Tony Ademiluyi: MTN; The First Scapegoat

The spiraling rate of unemployment has made the need to bring in foreign direct investment a buzzword especially among junketing public officials to justify their frequent travels. The relationship between the so called investors and the regulatory agencies is akin to that of a cat and mouse as it’s a well-known fact that the investors have scant regard for the nation’s laws and carry on with the toga of indispensability.

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) issues a clear directive on the deactivation of sim lines in performance of a statutory duty. The South African telecommunication giants still went ahead to fail to deactivate well over five million lines without biometric verification since August this year and has thereby attracted a fine of $5.2 billion to be paid on the 16th of this month.

For the first time, our dormant regulatory agency has attracted global respect as the news of the sanction led to a 25% loss of its market capitilisation, its share trading being placed on technical suspension in the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and the resignation of its Chief Executive Officer in South Africa, Sifiso Dabengwa. The Iroko has truly bellowed as the Nigerian market with the largest population in Africa is not one that can be ignored. Mtn has implicitly admitted that they are guilty of the infraction as they have not contested the position of the NCC so far whether in court or out of it. What they have been pleading for is some sort of leniency as the fine would take a heavy toll on its operations.

Impunity has been a problem the nation has been dealing with in its thorny relationship with investors. The foreigners have taken advantage of our weak institutions especially with regards to our regulators to give us a raw deal. The international oil companies have wrecked the environments of their host communities with their persistent oil spills and their slap in the wrist fines which hardly clean up the battered communities. From Shell to Chevron, it has been tales of agony, tears and blood by the impoverished communities whose lands and rivers have rendered farming and fishing impossible. This is the remote cause of the militancy in the south-south region as the penalties the IOC’s get as worse than ludicrous jokes. The Chinese and Indians exploit our workers with reckless abandon and nothing happens. There was the case of a Chinese company which used to lock up its premises and there was a fire outbreak which killed some Nigerian members of staff. The Nigerian authorities simply looked the other way as business and life simply went on. It’s an open secret that there is no insurance policy for factory workers who handle deadly chemicals with most of them not even given safety kits and the dearth of Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) in these sweat shops.

The inertia of the regulatory authorities is not the case in other climes especially in the advanced economies. In Japan for example where there is relative job security, foreign investors are forced to ensure the job security of the employees of their host countries despite the vagaries of a free economy which may not make it profitable in all cases. British Petroleum will now pay $18.7 billion in the largest oil spill compensation in world history. The American justice department and four other states successfully sued the oil giants and the Heavens didn’t fall. The fine by MTN wouldn’t make the Heavens fall as well. It will be even be a surreptitious compensation for their poor services. Many Nigerians including this writer have been victims of the brazen deductions of airtime by the telecommunications giant and our collective helplessness in our quest for justice. It’s high time that the fear of our regulatory authorities be the beginning of wisdom for these conceited so called foreign investors who trample on the rights of the proletariat with so much contempt and scorn.

Some Nigerians especially the Chairman of the Silverbird Group and the Senator representing Bayelsa East on the platform of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Senator Ben Murray-Bruce raised an alarm that the fine was sending a wrong signal to investors on the harshness of the regulatory authorities and that the act of NCC would discourage them from trooping in. It is sad that a section of Nigerians especially Murray-Bruce would prefer the mediocrity being exhibited by our regulatory authorities and the unhealthy power being enjoyed by the investors. Should we take bunkum because we want every Tom, Dick and Harry to come in and further exploit us in our own country? Should we become hewers of wood and drawers of water in our motherland because we want to bend over backwards to appease the insatiable appetite of the baboon called foreign investors who would continue their rape and pillage of us till they get tired and move on to saner climes? It is sad that Murray-Bruce who also doubles as the Chairman of the Senate Committee on privatization can make such an unpatriotic comment. Foreign investors would be happy that our regulatory agencies are working as this would be assured that they won’t be operating in a Thomas Hobbesian jungle where nothing works. Every investor wants to be assured of some sort of sanity and not the madness that is currently going on. The MTN deterrence would not in any way prevent them from coming in; rather it would make them more sensitive to the needs of the people and operate within the ambits of the legal system. If they decide to pack up and go because we stuck our guns and insisted on doing the right thing, their loss would be our gain as the other giants would simply share the booty without the loss of a single job. Let us stop being ruled by fear as nature abhors a vacuum.

November 16, 2015 which is also the 111th posthumous birthday of one of our founding fathers, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe a.k.a the Great Zik of Africa should be the dawn of a new era in the advent of the death to impunity beginning with the telecommunications sector and then surreptitiously spreading to all other sectors of the economy.  The NCC should resist any pressure to reduce the fine as that would make them a toothless bull dog and the object of scorn and derision.

MTN should fully face the music.


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