MTN Nigeria, a telecommunications giant and industry leader in Nigeria, is part of the MTN Group, headquartered in South Africa. It was the first company that heralded GSM service when on May 16, 2001, it put Nigerians “y’ellow-ing”. Shorting, around August 2001, it launched full commercial operations in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt.
It has since expanded into most parts of the country covering the 36 states, and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. It has built capacities across villages, highways and cities and is recognized as the leading brand in Nigeria in its industry.
Getting the license cost MTN $285 million. It made that payment in January 2001. According to public documents, MTN has invested about $2 billion in building its network infrastructure in Nigeria.
Nigerian operation is a very profitable one for MTN.
Despite recent challenges, most self-inflicted, when the company ran into regulatory and compliance issues, resulting to a hefty fine of N1.04 trillion (later reduced to N330 billion to be paid over three years) by the Nigerian government, MTN Nigeria has felt at home in Nigeria. The company has made money in Nigeria and it has also contributed to Nigeria’s economic development. Generally, having MTN in Nigeria has been a huge net positive for the Nigerian people.
Directly or indirectly, MTN Nigeria, in my model, has anchored or sustained more than 400,000 jobs over sixteen years. But that is a small part of its contributions. MTN Nigeria has paid substantial amounts in taxes having generated trillions of naira in profits.
MTN Nigeria Profitability, Plus Glo, Airtel and Etisalat
MTN Nigeria is a private company, in Nigeria, though publicly traded via its Group in the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. According to Bloomberg, the company is worth about U.S.$16.5 billion in total market capitalization. This makes MTN Group one of the most important African companies. It has lost more than 10% since this year, largely correlated with its compliance problems in Nigeria. Around August 2014, MTN Group was worth around $40 billion.
To estimate how much MTN Nigeria has made in profits, I looked into its total payments to the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA). Of course, Federal Internal Revenue Service has the tax data – you can ask them. What I am doing here is pure estimation by using public data to extrapolate.
The Director-General of NITDA, Dr Isa Ibrahim Pantami, noted that telecom companies like MTN, Globacom, Etisalat, and Airtel are required by law to pay a certain portion of their annual profits to National Information Technology Development Fund (NITDEV). Section 16 of the Act notes that FIRS should collect the money and remit to NITDA account with CBN.
The Act establishing NITDA mandates that telecommunications companies in Nigeria are required to pay 1% of their annual profits as levy for NITDEV. According to Dr. Pantami, the only operator that has been consistent in paying the levy is MTN.
With this statement from NITDA, we can model the total profits of MTN. According to him, MTN Nigeria has paid a total of N19 billion since the inception of the fund in 2007. That is about nine years to 2015. MTN recorded loss in 2016. This means, from 2007, MTN Nigeria has recorded a total profit of N1.9 trillion.
Globacom paid N1.3 billion for 2011, 2012 and 2015. If we do direct extrapolation, Globacom made total profits of N130 billion for 2011, 2012 and 2015.
Airtel paid N677.7 million for 2007, 2008 and 2015 while declaring losses in other years. This implies that Airtel had made a total profit of N67.8 billion since 2007.
According to NITDA, Etisalat, has claimed losses since its founding in 2008. It has paid nothing to NITDA. Again nothing for Etisalat in Nigeria.
The Total Profits in Nigeria by MTN, Glo, Etisalat and Airtel
We will do a good extrapolation to determine the total profits by the telecom companies. After doing that, we will convert the Naira to US dollars. To take into considerations, the fluctuation of the Naira to USD, we will use the plot below. We need to get the numbers in US dollars to help non-Nigerians appreciate the content.
For the purpose of this analysis, we will use $1 for N175 since in the plot above, during most of the years the average was N157 to $1.
- 2007 to date: N1.9 trillion in estimated profits
- 2001 to 2006: We estimate N3 trillion profit because this was the golden era in GSM business in Nigeria. The competition was low and MTN Nigeria was dominant
- With this, MTN has generated a total profit of N4.9 trillion ($28 billion)
- 2007 to date: N67.8 billion in estimated profits
- Before 2007, it has different owners (Zain, Celtel, Econet). Let us forget any estimation
- With this, Airtel Nigeria has generated a total profit of N67.7 billion ($387 million)
- $0 forever
- 2011, 2012 and 2015: N130 billion in estimated profits
- From 2003 to all the missing years, we estimate a profit of N600 billion. This was also a good period of unprecedented profitability for Glo. It was founded in 2003 which was early enough for some of the nuclear profits in the sector.
- With this, Glo has generated a total profit of N730 billion ($4.2 billion)
More Companies for NITDEV
NITDA under the new leadership is extending its tentacles to compel companies like Ericsson, Alcatel, Siemens, Microsoft, Facebook, Oracle and Cisco to pay the NITDEV.
“I also wrote a letter to some of the companies. We wrote to Microsoft, Facebook, Cisco and Oracle. We believe they have been making profits in Nigeria, but they never remitted. Some of them responded to our letters, but others didn’t. MTN, as a leading GSM company, has been consistently paying. It contributed N19 billion so far. In 2016, MTN recorded a loss, so they couldn’t pay,” NITDA DG, Dr Pantami
In short, any large size “technology” company in future will be sending its 1% profit to NITDA. All they need to do is to identify you and just like that you have to payoff.
Yet, These Companies May Not Be Paying All
According to NITDA boss, he remains helpless as the FIRS is not providing NITDA documents to ascertain the profits of the companies. NITDA may have to sue FIRS under its Act if FIRS cannot assist.
“We only rely on what the companies send to us because we can’t get anything from FIRS. I don’t have any record to verify whether MTN is remitting what it’s supposed to,” he lamented.
You could see that the suspicion is there that the telcos may not be paying up. But pity them, Nigeria is a den.
Nigerian government is also collecting another percentage through Industrial Training Fund. That one is 1% of payroll.