South African mobile phone operator MTN fuelled the Boko Haram insurgency in northeast Nigeria by neglecting to disconnect millions of unregistered users, President Muhammadu Buhari mentioned on Tuesday.
All mobile phone operators in Nigeria were ordered to disconnect unregistered SIMs by mid-2015 on security grounds but MTN missed the deadline.
Nigeria’s communications regulator last October slapped a $3.9bn fine on the Johannesburg-based firm, which has since paid out $250m towards the penalty.
The affair cast a shadow over the build-up to the visit of South African President Jacob Zuma and was expected to have been high on the agenda when he met Buhari for talks in the capital, Abuja.
In his first comments on the issue, Buhari told a joint news conference: “The concern of the federal government was basically on the security, not the fine imposed on the MTN. “You know how the unregistered GSM are being used by terrorists…
That was why (the) NCC (Nigerian Communications Commission) asked the MTN, Glo and the rest of them to register GSM.
“Unfortunately MTN was very slow and contributed to the casualties. And that was why the NCC looked at its regulations and imposed that fine on them.”
Boko Haram violence has left at least 17 000 dead and forced more than 2.6 million from their homes since 2009. Buhari announced in December the group was “technically” defeated but attacks continue.