MTN Group, Africa's largest mobile operator, is reportedly in negotiations with Nigerian authorities after the Nigerian Communications Commission handed down a massive $5.2 billion fine to the telecom giant over its failure to unregister SIM cards.
It is understood that MTN chief executive officer Sifiso Dabengwa, who used to head MTN's operations in Nigeria, has flown to Abuja to negotiate a lower penalty for the telecom with the Nigerian presidency, the internal security agency and the NCC.
Fine double 2014 profits
The scale of the fine, which MTN has been given until 16 November to pay, is devastating. Equivalent to approximately£2.7bn, it has been calculated based on a fine of 200,000 naira for each of MTN's 5.1 million unregistered subscribers in Nigeria, its largest market. As highlighted by the BBC, the total fine of $5.2 billion is equivalent to 22 per cent of Nigeria's annual budget and is approximately double MTN's annual profits last year ($2.65bn).
Limiting terrorist communication
The fine has been issued to MTN for failing to cut off unregistered SIM cards, a step that Nigerian authorities believe is crucial to limiting communication among the country's various criminal and terrorist groups. The issue of unregistered SIM cards drew renewed attention from authorities following the kidnapping of former Nigerian finance minister Chief Olu Falae in September this year, when it came to light that the armed men holding Mr Falae were using an unregistered SIM from MTN to communicate their ransom demands.
PIC decides next steps
Shares in MTN Group initially halted trading in Johannesburg after the announcement of the fine last week caused stock to fall by 8 per cent, but trading has re-opened since the news that negotiations between MTN and the Nigerian authorities are underway. MTN stock has plummeted around 25 per cent since the announcement of the penalty, to near three-year lows, and closed 6.1 per cent down at 148.17 rand on the JSE on Monday. South Africa's Public Investment Corp (PIC), the biggest money manager on the African continent and a 16.5 per cent stakeholder in MTN, is reportedly in talks with MTN management after expressing concern that the telecom company didn't take necessary steps to prevent the fine. PIC chief executive officer Daniel Matjila commented on Monday that PIC would 'take all facts into consideration before deciding on its next steps.' Sources:BBC; Bloomberg