By Olugbenga Salami
The leadership of the National Assembly and the executive arm of federal government may be heading for another showdown following the former’s stiff opposition against the alleged plan to reduce the $8.1 billion fine imposed on the Africa’s leading mobile telecommunications company, MTN, to $800 million.
Chairman, Senate Committee on Banking, Insurance and other Financial Institutions, Senator Rafiu Ibrahim, PDP-Kwara South dropped the hint in an interview with journalists late yesterday in Abuja.
According to him, the alleged planned reduction of the fine is a matter of interest to the Senate since it was the executive that imposed the fine on the communication giant through a fresh investigation after one earlier conducted by the Senate in 2016 from which the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN and not MTN was fined.
His committee, he explained further, would immediately demand for CBN report on the matter to be better informed.
Senator Ibrahim said that the only way Nigerians would know what transpired between the CBN and MTN on the $8.1 billion fine was through a detailed report.
“The last time we heard about this issue was when we had a little retreat last two weeks in Lagos, where they (CBN) did the presentation of their biannual activities to the (senate) committee.
“We took them up on the issue, and the bank, that’s the CBN told us what led to its own investigation which to us is not satisfactory because all our resolutions were passed to them, and they did not even implement the resolutions before going into another investigation.
“They said their investigation was based on a petition from a law firm and their stand was that the penalty was correct.
“So, if from the information you have now, it will be ridiculous for them to say they’re bringing the penalty down from $8.1billion to about $800million. That will be ridiculous for the CBN.
“What they told us that day was that they were going to give us the report from when they started the investigation to date and their discussion with MTN.
“So, if that’s the case, they have to explain to Nigerians through us in the Senate Committee to the legislature, what informed the penalty of $8.1billion?
“And what information have they now gathered that informed the reduction to $800m which is about 1000% reduction .
“So, we will be interested to know that. We’re not against whatever they’re doing, but they will have to explain to Nigerians. Did they take the decision they took against MTN in a hurry, a foreign direct investor like MTN?
“Earlier on when the matter came up in 2016, on our own part, we took into consideration the role of MTN in the economy and that was why we did a very thorough job, and we believe we did a thorough job, that they did not steal any money then, that was our own assertion, though they repatriated.
“By then, CBN said all the places where some infractions to the law or guidelines where they gave them waivers.
“That was our position. So, we will be interested in the new investigation conducted by CBN . We want to know what informed this decision. We as a committee and as a Senate will be interested”, the lawmaker stressed.
The Senate in 2017 adopted a resolution largely exonerating MTN of alleged illegal repatriation of $14 billion out of the country.
But it was gathered that the Federal Government, working through the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, may have concluded arrangements to cut the $8.1 billion fine to $800 million through the back door.