Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday accused South African Telecommunication company MTN of fuelling the Boko Haram insurgency as a result of failing to disconnect unregistered SIM cards.
Buhari made the comment in a joint news conference with his South African counterpart, Jacob Zuma in Abuja.
Reuters reports that the fine was imposed over the failure of the telecommunication giant to deactivate 5.1 million unregistered SIM cards.
This is the first time I will personally as a president be making a public comment about it.
Buhari said the slow registration of Nigerians on the MTN network led to the death of many Nigerians during Boko Haram attacks. He said many terrorist now use unregistered lines.
“This is the first time I will personally as a president be making a public comment about it. The concern of the federal government is basically on the security and not the fine imposed on MTN. You know how the unregistered GSM are being used by terrorists,” he said.
The fine, imposed by the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) in October 2015, has been a subject of controversy for months. The commission initially asked MTN to pay N1.04 trillion ($5.2bn) for failing to disconnect the 5.1 million unregistered subscribers, but later reviewed the sum to N780bn ($3.9bn).
The telecoms company has yet to pay the fine. In January, MTN took legal action, challenging the powers of the NCC to issue the fine.
After missing repeated deadlines for payment, MTN announced late February it had paid N50 billion in “good faith” towards an amicable resolution of the matter. The company also announced the withdrawal of its lawsuit.
However, President Buhari said Nigeria was not concerned about the money, but the security implication of MTN’s failure to disconnect unregistered lines.
But Zuma said Nigeria and South Africa were forging closer ties adding that the two countries have signed over 30 bilateral agreements and memoranda of understanding, in areas of trade, industry, security and immigration.
“We have directed the relevant ministers to move with speed in implementing all signed agreements,” said Zuma, who travelled with around 30 business leaders and seven ministers.
Relations between the countries have also been strained by claims of South African xenophobia, with Nigerians alleging that Pretoria subjects them to harsh visa restrictions.