The federal government of Nigeria is a part owner and shareholder of the troubled telecommunications giant, MTN Nigeria, checks by PREMIUM TIMES have shown.

The details, which is not entirely new but largely unknown to many analysts and Nigerian citizens, are coming to the fore amidst a long-running row between the Nigerian authorities and the telecom firm.

The Central Bank of Nigeria had in August sanctioned MTN Nigeria and four commercial banks for alleged financial infractions.

The CBN demanded a refund of about $8.13 billion (about N2.5 trillion at N306.15 to a dollar) allegedly repatriated illegally out of Nigeria through four banks, including Standard Chartered Bank, Stanbic-IBTC, Citibank and Diamond Bank.

The banks were also ordered to refund various amounts totaling N5.87 billion.

While Standard Chartered was asked to refund N2.5 billion, Stanbic IBTC was to refund N1.9 billion; Citibank, N1.3 billion; and Diamond Bank was asked to refund N250 million.

The banks were accused of committing “flagrant violation of extant laws and regulations of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, including the Foreign Exchange (Monitoring and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1995 and the Foreign Exchange Manual, 2006.”

Details showed about $35.5billion was repatriated by Standard Chartered Bank based on illegally issued CCIs, while about $2.6billion, $1.8 billion and $348.9million fraudulently issued by Stanbic IBTC, Citibank and Diamond Bank respectively between 2007 and 2015.

Besides, the CBN said further investigations revealed that on account of illegal conversion of MTN shareholders’ loan to preference shares (interest free loan) of $399.6million, about $8.13 billion was illegally repatriated by MTN.

Further details showed MTN shareholders invested about $402.6million between 2001 and 2006 through the inflow of foreign currency cash transfers and equipment importation evidenced by the CCIs issued by Standard Chartered, Citi Bank and Diamond Bank.

Although the affected banks denied wrongdoing, by September, the CBN had debited the banks.

At the height of the controversies generated by the development in September, MTN was slammed a separate sanction by Nigeria’s attorney general to the tune of about $2 billion dollar over tax concerns.

The telecoms firm took the matters to court and is now negotiating with the apex bank for a favourable resolution.

Nigerian government’s Investment in MTN

In the middle of the controversies, there have been insinuations in and outside the media that the telecoms giant is being persecuted by the Nigerian authorities. A few analysts suggested, even, that the matter would have been otherwise if the nation had a major stake in the company, aside being chiefly a regulator.

Checks by PREMIUM TIMES Wednesday, however, showed that the Nigerian government is an investor and stakeholder in MTN Nigeria, through the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA), the nation’s investment agency.

PREMIUM TIMES searched through the annual report and account of the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) between 2014 and 2016 and details showed that the nation has investment in MTN Nigeria.

Titi Olubiyi, the NSIA spokesperson, also confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES Wednesday night that the agency’s investment in the telecom giant, which commenced in 2014, is still valid.

The NSIA came to being on May 27, 2011, after the then president signed the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority bill into law.

The NSIA was created with the mandate of driving sustained economic development for the benefit of all Nigerians while its vision is anchored on building a savings base for the Nigerian people, enhancing the development of Nigeria’s infrastructure and, ultimately, providing stabilisation support in times of economic stress occasioned by depleting oil revenues.

When probed during a telephone chat Wednesday, Mr Olubiyi disclosed that details of Nigeria’s investment in MTN could not be accessed by PREMIUM TIMES but the agency is aware of the rows between the government and MTN.

The spokesperson added that having done its due diligence and market analysis adequately prior the investment, the NSIA is convinced that its investment in MTN and other conglomerates it invested on behalf of the Nigerian government is secured.

MTN Nigeria is 75.81 percent owned by MTN International (Mauritius) Limited (MTNI); 18.7 percent held by Nigerian shareholders through special purpose vehicles; 2.78 percent owned by Mobile Telephone Networks NIC B.V and 1.76 percent owned by Public Investment Corporation SOC Limited.

It is not clear why the government would not want to disclose the size of its share in the company although it is clear public funds were used for the acquisition.

It is clear however that its share would be under 18.7 per cent given the spread of equities.

On Tuesday, MTN Group warned shareholders to exercise caution in dealing with the company’s securities amidst plans to settle amicably with Nigerian authorities.

“They (shareholders) are advised that MTN Nigeria Communications Limited continues to engage with the relevant Nigerian authorities to ensure a mutually acceptable resolution to the matters concerning the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Attorney General of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” the telecom group said in a disclosure sent to the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, JSE, South Africa, where it is listed.

“Accordingly, shareholders are advised to continue to exercise caution when dealing in the Company’s securities until a further announcement is made,” it added.

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