Industry analysts have described the US$53-million settlement reached between the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and MTN Nigeria as a slap on the wrist for the mobile network operator.
MTN and the CBN were in a dispute over the transfer of the funds (US$8.12-billion), which the bank said the company had sent abroad in breach of foreign exchange regulations between 2007 and 2015.
Reuters reported that the CBN had ordered MTN and its lenders to bring back a total of US$8.1-billion it alleged the company had illegally repatriated using improperly issued paperwork between 2007 and 2008.
Following the first meeting of the monetary policy committee, Godwin Emefiele, CBN Governor, said: "This [notional reversal] has since been paid by the MTN, and the terms of settlement of the matters have already been lodged in the appropriate Nigerian courts."
MTN issued a statement which read: "MTN Nigeria provided additional material documentation which satisfactorily clarified its remittances. The CBN upon review of the additional documentation concluded that MTN Nigeria is no longer required to reverse the historical dividend payments made to MTN Nigeria shareholders."
Slap on the wrist
In August 2018, ITWeb Africa reported that stakeholders in Nigeria were divided over the CBN-MTN issue.
In December of that year, when ITWeb Africa reported both parties made public their ongoing efforts to settle the case out-of-court, prompting a postponement of the case, subscribers and other stakeholders who spoke to ITWeb Africa said the operator was using a move that has proven effective over the years.
Local tech expert Wale Ladipo said: "Whenever MTN has a trouble in Nigeria, it will first file a lawsuit, then you will start seeing media propaganda aimed that would present the company as being frustrated by local authorities. When the Nigerian government sees that foreign investments are being threatened, it will reluctantly begin to dance to the operator's tune. We should also start asking whether those representing Nigeria in the discussions have the country's best interest at heart or not."
Tope Fasua, CEO of Global Analytics Consulting, believed CBN missed a chance to assert its authority and blamed the reduction of the sum for notional reversal on 'regulatory laxity' and 'recapitulation to blackmail from foreign capitalist interests'.
Representatives of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre and the Centre for Social Justice said MTN appears to have mastered how to handle the Nigerian government since it has successfully reduced previous fines issued by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).
"Nigeria has regulators that will rather cooperate with multinational organisations to undermine the interest of Nigeria," said Auwwal Rafsanjani, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre's Executive Director.