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Investigations

12 Years and N12 billion after, National Library Project in limbo

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Uncompleted National Library project
Uncompleted National Library project

Twelve years and N12 billion after, the National Library of Nigeria (NLN) project has joined the long list of abandoned projects that can only characterise a failed state.

Sited in the nation’s capital Abuja, contract for the project conceived to be a national monument was awarded in 2006 at a cost of N8.6 billion to Reynolds Construction Company (Nigeria) Limited (RCC). The company, a subsidiary of SBI International Holdings of Switzerland started work on the project in April 2006 and was billed to complete it in 22 months.

Against all expectations, the 22 months ended with a twist. The project was scaled down from eight to five floors but its budget ironically was scaled up to N17 billion from the initial N8.6billion. Following a compliance certificate issued by the Bureau of Public Procurement, the Federal Executive Council approved the adjusted contract figure. The completion period was also adjusted to 21 months beginning from July 2010.

At the fifth floor, construction work finally reached its peak with only the roofing to go. But just as the roofing engineers were about to move in, a directive from the presidency vide a letter dated October 11, 2012 was sent to the consultant to instruct RCC to revert to the original design of eight floors. In February 2013, RCC requested for extension of time, and again sought an upward review of the contract to N48 billion.

Uncompleted National Library project

Uncompleted National Library project

Again in 2014 a presidential ad-hoc committee was set up to resolve the lingering issues. The Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA)’s department of building was called in. The committee recommended N38.764 billion upwards reviews as against the N48 billion demanded by the contractor. The committee also reviewed completion period to 30 months.

Budgetary allocation documents sighted by SATELLITE TIMES show the yearly allocation and the actual sum released, beginning from 2007. There was no allocation in 2006.

The sum of N213 million was put into the project out of the N500 million budgeted in 2007. In 2008, N2, 269,197,198.00 (N2.2 billion) was appropriated but only N1, 217,401,308.05 (1.2 billion) was released.

The following year, the sum of N2.4 billion was budgeted and N2.4 billion was released. In 2010 the budgeted sum was N1.8 billion but N708 million was released. In 2011, N7589 million was the figure allocated but N491.2 million was released. The sum of N2 billion was budgeted in 2012 but what was released was N1.08 billion. In 2013, N4 billion was budgeted, N3.2 billion was released.

In 2014, N2.2 billion was the budget but only N555, 697,923.52 was released. N1.4 billion was budgeted in 2015 but a paltry N7 million was released. The total capital budget for the ministry of Education in 2016 was N35.4 billion but the National Library project that year received no budgetary allocation.

In 2017, the government appropriated only N1.8 billion as capital budget for the library project but only N900 million was released. In the 2018 budget only N566.9million was proposed for the NLN project.

No work was on going when SATELLITE TIMES visited the project site. A security guard told this newspaper that occasionally some cleaners are brought in to tidy up the uncompleted building. The resident architect of RCC declined comment.

Meanwhile, the National Library department is presently serving the nation from a rented building with leaky roof, cracked walls, broken-down toilets and water pipes. The property belongs to Dantata Group of Companies of Plot 274, Sanusi Dantata House Way, Central Business District Abuja.

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A staff of the National Library told SATELLITE TIMES that their days in Dantata House were numbered as the landlord has issued quit notice. The NLN is owing rent arrears of N508 million.

The Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, while speaking at a conference of Directors and Chairmen of State Public Library Boards in Nigeria organized by the NLN on 27th February 2018 said President Muhammadu Buhari, had directed that all necessary arrangements be made to ensure speedy completion of the multi-billion-naira NLN headquarters.

Books lying on the floor in National Library

However, that was not the first time that government was making such promises. The then Supervising Minister for Education, Nyesom Wike, had equally mouthed similar government promises in 2013.

SATELLITE TIMES sought official response from the Ministry of Education. Mr. Sam Azu, the Deputy Director, Library Services in the ministry denied that the project has been abandoned. “The idea that it is abandoned or that it is not being continued is just not there.”

Azu refused to elaborate, adding however that the little he had said were his personal opinion.

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Investigations

Exclusive: After $2 Billion tax evasion, another MTN’s multi-billion offshore transfer discovered

-shifts billions to companies in Dubai and Mauritius

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MTN building showing its logo

Weeks after the Nigerian authorities discovered that telecom giant MTN had skipped paying $2 billion in tax relating to import duties, VAT and withholding taxes on foreign imports/payments, new tranches of transfer are yet discovered to have been made by MTN to companies in Dubai and Mauritius using sophisticated tax avoidance schemes.

