JOHANNESBURG – Nigerian authorities are renewing the license of the MTN telecommunications group as the company faces a multibillion-dollar fine in the West African nation, the South African-based telecommunications company said on Tuesday.
The Nigerian Communications Commission extended MTN’s operating license to 2021 at a cost of $94.2 million, the MTN Group said in a statement. Nigeria is by far MTN’s biggest market, with 62 million customers among Nigeria’s 170 million people, the company said.
Last week, the commission fined MTN $5.2 billion for failing to disconnect millions of unregistered cellphone subscribers, sparking speculation about the company’s future in Nigeria.
The $5.2 billion fine is equivalent to at least two average years’ profit for MTN Nigeria and nearly three times the $1.8 billion that it has invested in the West African country, according to the company’s website. Africa’s leading cellphone service provider, MTN paid $285 million for an operating license in Nigeria in 2001.
MTN’s share price has dropped sharply and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange halted trade of its shares on Monday until the company assured shareholders that it was negotiating the fine with Nigerian authorities. Once trading resumed, shareholders were asked to deal cautiously with the company’s securities, MTN said in its statement to traders.
Nigerian newspapers report MTN is asking for more time to pay the fine due Nov. 16.
Launched in 1994 in South Africa, MTN has 233 million subscribers in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, according to the company.
Faul reported from Lagos, Nigeria.