Minister for Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) has explained his role in the payment of N50billion to the Federal Government by a telecommunication firm, MTN Nigeria Limited as part settlement of the fine imposed on it by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).
Malami denied any underhand dealings, insisting that his intervention in the case, which led to the company’s payment of the amount, was a product of a transparent process.
The minister added that there is no hidden transaction in relation to the planned negotiation between the Federal Government and MTN as against the erroneous belief and assumption in some quarters, including the National Assembly that the nation is being mortgaged.
Malami’s position is contained in his letter to the Chairman,Senate Committee on Communications, led by Senator Gilbert Nnaji.
In the letter authored by the minister’s Media aide, Salihu Isah, Malami faulted the refusal to allow him an opportunity to present his case before the lawmakers.
He faulted the law makers’ position on the issue, which he argued portrayed him as being motivated solely by self-interest.
“For the benefit of those in doubt, it is so far, so good for the role my principal has played. I wish to state vividly that, when Mr. Eric Holder, the counsel to the MTN led a team to interface with my principal as the Chief Law Officer of the nation, he (Malami) insisted that MTN must show some commitment by ensuring a down payment of N50 billion.
“The Federal Government’s insistence was that no audience could be granted to the telecom Company or anyone acting on its behalf while the case is still pending in court and in the absence of demonstration of good faith by MTN.
“To this request, MTN offered to comply, and indeed complied by withdrawing the case unconditionally and to make an agreed payment of N50 billion ($250 million), an offer the FGN accepted only to grant audience to it and its counsel in relations to the settlement discussions (and without prejudice and in good faith).
“The payment was made on February 24th, into a Federal Government Recoveries Account with the Central Bank of Nigeria. The Company also filed an application to withdraw its pending suit in an attempt to fulfil the second condition for audience with the FGN on the matter.
“This was also confirmed by the Office of the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice before it agreed to grant audience to MTN or its Counsel.
“And having fulfilled the two conditions as demanded by the Federal Government through the AGF, the MTN through its counsel Eric Holder and his Covington legal team thereby sought audience with the AGF, who yet denied going into any negotiations, but demanded a proposal of the terms meant to be discussed in writing.
“Mr. Eric Holder obliged those terms and the AGF, who quickly despatched a mail through the normal official channel to the Minister of Communications and the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC inviting for their input before fixing any meeting.
“While still awaiting the responses of both, no meeting or discussion or negotiation has been held on the issue ever since. What the AGF did afterwards was to ask the MTN legal team to formally present its proposals on the matter so that technical input could be sought from all stakeholders before the FGN could grant them any audience.
“This proposal has now been circulated among the stakeholders for their technical contributions and that is where we were on the issue when the invitation of the Senate came in at a time when the AGF was embarking on a trip to attend an anti-corruption summit in the United Kingdom that he was earlier billed to attend before the invitation came handy.
“It is imperative to state at this juncture that neither an audience nor commitment was made by the AGF to MTN, who was then waiting for the technical inputs and comments of the ministries of Communications and Finance as well as the NCC with a view to harmonizing the inputs, and coordinate inter-ministerial meeting for a common position, before considering an audience meeting or negotiation with MTN, all of which were aborted by the pre-emptive conclusion hastily reached by your Committee,” the AGF said.
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