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Dabengwa resigns from MTN over $5.2B Nigerian fine

MTN’s CEO Sifiso Dabengwa has announced his resignation from the operator as a result of the $5.2 billion fine that the operator faces in Nigeria.

Dabengwa’s statement read: “Due to the most unfortunate prevailing circumstances occurring at MTN Nigeria, I, in the interest of the company and its shareholders, have tendered my resignation with immediate effect.”

The pan-African operator has installed previous president & CEO Phutuma Nhleko as temporary executive chairman while it arranges a permanent replacement for Dabengwa. Starting out at MTN in July 2001 as a non-executive director and chairman, Nhleko became an executive in June 2002 and was made group president and CEO in 2004.

Nhleko served in this position until March 2011 and is credited with overseeing a vast increase in MTN’s subscriber numbers, growing the customer base from 5 million to 160 million. He has served as non-executive chair since May 2013.

Spokesperson Chris Maroleng said, “Our non-executive chairman of the MTN Group, Phuthuma Nhleko, has agreed to act as the executive chairperson for a maximum period of six months while the company finds a successor for Mr Dabengwa.”

The massive fine was levied at MTN by the Nigerian regulator NCC (Nigerian Communications Commission) for failing to disconnect 5.1 million subscribers using unregistered SIM cards on their network in the country. Nhleko has stated that he intends to “proactively deal with the Nigerian regulator and will continue to work with them in addressing the issues around unregistered subscribers as a matter of urgency”.

Terrorism concerns have prompted Nigeria to crack down on unregistered subscribers across all telecoms networks. NCC spokesperson Tony Ojobo has stated that the regulator does not intend to let MTN off the hook after all of the country’s operators agreed to pay a fine of roughly $1000 for every unregulated SIM. MTN is currently the only operator not to have paid its due.

With over 64 million connections, Nigeria is MTN’s biggest market. Despite the fine – due to be paid on November 16 – NCC last week approved MTN’s application to renew and extend its licence up until 2021.

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