MTN has consistently prided itself as the foremost telephone company that gets Nigerians talking the most. Now the South African company is about to set tongues wagging across networks with revelations that it has routinely been shipping billions of naira overseas to avoid paying its fair share of tax in Nigeria.

An 11-month- investigation by this reporter in collaboration with UK-based Finance Uncovered reveals that MTN has been running circles around Nigerian revenue authorities using a complex but noxious tax avoidance scheme called Transfer Pricing. For any economy, it is a slow death.

The red flag was raised the moment our investigations showed that MTN Nigeria has been making payments to two overseas companies – MTN Dubai and MTN International in Mauritius – both located in tax havens.

It was discovered that in 2013 for example, MTN set aside N11.398 billion from MTN Nigeria to pay to MTN Dubai. A similar transfer of N11.789 billion was made by MTN Ghana to the same MTN Dubai, making it a total of N23.187 billion that was shipped to the Dubai offshore account.

In a rare disclosure in 2013, MTN admitted it made unauthorized payments of N37.6 billion to MTN Dubai between 2010 and 2013. The transfers were then “on-paid” to Mauritius, a shell company with zero number of staff and which physical presence in the capital Port Louis is nothing more than a post office letter box.

The disclosure amounted to a confession given that MTN made the dodgy transfers without seeking approval from the National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion (NOTAP), the body mandated to oversight such transfers.

N90.2 billion transferred out of Nigeria

On the basis of an earlier management fees agreement that was technically quashed by NOTAP and on the basis of MTN’s reported revenues, it is estimated that N90.2 billion could have been transferred out of Nigeria in management fees alone since the company was founded in 2002.

READ ALSO: INVESTIGATION: Secret memos and documents from MTN’s $14 Billion offshore transfers

A menace called Transfer Pricing

For corporate organizations determined to escape the taxman but still cleverly staying on the right side of the law, Transfer Pricing is the new cellar door constructed by the most ingenious of accountants. It is a new global disease to which Third World economies are the most vulnerable.

Multinationals employ Transfer Pricing to move their profits offshore, leaving behind a shrinking tax base in their host countries and inexorable cuts to public services.

In Africa, tax avoidance has been named as one of the factors holding the continent back by starving governments of the revenues it needs for development.

A report jointly commissioned by the United Nations and the African Union and drafted by a high-level panel led by former South African president Thabo Mbeki considered tax avoidance by multinationals to be an “illicit financial flow” and a significant drain on government resources across the continent.

In total, illicit financial flows -which included corruption and the proceeds of crime – were determined to be costing the continent $50billion a year.

Just last year, South Africa’s deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa had harsh words for tax dodgers. He said: “Tax evasion is not only a crime against the state; it’s also a crime against the people of our country, ordinary people.”

Curiously, the same Cyril Rhamaposa was non-executive chairman of the board of MTN between 2001 and 2013 before he became South Africa’s No.2 man. In effect, the same tax practices which the deputy president strongly condemned in his country as financial crime is vigorously being promoted in Nigeria.

READ ALSO: INVESTIGATION: AGF Malami may file “criminal charges” against Standard Chartered, Stanbic IBTC and Citi Bank over MTN’s $14 billion transfers

MTN is the largest cell phone company in Africa with 227.5 million subscribers. The company, which operates in more than 20 countries across Africa and the Middle East, has Nigeria as its biggest operation.

Until now, tax justice investigations had focused on computer giants, corporations in the extractive industry, food and beverages; in fact, everywhere but the mobile phone sector despite the cell phone industry in Africa being one of the largest and most important industries for the continent.

Mobile phone has been a cheap and quick way of rolling out the vital communications infrastructure that has underpinned Africa’s growth story over the last decade. As a result, the industry has seen explosive growth. With 685million mobile phone users in Africa, the success story means that cell phone companies are now the largest contributor to government revenues in many African countries. That is if they pay their fair share of taxes.

Artificial operating costs

To pay little or no tax, companies determined to cheat begin by seeking ways to create artificial operating costs in the country where they operate. For example, a company is in Nigeria but has a parent or subsidiary company in another country. It makes huge profit but decides to declare a much lower profit-before-tax. To achieve this, it pays the parent and/ or subsidiary company for services not rendered and ships cash to them. Where services are rendered, the costs are inflated. Such services may include royalty for the use of brand name, procurement services, technical services and management services.

