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MTN-Visafone deal: NCC may be the most incompetent regulator in Nigeria

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MTN-Visafone deal: NCC may be the most incompetent regulator in Nigeria

In a country where incompetence is like an ethos among government agencies and regulators, the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) may take the cake.

In December 2015, the commission embarrassed itself and the country when it reduced the $5.2 billion fine against telecoms company, MTN, for failing to register sim cards to $3.4 billion and then suddenly jacked it up to $3.9 billion, saying that “there was a typo.”

According to its spokesman, “The reduction should have been 25%. We saw the mistake and had to fix it.”

Last week, the commission flubbed once again. In a stunning development, its Executive Vice Chairman, Prof Umar Danbatta, said that even though it approved the $220 million acquisition of Visafone by MTN last December, it has not yet approved that Visafone’s broadband spectrum be included in the deal.

“Whereas, we are allowing MTN to have shareholding in Visafone, the spectrum has not been approved by the regulator to be used by MTN since we are still subjecting the use of the spectrum to public enquiry,” Danbatta said at a press conference.

The entire essence of the Visafone deal was the broadband spectrum – that’s the main reason MTN acquired the company owned by Jim Ovia. It was widely reported at the time that MTN wanted the 800MHz spectrum in order to launch 4GLTE services.

In fact, this deal and the fact that the broadband spectrum is included as part of the deal is still on the NCC website as we speak. Danbatta and his NCC are clearly not telling the truth.

Of course there is a good reason why the deal between MTN and Visafone should have probably not been approved. MTN is the dominant operator with 60 per cent of market share and this deal would increase that. In fact, rival company, Etisalat sued MTN and Visafone over the deal earlier this year, releasing a statement saying that MTN’s “use of the 800MHz spectrum to deploy broadband services ahead of its competitors, particularly those who, prior to MTNs purchase of Visafone, held similar spectrum bands as MTN, will further entrench MTN’s dominance in the Nigerian telecommunications sector.”

Etisalat said then that in line with Section 86 of the Nigerian Communications Act, 2003, it was engaging the NCC to understand the basis of its decision to approve the acquisition.

Even at the point Etisalat filed legal proceedings in February, it was already too late for the NCC to claim it had not approved the deal. The best it could have done was say that it made a mistake. Yet it did not deny the deal at the time.

This flat-out lying now – nine months after approval – does no one any good. It is a bad signal to investors that the word of a Nigerian regulator is not worth the paper on which it is written.

This NCC is an incompetent regulator and unfortunately nothing is going to change until someone – like its boss, Danbatta – takes the fall for the repeated embarrassing moves.

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