Reps draw battle line with AGF over MTN fine

By Kokumo Goodie, Lagos, Nigeria

The lower legislative chamber, the House of Representatives has drawn the battle line with Nigeria’s chief law officer, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami over the fine imposed on MTN by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).

The legislators are of the opinion that the chief law officer’s action in negotiating a reduction in the fine was beyond his brief.

They say he has no right to negotiate a reduction of the N1.04trillion fine since it was imposed on the telco for violating sections 19 and 20 of the Registration of Telephone Subscribers Regulation, 2011.

The Lower House said it will set up an ad hoc committee to investigate where the AGF derived the power to negotiate a reduction of the fine from and if he is not usurping the powers of the legislature.

The ad hoc Committee will also investigate if the regulator has the power under the law to reduce the fine which under Sections 19 and 30 of NCC enabling law has been fixed.

A member Hon. Ehiozowa Agbonayinma who raised the motion on the floor of the House at plenary said: "MTN ought to have been fined under both Section 19 and Section 20 respectively with cumulative penalty of N3.120 trillion and not the N1.04 trillion which is a gross violation of the combined reading of both section 19 and Section 20 of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) Act.”

He blamed MTN for the loss of the lives lamenting that the way the telco behaved to House Communications Committee investigating the issue was disgusting.

"That the committee on Telecommunications investigates the extent to which the non- compliance of MTN to the provisions of the law allegedly led to the death of over 10,000 Nigerians and whether MTN can escape criminal liability under the law by merely paying fines no matter how punitive the fine may be," he said.

 Majority Leader of the House Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila and the Minority Leader, Leo Ogor supported the motion.

While the Majority Leader challenged the legality of the recovery fund into which MTN's N50 billon good faith money was paid into and said it violated Section 80 of the constitution that says all monies accruing to the country must be paid into the Consolidated Revenue Fund, his Minority Leader counterpart averred that the principle of separation of powers has been violated by the action of the AGF, arguing that negotiating a fine fixed by law is an amendment to extant law which only the House has power to do.

Speaker of the House, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, agreed no less with sponsor of the motion and others that supported it. He submitted that the fine is fixed by law and no authority can reduce it unless the law  is amended.

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