Senate Working To Unmask Persons Behind MTN N50b Payment – Nnaji

By Julianah Ololade

People who have one or two things to do with the surreptitious payment of N50 billion by  Mobile Telecommunication Network (MTN) will be unmasked and punished appropriately,  the Senate has assured.

The South African owned  telecommunications company, which has been at the forefront of refusal to comply with the directive of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) on the payment of N1.04 trillion fine for unprofessional conduct as related to registration of SIM cards had recently paid N50 billion through the back door.

The company allegedly with the connivance of the Attorney General of the Federation,  Abubakar Malami had also signed an agreement to reduce the fine to N300 billion without the knowledge of the Ministry of Communication or the NCC that imposed the fine on MTN.
The attempt made by the Senate last week to get to the root of the alleged payment of the N50 billion did not yield much fruit as some of the stakeholders invited were not present at the investigative hearing.

But it was clearly revealed at the sitting of the Senate Committee on Communications that the money was paid into a special account created at the Central Bank of Nigeria without the consent of the Communication ministry or NCC.

Speaking on the issue yesterday, Chairman, Senate Committee on Communications, Senator Gilbert Nnaji, said the matter will be pursed to a logical conclusion.
He said further that the assurance he’s giving to Nigerians became necessary following “erroneous reports” that the matter had been literally laid to rest due to the absence of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, at the investigative hearing of committee last Thursday.

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Senator Nnaji said that most members of the Communications Committee saw Malami’s action in relation to the controversial N50 billion payment by MTN, as “not only at variance with the anti-corruption stance of the Federal Government but a deliberate attempt to undermine Nigeria’s integrity and subject her to public ridicule in a bid to impress South Africa.”

He insisted that no amount of  sentiments would deter the committee from unmasking all those behind the “national embarrassment.”
His  Committee, he said, queried the intentions of the Attorney-General “in unilaterally opening a special new account with a name that had no correlations with the issue at hand and then ordering MTN to credit same despite the existence of Treasury Single Account, (TSA).

“If there were no ulterior motives, the Ministry of Justice could have gone through streamlined processes of among others, rooting the money through NCC with sufficient notice to the Ministry of Communications instead of deliberately sidelining the major stakeholders on the matter and circumventing the extant laws guiding public financial administration.

“This is one transaction that has generated public suspicion compelling the Committee to invite all relevant stakeholders to this meeting for adequate clarifications to be made on the issue.

“Issues emanating from the foregoing are: into which account did MTN pay the N50 billion and which government agency acknowledged the payment.
“If MTN actually paid, why did it disregard payment into NCC’s coffers as statutorily obliged?
“If MTN paid into CBN’s Recovery Account, on whose directive did the network do so and what legal right does CBN have to lodge the money in a Recovery Account?” he said.

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MTN’s Managing Director, Ferdinand Moolman, last Thursday  told the Committee that the company received a directive from the Justice Minister to lodge the money into the CBN-domiciled Recovery Account which it complied on 24thFebruary 2016 as part of the service provider’s commitment to out-of-court settlement proposal.
In their separate responses at the session, the Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu, and the NCC Executive Vice Chairman, Prof. Umar Dambata, disclosed that they knew nothing about the payment and as such could not give any insight as to the terms and basis of the negotiations leading to the payment.
The Accountant-General of the Federation Mr. Ahmed Idris in acknowledging the payment stated that he was directed to create the account with the name as suggested by the Minister of Justice.

The CBN represented by Mohammed A. Yakub, explained that as Federal Government banker, it acted merely in deference to a request from government agencies.
However, the Attorney-General of the Federation was not at the hearing as he was said to have travelled out of the country.
His representative,  Dayo Akpata Director of Civil Litigation, in the Justice ministry said the minister took the action in good faith even as he noted that the matter is still in court.

But his response irked the Committee members  who dismissed the defence as “frivolous, face-saving and unacceptable.”
The Attorney General was given two weeks deadline to appear before the Committee.