Nigeria: NBC, MTN Defend N34bn Spectrum Sale

Telecoms

The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and MTN Nigeria have defended their involvement in the licensing of the country’s 700MHz spectrum licence, insisting that the deal was neither controversial nor lacking in transparency.

In a document made available to THISDAY, the Senior Partner, Integrated Network Management Consultants, Mr. Ojie Panama, had raised concerns that the NBC secretly sold the country’s 700MHz spectrum, which was a national frequency that was meant for telecommunications service offering to MTN Nigeria for N34 billion without the knowledge of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the telecommunications industry regulator that is empowered to sell such spectrums through a transparent auction.

Panama insisted that the spectrum in question should be returned to the rightful custodian, the NCC and called on government to carry out a thorough investigation into the matter and punish any culprit or such persons found to have aided the infraction.

But the Director General of NBC, Mr. Emeka Mba, who did not deny the sale of the 700MHz spectrum to MTN, told THISDAY that the spectrum was sold at a time when it was still under the control of NBC, and that NBC sought and received approval to raise money to pursue its Digital Switch Over (DSO) mandate by licensing commercially a portion of the spectrum for converged services use.

He said the licensing was handled transparently and was done as part of its convergence service.

Panama however argued that although the spectrum had been under the custody of the NBC, the commission was supposed to free up the spectrum to NCC after the planned DSO, which was the migration from analogue to digital broadcasting on June 17, 2015.

He however explained that even though the spectrum continued to remain in the custody of the NBC, following the inability of Nigeria to conclude the DSO process in June, NBC had no right to sell the spectrum since it is the prerogative of the NCC to do so because it is a telecoms spectrum licence.

He accused NBC of denying other telecoms operators the right to bid for the licence, which he said should have been made open for a transparent auction by the NCC had NBC had not hurriedly sold it to MTN.

Panama said the action of NBC was flagrant abuse of power to deny other telecoms operators the right to bid for a national spectrum.
Reacting to the charge, MTN’s Corporate Services Executive, Mr. Akinwale Goodluck, said: “MTN did not enter into any controversial deal. The company in its transactions employs the highest ethical and transparency standards. Its actions are the subject of necessary approvals and due process. MTN in pursuit of its objectives continues to consider all legitimate opportunities.”

The Public Affairs Director of NCC, Mr. Tony Ojobo, when contacted, told THISDAY that he had no information on the matter and declined comment on it.

Panama who was clearly unhappy over the way the spectrum was sold to MTN, said the deal had been concluded and that the N34 billion was paid into NBC’s account through Zenith Bank.

According to him, “The NBC deal was controversial because NBC does not have the authority to issue spectrum to telephone carriers. By law, NBC is the regulator for the broadcasting companies only. That includes radio and TV.

“The only authority mandated under the Nigerian constitution to allocate spectrum to telephone carriers is the NCC. So, where and when did NBC derive this new found power?”

He said investigations so far revealed that  the NCC has just found out on this encroachment and breach of functions and they are furious at both organisations for lack of due process and respect of the law, and that NCC was prepared to escalate the matter.
Source: This Day 14 September 2015