•Why seized $9.3m arms fund has not been refunded —Zuma
•Nigeria, South Africa sign 30 agreements
President Muhammadu Buhari has accused MTN of contributing to the killing of over 10,000 people by Boko Haram, following its slow pace in registering its subscribers.
He made the remark while responding to questions during a joint news conference with visiting South African President, Jacob Zuma, at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, on Tuesday.
President Buhari, who was speaking publicly on the issue for the first time, explained that government was more concerned about security rather than the fine imposed on the telecoms provider.
The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has imposed the fine of $5.2 billion on MTN for failing to register thousands of active mobile telephone lines.
Buhari observed that Boko Haram had relied on unregistered SIM card to perpetrate their atrocities, leading to the death of thousands of people.
President Buhari said: “The concern of the Federal Government was basically on the security and not the fine imposed on MTN.
“You know how the unregistered GSM are being used by terrorists and between 2009 and today, at least 10,000 Nigerians were killed by Boko Haram, at least 10,000.
“That was why the NCC asked MTN, Glo and the rest of them to register GSM subscribers.
“Unfortunately, MTN was very very slow and contributed to the casualties. And NCC looked at its regulations and imposed the fine.
“Unfortunately for MTN, they went to court and once you go to court, you virtually disarm the government because if the Federal Government refuses to listen to the judiciary, it’s going against its own constitution.
“Therefore, the government has to wait. I think MTN has seen that and decided to withdraw the case and go back and negotiate with government’s agencies on what they consider a very steep fine to be reduced and maybe given time to pay gradually.”
Also responding to a question, President Jacob Zuma explained why the $9.3 million cash meant for arms purchase confiscated by authorities in his country from Nigerian officials was yet to be released.
He said relevant departments were still carrying on investigation into the matter.
Part of the money had been ferried with a private jet to South Africa in what government at the time said was an attempt to procure arms through black market to fight Boko Haram.
Responding to a question on why South Africa was yet to remit the money back to Nigeria, Zuma expressed the willingness of his government to recover the money for Nigeria.
He said: “With regards to the things that were either confiscated or went to South Africa, the two governments are working on those matters, the relevant structures are working on it, but there are some that have been discovered and recovered and there are some the necessary departments are doing the investigations.
“We will certainly appreciate if we succeed in recovering all other issues or all other things that will be in South Africa illegally, so that they will be returned.”
The South African president also spoke on the possible payment of compensation to Nigeria victims of the recent xenophobic attacks in his country, saying that once victims were able to report and identify what had been taken from them, solution could be found.
He said: “With regards to things that could have been destroyed at that time, I’m sure that that is a matter that relevant departments will be dealing with particularly if people have reported what happened.
“We know that during the attacks, a number of articles were taken by people as it always happens when there is a conflict but we hope that people could identify and indicate. Then, I’m sure the collaboration of how to solve those problems will certainly be found.”
He regretted the xenophobic attacks, stressing that all Africans were the same.
Zuma revealed that both countries have signed over 30 bilateral agreements and memoranda of understanding covering a wide range of cooperation areas including trade and industry, transport, energy, defence and security and immigration among others.
He said the leaders had directed the relevant ministers to move with speed in implementing all signed agreements.
They have also directed ministers to identify joint projects in the key high impact strategic development areas, which will have socio-economic benefits such as employment creation to our peoples.
According to him, both leaders welcomed the increased economic cooperation and trade relations between our two countries over the past decade. Nigeria is South Africa’s key trading partner on the continent.
He added: “Prior to 1999, there were only four South African companies in Nigeria. Since 1999, the situation has changed dramatically.
“Over 120 companies are currently doing business in Nigeria, in various sectors, mainly telecommunications, banking, retail, property, entertainment and hospitality. We welcome this significant development.
“We also see great potential in boosting tourism between the two countries. According to Statistics South Africa, an average of 4,000 Nigerians travelled to South Africa on a monthly basis in 2015.
“In order to promote South Africa as a tourist destination in both the vast Nigerian market and in the West African region as a whole, a Tourism Office was opened in Lagos, in January 2014, by ministers of Tourism of both countries.
“We also encourage South Africans to tour Nigeria so that we can improve understanding and the appreciation of one another’s culture and way of life.
“It is important for us to structure our economic cooperation. In this regard, the South Africa-Nigeria Business Forum has been organised, comprising of high level business delegations from both countries.
“We urge our private sector to invest in the respective countries and help create job opportunities and improve the quality of life.”