MTN fine saga: Lawyer wants NCC, MTN officials sanctioned for criminal breach of trust

MTN Nigeria office
MTN Nigeria office

For allegedly engaging in acts considered criminal conspiracy against the interest of Nigerians, a lawyer on Tuesday asked the Federal Government to sanction officials of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and MTN Nigeria for criminal breach of trust.

In a petition to the Attorney General of the Federation, entitled “Unlawful & Criminal Reduction of Fine Payable to Nigeria: The Role of NCC and MTN Nigeria,” an Abuja-based legal practitioner, Timipa Okponipere of First Law Solicitors, called for the two organisations to be investigated and criminal proceedings initiated against them.

Mr. Okponipere, who has already filed a suit against the two organisations at the Federal High Court, Abuja, seeking the enforcement of the fundamental rights of Nigerians in the MTN fine saga, said if the government failed to act on or before December 31, 2015, he would have no option than to take legal actions to compel it to do so.

The lawyer also threatened to refer the matter to the International Criminal Court of Justice at the Hague if the Nigerian government failed to sanction the duo for alleged unlawful and criminal activities he described as conspiracy against Nigerians.

Following the refusal of MTN Nigeria to remove over 5.1 million unregistered telephone subscribers from its network as directed by the NCC, a fine of N1.04 trillion was imposed on the telecoms firm, payable on or before November 16, 2015.

Further sanctions were to be taken against the telecoms firm if it failed to meet the payment deadline.

But, following pressures within and outside Nigeria, the NCC, on December 2, 2015, wrote to MTN to inform it of the decision to reduce the fine by 35 per cent to N674 billion payable by December 31, 2015.

However, less than 24 hours later, NCC issued another letter on December 3, 2015 indicating that the reduction in the fine was by 25 per cent to N780 billion.

The NCC claimed the previous letter contained typographical errors.

Regardless, Mr. Okponipere accused the MTN of not taking the fine seriously all along as it had always treated it as a joke.

“Aside from repeatedly defaulting in payment of the fine, they (MTN) have also been engaging in acts of negotiation and re-negotiation of the fine, to the utter detriment of Nigerians,” Mr. Okponipere said.

Noting that the negotiations by MTN, which culminated in the latest reduction of the fine by NCC constituted a breach of sections of some Nigerian laws.

The two letters by NCC conveying its decision to reduce the fine to MTN, Mr. Okponipere pointed out, breached Sections 123 and 124 of the Penal Code Act, as it “wilfully misled the Nigerian and international public.”

While Section 123 of the PCA dwells on a public officer disobeying the direction of the law with intent to cause injury, or to save a person from punishment or property from forfeiture, Section 124 dwells on a public officer framing incorrect document with intent to cause injury.

The December 2 and 3 letters by the NCC to MTN, Mr. Okponipere said “embarrassed Nigeria and caused confusion, not only in MTN, but also throughout the world.”

“It is an act of criminality, which we believe must be met with firm and decisive action by the Federal Government of Nigeria,” Mr. Okponipere said.

On its part, the lawyer said the MTN, which has been a beneficiary of a GSM operating license since 2001 has grown to become Africa’s biggest and most successful telecoms provider, breached the trust of Nigerians by wilfully defaulting to pay the fine.

He said both NCC and MTN committed crimes against humanity by their conducts, which constituted “intentional and severe deprivation of fundamental rights and persecution of Nigerians,” Mr. Okponipere stated.

“Indeed, the combined activities of NCC and MTN with regard to the fine reduction saga has foisted a sense of denial of fundamental rights and persecution of Nigerians,” he said.

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