Embattled MTN hires seven top lawyers for Nigeria fine hearing



Embattled South Africa telecom, MTN, has engaged seven Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN) to fight the $4 billion fine imposed on it by the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC).

NCC had in October imposed a fine of $5.2 billion on the mobile phone provider and later reduced it to $4 billion after appeals and interventions.

The telecom operator was given a December 31 deadline to pay the fine for its failure to disconnect 5.2 million subscribers who did not register their SIM cards.

The company’s lead lawyer is Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) who is leading the others against the federal government and NCC before the Federal High Court in Lagos.

MTN is urging the court to quash the fine because NCC does not have the constitutional power to impose it.

According to MTN, NCC, being a regulator, cannot assume all the functions of the state on its own, considering that it made the regulation, prescribed the penalty and imposed the fine, payable to the commission and not to the federal government.

MTN claimed it was not afforded its constitutional right to a fair hearing before a court of competent jurisdiction and, more importantly, it had not been found guilty of any offence that would warrant it to pay such an outrageous fine.

MTN averred that the sanction was imposed on it by the NCC within 24 hours of its written submission on the disconnection and the impractical nature of the regulator’s deadline.

The mobile operator claimed that the deadline of seven days to disconnect 5.2 million subscribers was grossly inadequate and impracticable, unfair and ran contrary to the requirement to give adequate notice to the subscribers and all operators.

The company accused the regulatory agency of acting as a legislator, executor, accuser, prosecutor, judge and beneficiary of the penalty imposed, adding that the sanction (N200,000 per SIM) imposed on it was excessive.

It insisted that the fine was the highest ever imposed on a telecommunication company worldwide, and wondered if it was commensurate with the purported breach and if it would not frustrate the business of the company in Nigeria.

Enjoined in the suit is the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice.

No date has been fixed for the hearing.

MTN currently has more than 50 million subscribers on its mobile phone platform in Nigeria.

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