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MTN under pressure as Nigeria guns for Boko Haram

Aims to use SIM registration as a way to strangle the terror group.
Tight deadline. Nigeria wants all of its 200m mobile subscribers to go through the registration process by the end of year. Image: Moneyweb

The demand by the Nigerian minister of communications and digital economy, Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, that all of MTN’s 75 million subscribers be registered with national ID numbers in two weeks might seem like the authorities in the West African country are gunning for it once again.

Although it follows MTN being told to pay $5.2 billion (R75.8 billion) in fines in 2015 – later cut to $3.2 billion – for not properly registering 5.2 million users, the South African-based operator has worked hard at repairing its relationship with the authorities in Nigeria.

Nigeria sees ‘happy’ resolution to $8.1bn dispute with MTN
MTN could complete Nigerian sim card order within six months – executive

This time is also somewhat different, as MTN isn’t the only one in the firing line: mobile operators across the board are affected by the demand that all 200 million mobile subscribers register their national identification number (NIN) with their SIMs by the end of this year.

If MTN, Airtel, Glo Mobile and 9mobile still keep unregistered subscribers on their networks there is a chance they could lose their licences.

Nigerians are not happy about it

It’s also different because there is widespread opposition in Nigeria against the move to register so many people in so little time.

This resistance can be seen in an editorial in the daily newspaper, the Vanguard, which said a directive had been given by Pantami that had the capability “of destroying the entire communications industry” and called on “common sense” to prevail.

There is also opposition in Nigeria’s House of Representatives. Ndudi Elumelu, despite being a minority leader in the house, managed to get a resolution passed calling for a 10-week extension of the registration period.

Elumelu made the point that though the reasons for the registration – the combating of terrorism and money laundering – are understandable, the tight deadlines during the Covid-19 pandemic would endanger people, as it would result in the gathering of large crowds.

It does not help that the NIN registration process is also extensive. It needs a special device to record all 10 fingerprints, which will then have to be securely downloaded to the National Identity Management Commission.

The whole process will see only four people registered per hour using one of these devices.

Read: MTN to join talks with Nigeria watchdog over SIM-card sales halt

It’s personal

Despite the broad call for a delay, for now it looks like Pantami – a former computer science lecturer who was director-general and CEO of the National Information Technology Development Agency before being made minister in August 2019 – is sticking to his guns.

The mobile operators are clearly going to miss the deadline, but the Nigerian federal government is pushing hard to get control of how militant Islamist group Boko Haram raises funds and coordinates its activities.

More stringent requirements have hampered Boko Haram to such an extent that in a video in February its leader, Abubakar Shekau, threatened to kill Pantami because of his efforts to enforce NIN and bank verification numbers.

In the video, Shekau told Boko Haram members to kill the minster if they had the chance.

The Boko Haram leader’s vendetta against the minister can be seen in his taunting of him in the video.

“This video message is specifically released because of one man, who thinks he is knowledgeable. I want him to archive this message and continue referring to it till his death comes. From today onward, you will continue to live in sorrow, because I, Shekau, say so.”

Shekau even mocks Pantami, who aside from having a PhD in computer science is also a Jumu’ah Chief Imam, for preaching in English.

MTN should have done more

The issue around Boko Haram and banditry has come to the fore in the past few weeks, after 344 boys were kidnapped from a school in Kankara, in Katsina State. 

While the boys were later released, it follows the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls in 2014 – of whom about 100 have yet to be found.

Boko Haram, which has led a widespread campaign of violence in Nigeria’s northern states since 2002, has yet to be brought under control by the Nigerian government, resulting in thousands of deaths.

The issue is so vexing for the state that in 2016 President Muhammadu Buhari told then South African president Jacob Zuma that MTN’s laxness in addressing the improperly-registered 5.2 million users helped Boko Haram.

“The concern of the federal government was basically on the security and not the fine imposed on MTN,” Buhari said at the time.




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Let me start by saying – good luck. What I have learned over many years of living on this continent and else where, and what I have observed in my many years of living, can me summarized as follows: ‘there is no fool proof method, to beat a determined fool’. (Disclaimer: No pejoritive intended with the use of the word ‘fool;, its my exploitation of an English idiom to make a point more succintly.)

You sound like a Professor in English at UCT

Why don’t you just say “Only in Africa?”

