The envoys of the United States of America (US) and United Kingdom (UK) in Nigeria have said that the dispute between the country’s leading telecommunication firm, MTN, and the government was frightening investors from their countries into Nigeria.
Both envoys spoke in Lagos on Thursday on the sideline of the 2018 International Investment Conference organised by the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry as part of activities marking the 2018 Lagos International Trade Fair.
On August 29, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) directed MTN to refund $8.1 billion shareholders’ funds it repatriated from the country through illegal means, while it imposed a combined fine of N5.87 billion on four banks – Standard Chartered Plc, Citigroup Inc., Stanbic IBTC Plc and Diamond Bank Plc – that allegedly aided the process.
Two weeks later, the telco was indicted by the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), demanding for another $2 billion tax default, bringing the total claim by the federal government from MTN to $10.1 billion.
Reacting, Consul General, US High Commission, John Bray, said the issues facing the South African MTN was sending a wrong signal to investors that existing rules could be changed.
“Apparently things are being resolved, but once you make an announcement like that (order to repatriate the funds), there are probably guys sitting back there and waiting to get on the plane and fly back to the JFK and say, I am not investing again,” he said.
Bray noted that US business owners had continued to invest in Nigeria with last year’s investment totalling $13.5 billion.
“So, we just want to get more investors here and part of that is improving the regulatory environment, improving infrastructure and dampening their fears about insecurity,” he added.
Also speaking, the British Deputy High Commissioner to Nigeria, Laure Beaufils, said the MTN saga was as damaging for the country, adding that investors were always conscious of such signals.
“Of course, investors are interested in regulations, policies and strategies, but ultimately, they look at signals like that and I think that was damaging. I think most people in Nigeria recognise that that was very damaging.
“There is a lot that is being done to address that and we are aware of that but sadly, investors also go beyond the headlines of such stories and my key point today is that we have to avoid such rash decisions at all cost in the interest of further investments that are absolutely essential to the economic development of the country, to job creation and to the vision that we all have of an incredibly rich and vibrant Nigeria.
“Our team is increasing. When the Prime Minister was here; she set up a new economic development forum with the President to discuss how we can grow from strength to strength and further increase our bilateral cooperation.
“She committed to the UK becoming the first G7 investor in Africa by 2022. She also said that our development finance institute, the CDC, will be investing a further £3.5 billion in Africa in the next few years, and a lot of that should come to Nigeria.
“There is huge amount of interest in Nigeria. We are already the first investor in Nigeria and we want to continue to build on that; but what we are saying is what investors are looking at is predictability in decision making and application of regulations and policies; and so, they are looking at ensuring that the rule of law systematically applies and they are watching keenly to see what happens in Nigeria going forward,” Beaufils said.