Typically, the recipient company is located in an offshore territory under a different financial jurisdiction. MTN has a substantial network of subsidiaries in offshore tax havens, including the British Virgin Islands, Dubai and Mauritius.

Because of the growing concerns that multinationals are using intra-company trading to shift profits around the world by overcharging for services delivered or in more extreme cases by creating artificial transactions where no services were rendered at all, respective countries have a maximum percentage of profits it can allow companies to pay out as management fees.

For example, in Senegal, accounts from the company Sonatel show that the company has a ‘cooperation agreement’ with parent company France Telecom that is capped at 1.43% of revenue.

Until 2010 MTN Nigeria had an agreement with MTN Dubai to pay 1.75% of revenues to the company for management, and royalties for the use of the MTN trademark. Nigeria requires that management fees paid by multinationals are approved by the National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion (NOTAP). The fee payments had been reversed following a failure to come to a new agreement on management fees with Nigerian regulators.

READ ALSO: CBN yields to Satellite Times’ report; orders MTN to refund $8 billion

MTN’s previous agreement with NOTAP expired in 2010.

Notwithstanding, MTN has continued to make payments overseas. When these journalists sent questions to MTN over these unauthorized payments, the company told us that this was because they expected NOTAP to approve a new deal and backdate it to the date of the expiry of the previous deal.

MTN’s financial activities are now being questioned by more than one tax authorizes in Africa.

In Ghana the MTN subsidiary, Scancom, has been paying vast management fees to companies located offshore. Our investigations reveal that Scancom paid 758m GHS in management and technical fees to MTN Dubai between 2008 and 2013. This was 9.64% of the company’s revenue. Normally the maximum fee level allowed in Ghana is 6%.

We can reveal that the high levels of fees attracted the attention of Ghana’s intelligence services, which launched an investigation into “economic fraud” between 2012 and 2013.

MTN’s management fees need approval from the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC). The Ghanaian “National Security Taskforce” has called for a “review of all technology transfer and management service agreements currently held by GIPC to remove sections which are inapplicable and wrongly provided for” and upgrading and training of state systems and staff.

In response to this, MTN in Ghana told us: “The technical and management services agreements between Scancom and Investcom were duly approved by the GIPC.”

The current head of the GIPC is Mrs. Mawuena Trebarh, who between 2007 and 2012 was responsible for government relations at MTN Ghana. This reporting team asked Mrs Trebarh to comment on whether her previous role could be perceived a conflict of interest. She did not respond to our requests.

In response to our enquiries MTN confirmed that the company paid 12 billion West African Francs in 2012 and 14 billion West African Francs in 2013 in management fees to MTN International. The figure for 2013 is equivalent to 5% of the revenue made by MTN in Cote d’Ivoire.

Dubai paradox

Dubai is one of the places MTN ships huge profits to. Meanwhile, MTN does not operate any mobile phones in Dubai, yet it has significant operations in the small city state.

MTN told us that it employs around 115 people in Dubai who provides services to the MTN group such as group procurement, group finance, legal services, human resources and other corporate functions.

One tool that campaigners have said will be helpful is to look at company reporting on a country by country basis. If a company is making huge revenues in a country where it has few employees but there is a low tax rate, which would suggest that there may be some profit shifting taking place.

In Uganda, a dispute between the Uganda Revenue Authority and MTN has revealed that the company is paying 3% of its turnover in management fees to MTN International.

The fees have been challenged by the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) who issued MTN with a “notice of assessment” in 2011. This was for a number of tax issues between 2003 and 2009, but a large portion was to do with a dispute over management fees, most of which had been paid to Mauritius.

READ ALSO: EXCLUSIVE: South African President, UK and UAE lobbyists fought hard to stop MTN’s $8 billion sanction

Correspondence between the URA and MTN seen by us show that the URA questioned the legitimacy of these fees, and pointed out that MTNI, the company providing “management services” to MTN Uganda had not spent any money in the years they had looked into. The URA said this could only mean two things: that management services provided to MTN Uganda had either already been paid for by MTN Uganda (and so MTN was in effect charging twice for the same thing) or they were never provided at all.

The Ugandan authority told the company: “We have repeatedly asked for evidence of specific work performed by MTN Group for MTN Uganda for each of the tax years 2003 to 2009. We have only been provided with very little information relating to 2009 and the latter years. This information is very far from justifying a payment of 3 per cent of MTN Uganda’s turnover as management fees.”

