MTN: New board under fire as HEDA gives SEC ultimatum

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The Nigerian Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has been handed over a 14-day ultimatum to delist some members of the newly-constituted MTN Board or face legal action.

In a petition by Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA Resource Centre) and sent to the Acting Director General of SEC, the group called for the immediate rejection of the former public office holders listed as new board members of the South African owner communication concern.

HEDA, in the petition released to the media on Sunday and signed by its Chairman, Olanrewaju Suraju, alleged that MTN Nigeria’s recent Board members’ selection “represents an economic intrigue aimed at insulating the MTN from adverse local political action given its recent history with the regulatory agency, the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, and the office of the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF.”

HEDA said it agreed with critics that appointment of Mr. Ernest Ndukwe, an engineer, who was one-time Executive Vice Chairman of the NCC as new MTN Board Chairman, will afford the company the benefit of having a regulatory insider available to intervene on its behalf in troubled times.

The group also rejected Mr. Muhammad Ahmad, former Chairman of the Technical Committee of the Nigerian Code on Corporate Governance, who Chairs the Boards of two local banks and is currently on the interim Board of International Energy Insurance Company (IEI).

The group stated: “The presence of Mr. Andrew Alli on the MTN Nigeria’s Board as a non-Executive Director also seems to give the outgoing Chairman, Dr. Pascal Dozie, a backdoor channel. Alli is known to be a long-time associate of Pascal Dozie and was at one time speculated to have been head-hunted as a possible managing director of Dozie’s now defunct, Diamond Bank.

The group, similarly, questioned appointment of Mrs. Omobola Johnson, a former Minister for Communication between 2011 and 2015.

According to HEDA, inclusion of Mrs. Ifueko Okauru, who was a former Executive Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS) and remains a highly connected local authority on taxation also should not have been listed in the MTN Board.

The group noted that Mrs. Ifueko Okauru was Chairman of FIRS when the Nigeria Labour Congress demanded Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC) to probe the operations of MTN Nigeria following allegations of illicit financial flow and tax evasion as reported by the Nigerian media.

“As relayed above, Mrs. Okauru was Chairman of FIRS when the allegations of MTN Nigeria’s tax evasion of over $2 billion relating to import duties, VAT, withholding tax on foreign import/payments were revealed and despite this it was reported that tranches of transfers were discovered to have been made to companies in Dubai and Mauritius as reported by Satellite Times on the 8th October, 2018 and these allegations under the nose of the former Chairman was consequent upon the failure of the FIRS to undertake diligent and effective supervision and no record of investigations to confirm the authenticity or otherwise while in office.”

HEDA stated further: “It was reported that while other mobile firms complied, MTN flouted the regulator’s instructions, leaving 5.2 million unregistered users on its network and the fine was due on November 17, 2015, but MTN managed to secure a cover up and delayed fines until a new management and government came into office.

“It is a complete show of irony that Mr. Ernest Ndukwe who was the Vice Chairman of the NCC during the MTN infractions, the regulatory body solely responsible for the business activities of telecommunications and Mrs. Mobolaji Johnson as the Communication Minister at the time of this infractions will be selected as the designate Chairman and Board Member respectively by the telecommunication company”.

The group added: “In the light of the above, we hereby demand that the Commission rejects with immediate effect the nomination of the above stated persons (Dr. Ernest Ndukwe, Mrs. Mobolaji Johnson, Mrs. Ifueko Omoigui-Okauru, Mr Andrew Alli and Mr. Muhammad Ahmad) as members of the Board of the MTN Nigeria Communications Plc. within 14 days of the receipt of this letter or in the event that this is not done within the stated period, we shall without a further recourse to you proceed to a court of competent jurisdiction to demand the performance of this request.”

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