INTERVIEW: My role in MTN fine saga and achievements as communication minister (1) – Shittu

In this exclusive interview, Nigeria’s former communication minister, Adebayo Shittu, grants audience to PREMIUM TIMES’ managing editor, Idris Akinbajo, and senior investigative reporter, Hassan Adebayo.

Mr Shittu talks about his failure to partake in the mandatory NYSC scheme, his role in the MTN fine saga, his achievements as a minister, the politics of his native Oyo State, the future of APC and other matters.

Mr Shittu starts the interview by restating his stance that participating in the NYSC was not a requirement to hold political office. He explains that he has sued the NYSC and wants the court to rule if he has to have an NYSC certificate before holding political office.

Excerpts:

PT: We’ve spoken before the start of the interview on your nonparticiapation in the NYSC. Do you still maintain your stance that you have not violated Nigerian law by skipping NYSC?

Shittu: Before finalizing the issue of NYSC, I want to put it on record that I won when it was first brought up in 1979. That time there was no tribunal. It was high court of Oyo. And I’ll still win again. The matter has already been decided at Oyo High Court where I won again. I will continue to win because the requirements for me to have served never existed. And I’m saying this with all sense of responsibility. How would anybody believe that I have gone to court, at my level, I will not go to court just for the fun of it. Just to establish that I didn’t need to have served because certain prerequisites before service had not yet been made.

PT: If you have a piece of advice for a child of yours or a relative or even just a young graduate who comes to you to say ‘Uncle, Dad I have two options; either I serve mandatory NYSC or I go for political office, which would you recommend for him or her to do?

Shittu: Number one, whichever he succeeds in doing. Both are services to Nigeria. I mean he should be appreciated. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. Both are services to the same nation; so, whichever he succeeds in doing is fine. In any case, there should not be double standards in the way even you journalists report those because of all those who purportedly have not served, I have been the only one, apart from Kemi Adeosun, being…

PT: No. We also reported on the PDP governorship candidate in Kwara and we also exposed him that he did not serve even though he was picked as the candidate. We reported it.

Shittu: Did you report Ajimobi?

PT: We reported it. Infact it was you we reported to have alleged he (former Oyo State Governor Ajimobi) did not serve.

PT: Would you recommend an amendment of the NYSC law to expressly forbid people from holding political office unless they serve?

Shittu: I will not comment on the question until the matter in a Federal High Court Ibadan is disposed of. The guidelines will be there. I’m sure the court will give appropriate advice to the authorities.

PT: Okay sir. Before we go to the MTN issue, speaking about the extant law as we have at the moment, are you able to point to a specific section of Nigerian laws that exempts you from NYSC?

Shittu: That is what is before the Federal High Court. You wait, when the case is coming up you try and be in court to listen to the argument and you’ll be properly guided.

PT: Thank you for that. On the MTN fine case, would you say that your ministry or your office handled that well in the interest of the public?

Shittu: Again, a lot of people, either out of ignorance or mischief, have targeted me with attacks on the MTN issue as if I was central to the resolution of the matter or as if I had a role to play. For your information, and I hope this will go round, I never had any specific role on the resolution of the MTN matter. It was between the NCC, which is the agency operating and monitoring and supervising telecommunication operations, and the Presidency. I didn’t have any single role, the file never got to my table for whatever reason. So people do a lot of mischievous reporting that I collected millions, they have bought houses for me blah blah blah when I didn’t have any role to play in the matter.

PT: The NCC is an agency under the communications ministry.

Shittu: The law guiding each agency is very clear. My role as the Minister of Communications is to provide the appropriate policy direction for them. What happened between MTN and NCC was about operational issues. Those are different: policy is different from operation. If I give you instruction, sell this thing for this amount and anybody who wants to be your customer will not start looking for me. He deals with the man in charge of operations and it’s as simple as that. I didn’t have any role and I’m saying this to the general public.

PT: So, as the communications minister, the largest telecom network in Nigeria was slammed a huge fine that could have, in a way, shut down its operations. And you as the minister did not feel you should intervene in such matter in any way?

