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MTN Group Limited has stated that the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has lifted the suspension on regulatory services slammed on the company in October 2015, over its failure to deactivate 5.2 million incomplete subscriber identification module (SIM) cards on its network. This is could be an indication that relations between both parties could be warming up as they negotiate the payment of a record $3.9 billion fine.
“NCC has lifted the suspension on regulatory services to MTN Nigeria,” the Johannesburg-based company said in a statement, yesterday. This comes as a relief to MTN as this allows Africa’s biggest wireless operator to seek approval for promotions and other plans to grow in the company’s biggest market, Nigeria.
The suspension of the regulatory sanction may just signal headway to the deadlock between MTN and the government, according to the lawyer in charge of the case. “This is essentially another move in the tit-for-tat negotiation process lifting the regulation huddle is a positive step and means a solution to the fine might be around the corner,” Dominic Cull, a regulatory lawyer at Cape Town-based Ellipsis Regulatory Solutions, said.
It should be noted that in October 2015, the NCC imposed a $5.2 billion fine on MTN, which was reduced to $3.9 billion after deliberation between both parties. This came after MTN wrote a letter to the NCC pleading for leniency and promising never to ignore subsequent orders and guidelines, as well as asking for reduction in the fine.
In February, MTN issued a warning stating that it expected a 20 percent loss in its dividends from the Nigerian market. The telecoms company also said, on March 5, 2015, in its full year 2015 financial results, that its Nigerian operations, in particular, witnessed a very difficult year and that the ‘not so good’ economic conditions and the limited availability of US dollars contributed to a lower-than-expected performance.
On the 24th of February 2016, MTN Nigeria made a payment of N50 billion ($250 million) to the Federal Government of Nigeria for its offence, on the basis that this would be applied towards a settlement.
MTN Nigeria also agreed to withdraw its lawsuit from the Federal High Court, while negotiations with the regulatory authorities continue.