Thursday, March 23, 2017

The NCC’s And MTN’s Swindle

By Paul Onomuakpokpo
Despite the hobbling challenges of poor security and infrastructure, it is not uncommon for foreign investors to speak glowingly about the huge opportunities in the Nigerian business environment. They wonder why Nigerians should lend themselves to ruing their citizenship and being subjected to stark poverty when all around them are treasure troves they, foreigners, have braved long distances to explore.

Of course, we cannot legitimately accuse some of these investors of engaging in double speak. Yet the discerning among us are not oblivious of the fact that such a tribute to the boundless opportunities in the country could also serve as a euphemistic way of referring to the ease of making a fortune from the country by circumventing its laws and swindling the citizens.
Yes, it is not only foreign business people that enrich themselves through the violation of the laws of the country to the detriment of the citizens who pay for their services. It is a norm among local businesses to make their customers to pay for services that are not offered or shoddily provided. This is why the citizens have almost become inured to their ordeal at the hands of electricity distribution companies. 

Foreign businesses have apparently taken their cue from their local counterparts. However, the foreign businesses have obviously heightened the brazenness with which the consumers of services are exploited. Most times, this exploitation goes on with the active connivance of the regulatory authorities. A foreign company that currently epitomises this state of wanton circumvention of the laws of the country and exploitation of the citizens is the South African telecommunications company, MTN. Indeed, MTN has a history of unscrupulous business ethics, from when it was the monopolistic behemoth of the telecommunications sector to now that it has other companies to compete with. When the government was scandalised by the MTN’s blatant refusal to deactivate its unregistered subscribers, it was not because it had before then a history of hewing to the path of integrity in its business transactions especially with its numerous subscribers .
By failing to deactivate its unregistered subscribers, MTN was only serving the Federal Government a full dose of its accustomed impunity to which subscribers had been subjected . Outraged at MTN’s defiance of the directive, the government imposed a fine of N1.04 trillion on it. But after so much pleading and corralling under the fatuous rubric of the grave losses the citizens would suffer due to the possible mortal blow to MTN by the fine, it was later reduced to N330 billion.

But the sanction has done nothing to wean MTN off its unethical corporate practices. Thus the citizens have been subjected to more exploitation after the sanction, in this case with so much vengeance. MTN now brazenly deducts from the accounts of subscribers. It offers the subscribers unsolicited services and makes them pay for them. This is aside from the fraudulent promises of giving bonuses that are often taken back before their expiry dates.
Like most MTN’s subscribers, I am a victim of this swindle. My ordeal at the hands of MTN began on March 12, 2017 when the network offered an unsolicited service by saying that my name would feature in a draw for N10, 000, 000 at the cost of N100 daily. For two days, N200 was deducted from my account. On the second day, I had to send “STOP” to 38427 to opt out even though I did not subscribe. The response I got was “You have successfully unsubscribed from VIP Class.” But from the third to the fifth day MTN continued to deduct N100 daily from my account . 
Since MTN did not stop the deductions, I had to send a text message to one of its top officials asking him to use his good offices to stop this barefaced theft. I also sent the same message to an official of Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). My phone indicated that the two messages were successfully sent. But neither of them responded. Even before this, an ICT correspondent of this newspaper had gone to the same official of MTN but he did not bother to intervene. When the deductions continued, I had to send “STOP” to 2442. I got a message that I had “subscribed to Do Not Disturb Service.” On the sixth day, I sent “STOP” to 38427 again and I got the same assurance as earlier stated that I had successfully unsubscribed. Yet since then up till today Wednesday (March 23) that I am writing this, the deductions continue.
So the impunity of MTN goes on with either the active collusion or negligence of NCC. Forget about the fine for the failure to deactivate unregistered subscribers. We can only measure NCC’s readiness to tame the marauding telecommunications companies by how much it reins them in on behalf of the citizens they are subjecting to their corporate whims and caprices. But in this regard, the NCC has failed woefully. 
Consequently, the telecommunications companies are having a field day. Now, in just one day, MTN fraudulently makes N6.2 billon off its subscribers. As at January this year, MTN had 62 million subscribers. If MTN fraudulently deducts N100 from each subscriber’s account daily, this would amount to N6.2 billion. In just 10 days, MTN would make N62 billion. In a month, it would make N186 billion and in 10 months, MTN would make N1.86 trillion. So the government even made a mistake by reducing the fine of the N1.04 trillion since MTN could have paid it in less than a year by defrauding its subscribers.
Since the NCC and the Consumer Protection Council have failed to protect the citizens against the excesses of MTN and other telecommunications companies, the Federal Government through the Minister of Communications and the National Assembly should consider it a matter of urgent national importance to intervene. They should not only mete out appropriate sanctions to MTN, they should equally call NCC to order. Is NCC effectively discharging its regulatory responsibilities if it cannot protect subscribers who are being exploited by MTN and other telecoms’ firms? Does the NCC think that stopping MTN from unduly deducting from the accounts of its subscribers is beneath its lofty office since it may not hug the headlines? 

The government cannot be emoting about a departure from the lawless ways of life in the country while tolerating the incompetent and conniving officials of the NCC. The government owes it as a duty to the citizens to call to order the officials of NCC who have neglected their responsibilities to the citizens on whose behalf they hold offices. Through appropriate sanctions, the government should send MTN a strong message that Nigeria is a sane society guided by laws. And that when these laws are breached, there are dire consequences.

The government should not be swayed by the fear that when MTN is given the appropriate sanction it would collapse and render thousands of Nigerians jobless. It should be compelled to adequately compensate the subscribers it has been defrauding. If MTN thinks that it is only by swindling the citizens that it can survive in Nigeria, then it should be ready to leave. There are many other investors who would gladly take its place, learn from its fall occasioned by egregious greed and offer better services to the citizens.
*Dr. Onomuakpokpo is on the Editorial Board of The Guardian 

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