Shittu: Let me tell you that I’m not somebody who violates the law. I’m not somebody who goes out of my brief because I want to engage in egoistic or boastful actions of ‘I am Minister of Communications’. The law setting up the NCC predates the setting up of the Ministry of Communications, that’s a very clear point you must understand. And in setting up the NCC, the provides guidelines as to its operations. I didn’t have any role with regards for instance to pricing of services. I do not have a role with regards to cost of licensing or the daily responsibility of monitoring.

PT: So, in other words, you did not in any way get involved in the MTN saga.

Shittu: I’ve told you times without number, it was not part of my brief.

PT: What if evidence emerges that you at some point recommended or suggested to the NCC what position to take?

Shittu: It will be interesting if you have any such evidence.

PT: Would you say that the NCC has properly handled the MTN fine and…

Shittu: You should remember that NCC didn’t even have the last say about the issue – it was the presidency.

PT: The president whom you report to as the communications minister and the president didn’t consult you on it?

Shittu: He didn’t have to consult me.

PT: But he appointed you to head the ministry. Why wouldn’t he consult you?

Shittu: The president is the overall boss. Maybe some of the things you ought to also know; when the fine was imposed on them, they had a duty to pay. But when they felt that they couldn’t pay, they had to approach the presidency directly to let the presidency know the possible impact of sticking to that quantum of fine and that consequences included the fact that if they had to pay that amount in one fell swoop, for instance, they might have to close operations. If they close down business in Nigeria, it will affect all Nigerian employees who run into thousands. It will affect the financial services because we have a lot of banking activities around their business. And internationally, it will also affect our image because we are seeking foreign direct investment in our country. If we now give the impression that Nigeria is a hostile environment to foreign investments, of course, many other people will withdraw.

PT: But insisting that our law and policy be respected does not make us hostile to foreign investors. Does it?

Shittu: If you go to court for a case and somebody is fined N1,000, if he’s not able to pay, what does he do? He appeals for a review. These people simply appealed to Mr President for a review. And Mr President as the symbol of our sovereignty took the appropriate action considering all the facts in favour of MTN and decided to review it. So what’s anybody’s complaint?

PT: At no point of Mr President’s review were you consulted…

Shittu: Why would Mr President consult me?

PT: Because he appointed you to head the Ministry and supervise NCC.

Shittu: Does that mean he has no overriding powers? Remember that I’m acting on behalf of Mr President as the minister because it’s not possible for Mr President to be everywhere but I act on his behalf. In any situation, having regard to the critical importance of the international level, he feels that there is need for him to act, why will he wait for me? Is he the tail or the head?

PT: Wouldn’t you see that as not trusting your judgement if he wouldn’t even call you to have your view on such matter?

Shittu: I’m not complaining because I know that he has overall power of being the symbol of our sovereignty to act in matters that involve everything that affects Nigeria as a nation.

PT: But if companies operating in Nigeria or even individuals run afoul of the law, if they breach clear policies of the government, and when they are called to account, they run to the presidency or mobilise a network of influences to stave off punishment, what does that say about the institutions?

Shittu: It is within the powers of a sitting president to say do not do that again, you are let off.

PT: But does that not mock any avowed commitment to institutional effectiveness?

Shittu: If it happens in court, how much more with Mr President? He’s the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He’s the one who will take responsibility if there’s any problem with international investment and he acts in the interest of Nigeria. And in this case, we should also appreciate this. When the infraction was taking place, it was not possible for the MTN management to have known and deliberately ignored it. And heads rolled actually in MTN. A lot of directors were sacked to show that these infractions were negligence and at the end of the day, we were paid N330 billion. Imagine how much oil we would have to explore and exploit and drill to get that money. You have to be fair to the other side and be able to appreciate that we are actually benefitting from the negligence of an entity.

Shawn Solomon Elliot

Ukpiebo Solomon Elliot is a talented and well motivated Professional Associate Writer, Proofreader and Political scientist. He is a graduate of Political Science and Public Administration, University of Benin and also holds a Diploma in Desktop Publishing and Computer Science.

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