Nigeria said it was expecting telecoms giant MTN to meet a deadline for paying a record $3.9 billion fine which expires Thursday, despite the South African operator challenging the penalty in court.
The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the country’s telecoms regulator, had in October fined the firm for missing a deadline to disconnect 5.1 million unregistered SIM cards, citing security concerns in a country plagued by frequent kidnappings and an extremist Islamist insurgency Boko Haram.
It imposed a thumping $5.2 billion fine, later reduced to $3.9 billion following an appeal by MTN.
If MTN fails to meet the deadline today (Thursday), the regulatory body will enforce the fine.
“If MTN fails to meet the deadline today (Thursday), the regulatory body will enforce the fine,” Nigerian communications ministry spokesman Victor Oluwadamilare told AFP.
Oluwadamilare said the pending legal proceedings had nothing to do with the payment deadline, saying “the court case is not tantamount to extending the deadline.”
The Johannesburg-based telecommunications company declined to offer a detailed response on Thursday, but said earlier this month it would launch a legal challenge in the Federal High Court in Lagos against the fine, and expected all parties “to restrain from taking further action” until the case was concluded.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country of 170 million people, is MTN group’s largest market with 62.8 million subscribers.
It operates in 22 countries in Africa and the Middle East.
“MTN is committed to Nigeria and it’s going to stay there. Nigeria is its most profitable market and it has no intention of leaving,” said Amy Cameron, a telecoms analyst at BMI Research, a market research firm.
Africa’s largest oil producer has seen its public purse shrivel when the price of crude collapsed as a result of oversupply.
Nigeria’s growth is expected to drop from 6.3 per cent in 2014 to 4 per cent this year, according to the IMF, with Buhari pledging to diversify the nation’s crude-dependant economy.