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Justice Delayed Is Justice Denied

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By Ayokunle Odekunle –
As a young Corp member serving in Ibadan, my Community Development Service (CDS) was with the Nigerian Legal Aid Council, a body of young Lawyers who during their service year try as much as possible to offer free legal service to people who are unable to afford the services of a lawyer. Preference is mostly given to inmates of prisons awaiting trial.

So one Thursday, I visited Agodi Prisons and met a guy who had been standing trial for ‘Illegal Possession of Firearms’. I spoke to him and was touched, as he told me how he was arrested for something he claimed to be innocent of.

What particularly touched me was the fact that he had been standing trial for the offence for a number of years and had been remanded at the notorious Agodi Prisons all those years.

I agreed to represent him and made to leave and then he blurted out “The Law, abeg help me try make dem conclude this case o. If dem go send me go prison, make dem do fast make I serve my term so I go fit continue with my life…”

That got me startled and thinking. And quite emotional too. The above scenario is quite reminiscent of MTN Nigeria’s ordeal with the Nigerian Government which is beginning to bore us all. Or most of us.

Not a few Nigerians were shocked when on October 20, 2015, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) wrote to MTN intimating the company of sanctions in accordance with Regulations 20(1) of the Telephone Subscribers Registration Regulation 2011 to pay the Sum of N200,000.00 only for each of the 5.2million improperly registered SIM Cards.”

Of course, the move by NCC elicited different responses from Nigerians and the International audience. However, the delay in the implementation of the sanction or the non-implementation of it is sending the wrong signals to the general public as well as other existing and intending players in the telecommunication industry.

The intervention of the Federal Government and the National Assembly has further raised questions on the indecisiveness of the government in following up prudently with the implementation of its laws, especially when it comes to big industry players.

The South African company took first steps by paying 50 billion naira and has called for further dialogue with NCC upon retracting its law suit against the regulatory agency. MTN has continued to consider several options to not pay the full fine, although has admitted to breaching the regulation for which it has explanations for, anyway.

The suit against the NCC was seen as merely an attempt to buy time while it continued negotiations with the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami (SAN) who advised the first payment of the 50 billion naira. Reports also have it that MTN had suggested paying 150 Billion Naira and the rest in complimentary services.

While NCC has full jurisdiction to serve as a regulatory body and can impose fines on the players in its field, the magnitude of this particular case brought in the interference of the National Assembly and the Presidency. The minister, Adebayo Shittu, stated his displeasure about the Attorney General taking charge of negotiations rather than the NCC.

The National Assembly expressed its resolution that MTN must pay the fine in full and that it does not support the 25 percent reduction which would have seen MTN pay 780 million naira instead of the initial N1.04 trillion. The legislative body added that the fine has already been documented as a revenue to the federal government.

The Attorney General is in full negotiation with MTN and had advised the payment of the 50 billion naira and withdrawal of the law suit, which MTN acceded to. However, the Minister of Communications complained that negotiations are being conducted without the input of NCC who should be in full control of the whole situation. These and many more have revealed the improper coordination of this case and thus its inconclusiveness.

That a negotiation room was even provided in the first place upon the breach is questionable but the undue delay only reveals the level of discipline the government can assert on major economic players. While it is unlikely that the involved parties sweep this under the carpet, nothing is impossible. But to send the right messages to intending investors in the country, NCC, the National Assembly and the Presidency must act now.
As for foreign investors looking at the Nigerian economy with a possibility of making any entrance, this debacle might paint an unfriendly picture for them.

The seemingly lack of coordination between the FG, NCC and the National Assembly on the simple issue of the MTN fine will no doubt raise questions and aspersions on the viability of foreign investors getting an enabling economic climate if they do intend to make business here.

This issue needs to be resolved earnestly and appropriately if our economy is to paint a good image for foreign investors who easily get swayed away by market volatility.

As for MTN, the falling stocks of the Telecommunications giant has left them in dire straits as they are now eagerly waiting the final decision of the Nigerian government on the fine. The repercussions of the fine has led to some senior management staff of the company including the CEO Sifiso Dabengwa, the Head of Nigeria Operation, Michael Ikpoki and the Head of Cooperate Affairs, Akinwale Goodluck to be laid off for failing in their fiduciary duty.

The company has also suffered extensive losses on its stocks back in its home country South Africa. John Burke, director of issuer regulation at the JSE said: “The JSE has halted all trading on MTN Group Limited. Trading will resume as soon as MTN Group Limited has issued a Sens announcement.”

This has led to the company suffering a 14% loss on its market value at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE). All this has led the company to have this nightmare end immediately so that they can get back to the business of recovering from this setback.

At this moment, both MTN and the Nigerian people are anxiously waiting for this issue of the fine to be done with. The company is ready to move past this mass failure that it organised a diplomatic meeting between President Jacob Zuma of South African and its Nigerian counterpart Muhammadu Buhari in a bid to resolving the issue amicably and swiftly.

Meanwhile the Nigerian populace are desperate to see the entire issue finally be laid to rest and the fine be paid to the coffers of the Nigerian government.

Like my friend at Agodi prisons, Justice delayed in this regards, is Justice denied. And while Justice is denied, injustice may be experienced by parties. MTN in this regard.
Ayokunle Odekunle, is a Lawyer, writer and brand strategist and tweets from @oddy4real