Nigeria stops talks over MTN $3.9bn fine

23 May 2016 | Alan Burkitt-Gray


In a surprise move, the Nigerian government has suspended talks with mobile operator MTN about reducing the $3.9 billion fine that was imposed on the company.

The Nigerian unit of South African company MTN was prosecuted because it had not disconnected unregistered SIM cards – cards that the government feared were being used by terrorists.

The latest twist comes as an influential group of lawyers has called for the vice-chairman of the country’s regulator to be sanctioned for getting involved in the negotiations over reducing the fine.

There was no immediate explanation for the suspension of talks between Nigeria and MTN, announced on Monday morning.

The relationship between MTN and the Nigerian government now appears to be frozen until a way can be found to re-start negotiations.

MTN was originally fined $5.2 billion in October 2015 for failing to disconnect users with unregistered SIM cards. The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) later cut the fine by 25%.

Now, the Alliance for the Defence of Democracy is calling for Professor Umar Danbatta, the executive vice chairman of the NCC to resign or be sanctioned. They are saying that the NCC’s action to reduce the fine has worsened the security situation in Nigeria.

The government believes that members of the Boko Haram terrorist organisation are among those using the unregistered cards.

In March members of Nigeria’s House of Representatives said that rather than cutting the fine, it should be tripled from $5.2 billion to $15.6 billion.