The Nigerian Communications Commission has stated that it is not aware that ex-Lagos state governor and party leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu is involved with MAFAB Communications, one of the telecoms operators that won a 5G license at the just-concluded auction.
The report was published by certain online media, mentioning the party chieftain’s name as an investor in the telecoms company. According to one such publication, MAFAB counts high-net-worth Nigerian investors including Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, ex Lagos State Governor and current National Leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and Colonel Sanni Bello, former military Governor of Kano State among its investors
Recall that MAFAB Communications, MTN, and Airtel Networks were in a race to win 5G licenses issued by the Federal Government. MTN and MAFAB Communications emerged as winners and were granted one slot each.
The Nigerian Communications Commission reiterated that the process leading up to the auction was transparent and followed due process. The body also added that the event was witnessed by a cross-section of stakeholders as observers, including the media, the Association of Telecom Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), the Independent Corrupt Practices, and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) as well as civil society groups.
Over the years, the NCC has had spectrum auctions and as an independent regulatory agency, has maintained an undisputable reputation of successful auctions based on openness, fairness and transparency, a fact widely acknowledged locally and internationally. NCC’s auction proceedings conform to international best practice, devoid of any undue influence or interference whatsoever.
Ike Adinde, Director of Communications, NCC.
New player in telecoms industry
MAFAB Communications Ltd, headed by Alhaji Musibau Bashir was incorporated on 8th July, 2020 as a corporate entity duly licensed by the Commission to conduct telecommunications business. The company currently holds international data access (IDA), inter-connect data exchange (IDE), and Value-Added Service (VAS) licenses.
It was a surprise to many people that the new entrant can afford the $273.6 million bid price in an auction that Airtel, a giant Telco dropped out from and did not even see participation from Globacom and 9mobile, both established telcos in Nigeria.
There is also the question of how the company intends to use the license as they have no known mast or optical fibre for network distribution. According to TechnologyTimes, MAFAB has opened talks with equipment suppliers in China and the United States in their bid to commence mobile network operations in 2022.
Addressing concerns that the communications company might sell the license to companies abroad since they currently do not possess the necessary infrastructure to execute, a source in the group reportedly told Technology Times that there is no such plan as investors are convinced that an indigenous company can thrive in the industry.
The question of Tinubu’s involvement
The alleged involvement of APC chieftain, Bola Ahmed Tinubu as an investor in MAFAB has continued to cause a furore in the public space. This is because, if true, it will be difficult to convince anyone that his influence wasn’t a major factor behind MAFAB, a relatively unknown company with little or no infrastructure winning the bid for 5G deployment.
According to Section 57, Subsection 12, Article (b) of the Public Procurement Act (2007), a conflict of interest arises when a person in charge of the bidding has a direct to indirect interest or relationship with a bidder.
A conflict of interest exists where a person possesses a direct or indirect interest in or relationship with a bidder, supplier, contractor or service provider that is inherently unethical or that may be implied or constructed to be, or make possible personal gain due to the person’s ability to influence dealings ;Public Procurement Act
Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu is a former senator, former governor of Lagos state and the current national party leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress. This makes him a very powerful figure in the present federal government, capable of influencing federal decisions.
While neither the NCC nor its Executive Vice Chairman may have a direct relationship with Tinubu, as a federal body, there exists a strong amount of indirect relationship and interest through the Federal Ministry of Communications under which the NCC exists and operates.
The Ministry and its Minister operate at the whims and pleasure of the presidency, an office where Tinubu exerts significant influence and hopes to attain in the near future.
Thus, even if it isn’t inherently unethical for a company where he’s a shareholder to bid for federal licences, it certainly may be implied or constructed to be so according to the Procurement Act. And if indeed Tinubu is an investor with MAFAB, his position could make possible his own personal gain due to his ability to influence dealings from the presidency.
The NCC has denied knowledge of Tinubu’s involvement in MAFAB, as it should. Because if it did know, and if it turns out to be true that Tinubu is an investor in the company, the very credibility of the commission could be called to question. So also will the credibility of the auction.
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