Pantami fingered in deal
Facts have emerged on how President Muhammadu Buhari, through the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), allegedly waived over N70 billion in spectrum fees for Emerging Market Telecommunications Service (EMTS), trading as 9mobile in Nigeria.
The Guardian report that, since the rebranding of Etisalat to 9mobile in July 2017, the firm has been linked to a particular billionaire in the north with close ties to the Presidency. This is believed to have granted the telecommunications firm some preferential treatment in the industry, as against other telcos.
The Guardian sighted a letter from the NCC, which conveyed approval of the waiver to the telecommunications firm.
Approval of such a waiver, according to industry sources, is a clear case of favouritism and unfairness to other competitors. They claimed the action has potential to distort the level playing field and undermine growth of the telecoms industry in Nigeria.
According to sources, the waiver formed part of last minute underhand dealings, which the ministry, through its closeness to the Presidency, was able to facilitate.
The letter by NCC, signed by its Executive Vice Chairman, Prof. Umar Danbatta, dated May 8, 2023, was addressed to the Chief Executive Officer of the telecommunications, EMTS, titled: ‘RE: Appeal for Concession on Payment of Spectrum Licence Fees’.
The commission, in the letter, referred to the above subject matter and also the presidential approval conveyed through a letter with reference number: HMCDE/026/GEN/Vol. VII, dated April 6, 2023, from the office of the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy on the request by Emerging Markets Telecommunications Services Limited (EMTS).
In the letter, NCC said it conveyed the approval of Mr. President on the prayers of the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy for necessary action.
According to the letter, the prayers were: a 50 per cent waiver on the total amount on the outstanding spectrum fees due to the Federal Government of Nigeria; installment payment of the balance of 50 per cent (unwaived) of the outstanding Spectrum fees spread over a period of 10 years; and that EMTS should make immediate payment of the first installment of the amount (50 per cent) to the Federal Government of Nigeria.
In view of these prayers, EMTS was informed that the amount waived on 900/1800MHz band is N43, 608,048,767.50 and for the 2100MHz band, N29, 329, 977, 600.00.
In addition, the document revealed that installment payment of the balance, yearly, for 900/1800MHz band is N4,360,804,876.75 and for the 2100MHz band, N2, 932,997,760.00, over a period of 10 years.
EMTS was told that the amount immediately due for first installment of 900/1800MHz band is N4, 360,804,876.75 and for the 2100MHz band, N2, 932,997,760.00.
According to the letter, EMTS is to ensure immediate payment of the amount stated for payment as approved by Mr. President vide a letter, dated March 31, 2023.
The telecommunications firm is also to note that this concession does not only apply to new accruals on spectrum, and EMTS is to ensure strict compliance, as appropriate sanctions shall be applied in cases of non-compliance.
However, efforts to get more clarifications on this development from NCC proved abortive as of press time.
The Guardian reached out to the Commission’s Director of Public Affairs, Reuben Mouka, on Tuesday, who promised to clarify and get back on Wednesday, but as of press time, yesterday, there was no information from him.
Several calls were put across to his mobile numbers, but his network operators claimed the numbers were switched-off. Text messages were equally sent to the numbers without any response, as of the time of filling this copy.
The Guardian also reached out to the Head, Corporate Commission, NCC, Mrs. Nnenna Okoha, who directed our reporter to NCC, Director of Public Affairs.
Truly, spectrum has been described as the life wire of the telecommunications industry. Only recently, during a 5G auction, which presented MTN Nigeria, Mafab Communications and Airtel as winners, between 2021 and 2022, the Federal Government, through the NCC, raked in some $820 million from fees paid for the licenses.