President Muhammadu Buhari has stated that the Nigerian government was forced to impose a hefty fine on South African owned telecoms firm, MTN, after it was discovered that the sale of unregistered SIM cards by the company aided the terrorist group, Boko Haram, to continue to kill Nigerians.
Mr. Buhari made the disclosure Tuesday during a press conference he held with the visiting South African president, Jacob Zuma, at the State House presidential villa in Abuja.
Mr. Buhari was responding to a question on the matter by a South African journalist who said the hefty fine imposed on MTN may likely scare the firm away from the country and hurt ongoing bilateral agreements regarding trade between the two nations.
“The concern of the Federal Government was basically on the security and not the fine imposed on MTN,” he said.
Mr. Buhari also said Boko Haram has killed over 10,000 Nigerians since 2009 and the use of unregistered SIM cards aided them.
“You know how the unregistered GSM are being used by terrorists and between 2009 and today, at least 10,000 Nigerians were killed by Boko Haram.
“That was why NCC asked MTN, Glo and the rest of them to register GSM.
“Unfortunately, MTN was very slow and contributed to the casualties. And NCC looked at its regulations and imposed the fine on them,” he said.
The president added that the Nigerian government decided to allow the security agencies, as well as the NCC and MTN to “deal with the issue”.
He however said “unfortunately for MTN, they went to court and once you go to court, you virtually disarm the government, because if the Federal government refuses to listen to the judiciary, it is going against its own constitution.
“Therefore, the government has to wait and I think MTN has seen that and decided to withdraw the case and try to go back and negotiate with government agencies on what they consider a very stiff fine can be reduced or may be given time to pay gradually.”
On his part, the visiting South African president was asked about Nigerian funds which were seized by the South African government during the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan as well as the xenophobic attacks in South Africa by citizens of the country against other African nationals.
Mr. Zuma said Nigeria and South Africa are currently working the issue of confiscated funds.
“Relevant structures are working on it and there are some that have been discovered and recovered, but there are some that the necessary departments are doing investigation. We would certainly appreciate if we succeed in recovering all other issues so that they would be returned back,” he said.
On Xenophobia, Mr. Zuma said it was an unfortunate experience because, as he said “all Africans are the same. It is the colonialists through borders that make us to think we are different from one another”.
He said as far as the South Africa government is concerned, all Africans are the same and that view is what is being used to address the unfortunate incidence of xenophobia adding, “we believe we have dealt with these issues and we need this kind of inter action among countries.
“We like our people in both countries and other countries to realize that we are the same. We have the same objectives and the same interest and we have the same kind of destination as Africans,” he said.
Mr. Zuma had also earlier informed the gathering that the discussion held with President Buhari centred on reviewing various bilateral and multilateral issues.
He said the two leaders have noted with satisfaction the ever growing cooperation in many sectors including trade and investment; defence and security; immigration matters; energy; mineral resources, and others.
He also said they have recognised the important role played by the South Africa-Nigeria Binational Commission since its inception in 1999.
“As we forge a strategic partnership between the two sister nations, we have decided to elevate the Bi-National Commission to the level of Heads of State.
“In this way my Brother and I will be able to lead as well as monitor progress in various areas of cooperation,” he said.
Mr. Zuma said Nigeria and South Africa have signed over 30 bilateral agreements and memoranda of understanding.
These agreements, he said, cover a wide range of cooperation areas including trade and industry, transport, energy, defence and security and immigration among others.
“We have directed the relevant Ministers to move with speed in implementing all signed agreements.
“We have also directed our Ministers to identify joint projects in the key high impact strategic development areas, which will have socio-economic benefits such as employment creation to our peoples,” he said.