The permanent secretary Mr Sunny Echono and Mr Tony Ojobo of ministry of communication and Nigeria Communication Commission(NCC) respectively standing in for the Honorable minister of communication Barr. Adebayo Shittu and the Executive Vice Chairman of Nigeria Communication Commission. prof. Umar Garba Danbatta. at the public hearing of the house adhoc-committee investigating the parameter or the motive behind the Nigeria Communication Commission decision to reduce the fine of a tune of N1.04tn imposed on Mobile Telecommunication Network (MTN).
The permanent secretary explained the minister unavoidable absence to the committee invitation for investigative public hearing sighting the letter of the invitation were received late week on friday making it difficult for the minister to re-schedule all corresponding matters as it may affect the smooth operation of the ministry. the members of the committee who were in attendance were the chairman of the adhoc-committee, Hon. Saheed Akinade Fijabbi, Hon. Osai Nicolas Osai, and Hon. Dr Chukwuemeka Ujani but the explanation of the ministry of communication and her agency (NCC) delegates were not satisfactory as the members were on the opinion that the Honourable minister should appear in person together with the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigeria Communication Commission on Monday being 20th of june 2016. to inform Nigeria on what measures used in reducing the penalty imposed on MTN from N1.04tn to N332 Bn and finaly to mere N78Bn by the Federal Government.
According to the chairman, The situation have become more worrisome that people we the members represent are not happy about the current development and the committee have received oral and several petition by the concerned Nigerians on current issues. He further said that 1999 constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended empowers the committee to conduct investigative public hearing and powers of oversight to unravel any situation within the ministry and NCC.
But, at the few hours when the permanent secretary address the committee with him is the director of public affairs of Nigeria Commission Commission when the Chairman of the adhoc-committee permitted the team delegates to speak after taking them on oath. the chairman, Hon. Saheed said the House at the plenary session mandate the committee to conduct investigating hearing over a controversial MTN fine reduction from N1.04tn to N78Bn. after the committee have learned through the Media that MTN fine have been further reduced from N1.04tn to N78Bn. the permanent secretary explained the action of the negotiation team as being the line of constitution of the federal Republic of Nigeria stating that the MTN and the NCC were in court but the court granted them to settle out of the court.
The Permanent Secretary, Mr Echono while feeding question from our newsmen said; ”that it is in line with constitutional order we have in country that National Assembly have the powers of the oversight and the NCC as regulatory agency have power to impose fine, review it when necessary and it also in line the executive arm should copy them the explanation of their numerous actions. and this is the first time the Agency will be imposing fine that if you are thinking of precedence, this is the first precedence. even if it is one naira the essence is that days of impunity are over and no amount of money that can equate human life.
immediately inter-ministerial committee were set up under the leadership of Minister of justice and Anthony general of the federation and the procedures of the negotiation terms were briefed to the committee to prove the level of our transparency, He said.
”that it is in line with constitutional order we have in country that National Assembly have the powers of the oversight and the NCC as regulatory agency have power to impose fine, review it when necessary and it also in line the executive arm should copy them the explanation of their numerous actions. and this is the first time the Agency will be imposing fine that if you are thinking of precedence, this is the first precedence. even if it is one naira the essence is that days of impunity are over and no amount of money that can equate human life.”
But, the Hon. Osai who open up that during the negotiation that it was the Anthony General of the federation who were on the top of the game and not NCC and ministry of communication but today we are reading different things that is no longer the Anthony General of federation but the ministry. he urged the committee to summoned the main minister of communication and Executive Vice Chairman of NCC based on the unanimous ruling the chairman, Hon. Saheed ruled that the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC and Minister of Communication to appear on monday next week being 20th of june 2016.
However, The Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami, on Tuesday tried to justify the reduction of the N1.04tn fine slammed on MTN by the Nigerian Communications Commission for alleged infractions.
Malami, who appeared before the House of Representatives Committee on Telecommunications in Abuja, claimed that the money was actually a penalty and not a fine.
The minister argued that a penalty was review-able, while it was only the law courts that could impose fines on offenders.
According to Malami, the guidelines of the NCC captured penalties and not fines.
“We acted right in taking the steps to interpret the law as the chief law officer of the country,” he told lawmakers.
But, he denied that there was no deal as yet with MTN on what the final settlement should be regarding the fine.
The House had summoned him to explain how his office usurped the powers of the NCC by initiating a negotiation with the telecommunications service provider, which eventually culminated in a reduction of the fine by 25 per cent.
As part of the negotiations, MTN had withdrawn the suit it earlier instituted against the NCC, opposing the fine.
The firm paid N50bn to the Federal Government as the first step in the phased plan to pay the money.
However, his responses infuriated lawmakers, who accused him of taking sides with MTN to the detriment of the Nigerian people that he was expected to protect.
At a point, there was a shouting match between Malami and lawmakers that could have become worse, but for the intervention of the Chairman of the committee, Mr. Saheed Fijabi.
One of the members, Mr. Johnson Agbonayinma, said, “We welcome investors to our country, but not the way MTN wants to dictate to us.
“Certain things that we are doing are not right and we have to speak as the representatives of the people.
“Where did you get the powers to reduce fines imposed by the law?. If we are to follow the provisions of sections 19 and 20 of the NCC Act, the fine should be over N3tn.
“Now, we are saying N1.04tn; at another time, we heard N780bn, which may even end up as N300bn eventually,” he added.
Members also queried the rationale behind the opening of a separate account for the N50bn instead of paying it directly into the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation.
Both the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation claimed that they acted on instructions to open the account.
The AGF’s office said it was the Ministry of Finance that gave the directive, while the CBN told the committee that it normally kept accounts for government and would not query a directive to open a government account.
— OkoroChukwu IkeChukwu (Correspondent)