NCC on Monday said the Federal Government received the money following a correspondence on the transaction from the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Malami.

“The Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, wishes to affirm Federal Government’s receipt of the sum of N50,000,000,000 (Fifty Billion Naira Only) towards settlement of the fine imposed on MTN Nigeria Communications Ltd by the Commission, and its withdrawal of Suit No FHC/1923/2015 – MTN Vs. NCC & HAGF,” the spokesperson for NCC, Tony Ojobo, said in a statement.

Mr. Ojobo, who said the official information to the Commission from the Attorney General came only on February 29, 2016, explained that the receipt of the amount, and withdrawal of the suit, were “without prejudice to the final decision of government on the terms of payment being proposed by the company”.

“The amount is an unconditional good faith payment, on the basis that this sum would be applied towards eventual settlement agreement for payment of the fine imposed by the Commission where the on-going negotiations between the Federal Government and the company reach a final resolution,” Mr. Ojobo explained.

Apparently confirming the non-involvement of the commission in the deal, the NCC spokesperson explained that the Federal Government’s team for the negotiations was led by the Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, while MTN team was led by former U.S Attorney General, and Head of Covington & Burling LLP, Washington DC, Eric Holder, Jr.

On the basis of the out-of-court settlement, Mr. Ojobo said the Federal Government’s team would deliberate on the merits and demerits of the terms of payment of the fine imposed on MTN by the Commission for its failure to deactivate 5.1 million invalid SIM cards on its network.

The Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mr. Malami, did not respond to calls to his mobile phone on Monday. He did not also respond to text message.