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Nigeria has an uncanny proclivity for pressing the ‘self-destruct’ button anytime it appears the country is making progress. That is the how best to describe the recent harassment of MTN by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
It was not long ago that the Nigerian government and regulatory agencies descended on South African telecommunication mobile giant, perhaps, the only most successful and biggest non-oil investor in Nigeria till date, with a raft of disproportionately severe fines and sanctions seen mostly in the international investment circles as an attempt to chase away the most successful foreign investor in the country. But it appears, the government or its agencies have decided the company would know no peace operating in Nigeria and have again resorted to another round of harassment and intimidation often based on some spurious allegations that are not too difficult to dismiss.
Last week, the EFCC invaded and shut down the headquarters of the company in Ikoyi ostensibly to investigate allegations of share price manipulation by the company.
Pray, how do you investigate share price manipulation by shutting down the office of a company? Why don’t they go to the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) where the stocks are listed, or the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the regulator or even stock brokers’ offices where the alleged crimes, if any, were committed? This shows a lack of professionalism and little understanding on how the system works. What is more, MTN’s trading shares and investors are known and public knowledge; so why the undue harassment?
This cannot do Nigeria any good. Despite the low ratings of the country on the ease of doing business index, the reality of companies and factories closing shop due to the harsh business environment, loss of tax revenues from departing firms is making Nigeria loose huge foreign investments. Yet, the government continues to demonise perhaps the only most successful non-oil sector investor that has shown a determination to do business in Nigeria’s difficult environment. Despite its contribution to both government revenue and the economic development of the country. Pray, how do you convince investors to return to or even come to a country where one of the few successful foreign businesses is being vilified daily and unduly harassed by the government and its parastatals?
Thankfully, Nigeria now has such a brand in Dangote investing in other African countries. If positions are flipped, how would Nigeria feel should Dangote be harassed in other countries where he has investments because of his successes?
MTN’s success in Nigeria has become its greatest undoing. True, no company is permitted to flout the country’s rules in the course of doing business in the country. The government and the necessary industry regulators must ensure strict compliance of extant rules and apply sanctions where necessary. However, the government must not consistently vilify a company doing legitimate business in Nigeria in such a manner as to scare off potential investors, especially at this time when the Nigeria is desperate for investors and is doing everything to attract them.