Immediate past Minister of Communication Adebayo Shittu on Thursday explained that Mobile Telecommunication Network (MTN) practically blackmailed the federal government into reducing the over $330 million controversial fine imposed on it by the National Communication Commission (NCC).
The Minister said the company told President Muhammadu Buhari if they were made to pay the fine, they may have to shut down operation in Nigeria and sack all their Nigerian workers, which may have negative impact on the banking sectors.
He said they also threatened to withdraw their deposit with which some Nigerian banks were doing business.
Speaking with newsmen in Abuja, the former Minister denied report that he took bribe from the company to influence the reduction of the fine.
He also stated Nigeria did not work for the money the company was supposed pay as fine.
He also explained Buhari acted in national interest in authorising reduction of the fine, adding that it would have been wrong to create an impression that there was no ease of doing business in Nigeria.
He said: “A lot of blackmailers have been blackmailing me that I took money. Even if I wanted to take money, the opportunity never arose because the file on the MTN crisis never got to my office and I never had a role to play. If you know the working of the Ministry and its agencies, you will realise that each of its agencies has their separate laws.
“Remember the NCC laws predate establishment of the Ministry of Communication. The NCC laws took care of any supervisory role the Ministry would have played which is the role of policy formulation and not operational engagement. NCC has a board which takes care of implementation.
“I did not have a role to play in the implementation but what happened was that MTN, as an international company, cried out to the President to say that if they had to pay the amount of fine imposed on that at that time, they are likely to close shop and there will be consequences.
“The consequences included that all Nigerian staff of MTN will lose their job, all the banks they operate with will have serious upheaval in term of the fact that they will have to withdraw their money from Nigeria an some banks will be in a state of near collapse if that happens.
He added: “Thirdly, recall that Nigeria invited them to come and invest in Nigeria. If we give the impression that there is no ease of doing business in Nigeria or that government will rush to “kill” foreign companies in Nigeria, other foreign companies we are inviting to come and invest will not come. “So, because of the intervention of the international community, the President had to wade in to reduce the cost and he did that in consonance with what happen in the court system. What the President did was to play the role of an appeal platform in reducing that cost.
“Even in reducing that cost, conscious of the fact that in MTN itself, heads had to roll because it was an act of negligence that more than 5 million subscribers were not captured. But for Nigeria, I would say that the 330 billion dollars is money we have not really worked for.
“It is unfortunate that MTN violated the laws and we are not saying they should continue to violate the laws. When they did, sanction was imposed on them and I didn’t think Nigeria should regret the reduction of the fine”.