Nigeria’s Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, on Monday clarified his role in the controversial payment of N50 billion by MTN Nigeria to the Federal Government towards the settlement of the N780 billion fine imposed on the telecoms firm by the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC.
The minister, who spoke in an exclusive interview with PREMIUM TIMES in Abuja, said his office did not take any illegal decision.
“The matter is what the office of Attorney-General, as the chief law officer of the federation, is constitutionally vested with the powers to do, as the matter is pending in court,” Mr. Malami said.
“We have not even gotten to the point of negotiation, talk less of entertaining any request for consideration or not. It’s too early in the day for anyone to raise concerns that it is not carried along, because there isn’t any engagement with anyone, as the point of that engagement is still being considered.”
NCC had denied knowledge of the negotiations or payment to the federal government of the N50 billion by MTN, although the ministry of communications later admitted that the money had actually been paid.
Equally, Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu, also denied any role in either negotiating with MTN, directing or receiving the N50 billion from the telecoms firms. He said he was told that negotiations were between MTN and Mr. Malami.
The Attorney General, who later called to respond to PREMIUM TIMES’ inquiry on his role in the matter, said there was no cause for concern about any agency being left behind in the discussions with MTN, as no concrete terms had been negotiated or agreed upon.
“The position of things is that MTN, through their foreign solicitors, made specific overtures to the office of Attorney General of the Federation seeking audience to discuss things that bordered on the pending case in court.
“The reaction of the office of Attorney-General was that the Federal Government was not open for any negotiation, not even an audience, until certain good faith gestures were demonstrated.
“That is how the N50 billion “good faith” payment came about, and the terms of audience in court in respect of the discontinuance or withdrawal of the pending case in court,” he explained. “These were terms they agreed upon, and if they do so, then the possibility of an audience would be granted.”
Mr. Malami said eventually when MTN agreed to discontinue with its case in court and made the “good faith” payment in return for an audience, it was made clear that it was not in any way intended to create any obligation on the part of NCC, Federal Government or the office of Attorney General concerning the fine.
“The N50 billion payment was just a demonstration of good faith if they (MTN) wanted to engage in a discussion with government. Despite the withdrawal of the case in court, it was still agreed that there was no formal audience until they commit whatever request they had into writing for consideration,” the Attorney-General noted.
He said MTN had since made a formal presentation by writing conveying what they wanted to discuss when the audience would eventually be granted, pointing out that the formal request was without an opportunity for MTN to discuss or negotiate anything.
“The request in writing has been circulated to all stakeholders, namely NCC, ministries of Communications and Finance. Their comments and technical inputs would be required to determine whether there is any room for further negotiation or deliberation on those terms. Even if they were to be given audience, what should they expect,” the minister said.
On whether the N50 billion would be considered as part of the fine to be paid by MTN, Mr. Malami said it was “only equitable or logical, whether there is agreement or not, for the N50 billion to be factored into whatever final payment is made as penalty at the end of negotiation.”