At the time when the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) imposed a hefty $5.2 billion (R74.57bn) fine against telecoms giant MTN, the country was open to foreign direct investments, Minister of Trade and Investment Okechukwu Enelamah said.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation (Focac) to enhance ties between China and African countries, Enelamah said Nigeria was one of the most open economies on the continent.
“We are more open to investment and it is going to get better. We are working on improving numerous aspects of our country, including the rule of law and national security,” Enelamah said.
MTN was slapped with the fine after failing to cut 5.1 million subscribers with unregistered SIM cards by the NCC’s August deadline. The fine was reduced by 35 percent to $3.4bn according to an NCC statement released last week.
However, in an embarrassing statement on Friday, the NCC made an about turn and said it had made a typo error, and the fine was in fact reduced by 25 percent to $3.9bn.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari was among more than 50 heads of states to attend Focac.
All he said was: “We have a committee looking into that,” when we asked what he intended doing about the spat between the NCC and MTN.
MTN is a leading emerging markets mobile operator, connecting more than 230 million people in 22 countries across Africa and the Middle East, and Nigeria accounted for 62.8 million subscribers.
MTN Nigeria’s revenue declined by 9 percent in the six months to June and experienced a difficult six months impacted largely by unfavourable macroeconomic conditions and operational execution challenges, resulting in declining revenue and higher costs.
Enelamah said the issue of the MTN fine was heard during a meeting with business during the forum.
“The MTN question was raised and addressed on the basis of discussions with MTN and authorities. My sense is that the issues are clear, the reasons for the government fine is clear, and MTN is trying hard to find solutions to the issue,” said Enelamah.
Bongani Majola, the spokesman in the presidency, said there had been no meeting scheduled between President Jacob Zuma, and his Nigerian counterpart during the Focac meeting.
“There was never a scheduled meeting. The president had no meeting with individual presidents,” Majola said.
Nigeria is Africa’s biggest economy and despite Buhari finally announcing a new cabinet last month, six months after being sworn in as president, there were concerns as to whether the country would be able to lift Africa’s biggest economy out of its current economic malaise.
The Nigerian economy has been rocked by declining commodity prices, with economists expecting that a further recent decline in prices boded badly for sub-Saharan Africa.
Petroleum exports account for more than 90 percent of Nigeria’s total exports, and oil and gas accounts for 35 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.
* Additional reporting by Peter Fabricius