According to reports coming out from South Africa, the record fine levied on MTN Nigeria is linked to the role that unregistered MTN sim cards played in the kidnap of former minister of finance Olu Falae.
The source, South Africa’s City Press, reports that Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) said the phone lines that the kidnappers used to conduct ransom negotiations belonged to MTN.
“Falae’s kidnappers used MTN SIM cards and MTN was unable to provide any registration data for those SIMs,” the commission said, as quoted in the report.
Sources close to the Commission say the decision on the $5.2 billion sanction was no longer a regulatory issue but now a matter of national security.
“The government insisted they must be sanctioned to make the right statement,” said an official quoted in the report. “In South Africa you can’t break their laws and get away with it. So why come to Nigeria and flout the laws?”
Other sources say that MTN had previously been warned about the security threat of unregistered sim cards.
The report said that MTN, along with other Telcos have been previously fined for flouting rules, based on the sum of N200,000 per defaulting SIM card. But the sim cards which were fined were based on random, limited-sample monitoring exercises, and not as numerous as in the current case. This could have given the impression that the fines were just a slap-on-the-wrist.
But “this time, the commission decided to penalize MTN for the total number of improperly registered cards – hence the unprecedented size of the fine”.
The report continues by saying that before Falae was kidnapped, the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), and the Department of State Security (DSS) cited concerns that the absence of registration data on sims was being exploited by criminals from kidnappers and fraudsters to Boko Haram.
In a meeting in August, Telcos were instructed to deactivate invalid and improperly registered SIM cards.
One week after the deadline had elapsed, the NCC’s head of compliance said at a press conference that, while other networks were taking steps to deactivate defaulting lines, MTN, which accounted for 47 percent of the improperly registered cards, showed “no compliance”.