You are kind to consider me to be a professor at UCT. Just for the record, I am not a profesor there, though I did go there just like Gatsby did go to Oxoford, but I am a Charger for sure. On your second observation, I do not think that ingenuity to beat the system no matter how well designed is not only a provanace of Africans, I’ve been too many places to know – France, US and so on. You always find someone ‘hustling’, so this plan in Nigeria is likely to meet with the same level of creativeness and innovation ‘to beat it’, its nust burdening MTN but ultimately its the government that has to govern and have legitimacy.

Because it is also same way in other continents
If MTN was not so ignorant and stubborn, they would have learned for 2015 fine, that they need to register subscribers. I guess they are slow learners

I think the bigger threat is the new cell phone economy/banking of sending money by phone and paying by phone.

They want to track that.

The Nigerian government(if you call that crowd a government) is simply using the Boko Haram threat as an excuse to do what they excel at-namely take money from global investors. Company after company divests itself from that hopeless and pathetic country. MTN was nearly bankrupted for a non compliance fine-the real reason the failed Nigerian government was bankrupt-again!

Sixty years of independence, 200 million people (nearly 2/3 of the USA population), headwinds for the economy from oil yet a GDP per capita that is laughable, crime, poor education and health-everything that the planet views with total and utter contempt of this sad continent.

MTN made the right decision to go Nigeria, it is Africa’s biggest market.

The Nigerian govt. will be shooting itself in the foot if it prevents cell phone companies from operating there. How can you operate economically if there is no data network or you cannot phone your customers or your customers phone you?

Even if MTN left Nigeria, its share prices will be worth R70.
Nigeria accounts for 31% of the MTN business.

MTN is in the best business, you could say that it “prints money”.

Clearly the market is incorrect and you are correct!
MTN Price 5 years ago ..nearly R250…today R62
How to lose money 101-bet on the hopeless continent!

They very clever the way they squeeze investors. And they just pay, they fine huge and negotiate down.
Only in Africa.

Your bias is glaring towards Africa.

Yes the Nigerian government is milking MTN and in turn MTN is milking the public.

Investors may vote with their feet and elect to hop out of MTN.

Common knowledge that cell companies milk the public, but MTN must do well there to take the abuse they just swallow up and pay.

Buy Low and sell High. The rest is history.

Many investors are biased against Africa due to a lack of governance and rule of law. Nigeria is close to the bottom and investors have made their statement-they flee the place. Nigeria -with all its tailwinds -is a disgraceful example of the worst possible investor environment. If their population continues to support the regime-as they do-they must watch as the Taiwans, South Koreas, Mauritius, Polands etc gallop ahead in GDP per capital while their standard of living keeps dropping daily.

@sam the taxman. Any business doing business in Nigeria follows the principle of “high risk, high reward”. A fool will go in there for long term investment.

MTN’s headache of paying taxes, fines etc. will continue; but hopefully the “fat” is built into their profits. On the long term their brand name will take a beating ; because of the shenanigans in Iran and Nigeria.

SAM The Taxman =>
I live in South Africa (Resides on the African continent, a very rich continent by resources and resourceful people) and not in the EU or US, and though I have a EU passport (So I could relocate if I wanted to) I find the EU to be utterly boring and decaying.

I support Africa and South Africa and do my best to uplift it wherever I can. I do not bad mouth my second country and I do my observations intelligently. I have more qualifications than your ten fingers.

Africa is my home.

I dont think that you have more qualifications than me and if you do the results must have been pretty mediocre judging by your statement about the resourcefulness of African people. They are everything but that! Just look the continent-low literacy, poor healthcare, crime, poverty etc. Its pretty-but not exclusively so-and it is home-warts and all-but it is a mess.

As for the resources-you are correct-but it sure hasnt helped-far from it-it has simply attracted criminals to steal.

Are you sure you have more qualifications than your ten fingers?
When you are done add five more.

You seem to know the “Mediocre” word very well.

Ag no MTN! A $3.2 billion fine and after 5 years you are guilty of the same transgressions?! You should have been the one operator in Nigeria that was in the clear by now. Unless there is an underlying culture thing in Nigeria whereby people insist on being anonymous why don’t you have your subscribers’ details?

I really think that MTN should start planning their exit strategy from Nigeria.Infact a sale could result in the share price going back to R250. Sell to France Mobile company Orange

If MTN Nigeria was sold to France Mobile, they would sit on a mountain of cash.

The cash dividend would be something to look forward to, but then what about future growth?

MTN’s strategy initially was to ‘go where angels fear to tread’ and those that ran the company at the time were fantastic. The strategy has somehow been lost and professional managers have been brought in further moving it away from the reason for its success.

End of comments.





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