NOTAP keeps mum

Asked to confirm the amount of fees paid out to MTN Dubai and Mauritius based on the company’s reported revenue between 2002 and today, MTN said: “There is no disclosure obligation for this information in South Africa or Nigeria.”

Asked to explain the possible justification for MTN Nigeria to pay fees for management and technical services to a company with no employees, MTN said: “It is the contracting party’s prerogative as to how it elects to discharge its contractual obligations.”

Meaning is that MTN Mauritius can perform its task without a single staff member.

This reporter made sustained efforts to get NOTAP and the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) to comment on the MTN practices in Nigeria.

The Director in charge of Technology Transfer and Agreement, Ephraim Okejiri, initially pleaded that he was in a meeting, and that the reporter should wait. But after over four hours of waiting, he sent a secretary to say he would not be able to give any information on MTN.

Similarly, at Nigeria’s tax agency, the Federal Inland Revenue Service, the Director of Public Communications, Emmanuel Obeta, who had earlier promised on three occasion to make information available on the matter suddenly had a change of mind. He claimed relevant officials who should provide him with the information sought were all not available.

Emmanuel Mayah first published this investigation in October 2015

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Investigations

Shipping fraud: 17 companies import Rolls Royce, 553 bullet-proof vehicles into Nigeria using only one Form M

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A Rolls Royce used to illustrate the story
A Rolls Royce used to illustrate the story

Large scale fraud in the Nigeria Customs Service has taken a turn for the worse as a total of 17 companies are discovered to have imported millions of dollars’ worth of luxury vehicles, many of them armoured, into the country using just one Form M.

SATELLITE TIMES has been following the paper trail of high flier importers since last year when the Senate’s Joint Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariff raised the alarm on the activities of people it described as “Port Cabal” which it said had “swindled Nigeria of over 30 trillion naira in recent years”.

Documents gathered by SATELLITE TIMES show that between 2017 and May 2018, a total of 554 luxury vehicles were imported by the 17 companies using the same Form M No: MF 20170010026. The luxury cars included one Rolls Royce, 84 Toyota Landcruiser, 41 Toyota Fortuner, 123 Toyota Prado, 46 Lexus 570/460, 140 Toyota Hilux, 32 Toyota Camry, 21 Toyota Coaster, 43 Toyota Hiace, 21 Mitsbushi Pajero and 2 Range Rover. The vehicles, targeted at high-end market, are 2017 and 2018 models; most of them armoured.

 

In looking into the activities of the Customs, financial leakages and malpractices in the nation’s ports and revenue system, the Senate Joint Committee had in 2017 said: “a group of unpatriotic persons brazenly constitute themselves into a cabal to inflict infractions at the nation’s sea ports.”

Cargo manifest

Cargo manifest

The Committee had added that the infractions had become daily occurrence just as it accused commercial banks, shipping companies, terminal owners and operators of colluding with officials of Nigeria Customs Service and Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to defraud the country in trillions of naira and inversely constitute a clear and present security threat to our nation.”

Investigations revealed that infractions at the seaports and airport cargo terminals come in various forms including Form M racketeering, the abuse and violation of foreign exchange issued by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), incorrect classification and under valuation of consignments coming into the country.

What is Form M?

Form M is the most important item in the documentation process put in place by the Federal Government of Nigeria through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), to monitor goods imported into the country as well as to enable collection of import duties where applicable.

Any person intending to import physical goods into Nigeria must initiate the importation by processing a Form M through an authorised dealer (licensed bank). Alongside the Form M, a host of other documentation will be presented to the bank. Where approved, the Form M serves as authority to the bank to open letters of credit for foreign exchange transactions on behalf of the importer.

This form has a unique number which must be quoted/written on all the shipping documents; although there are exemptions such as Diplomatic cargos (of reasonable quantity), personal effects, goods shipped in by government agencies or goods shipped into Free Trade Zones in Nigeria such as the Calabar Free Trade Zone (CFTZ).

Form M is the first official document needed to initiate shipment to Nigeria. The life span of a Form M is 6 months (for general merchandise) and one year (for plant and machinery), after which an extension of 6 months (for general merchandise) and one year (for plant and machinery).

A Form M is usually issued for a particular supply contract (between the oversea manufacturer and the Nigerian importer) and allows for part shipments within the validity period. For large project such as stadium construction, a Bulk Form M can be issued, which allows continuous part shipments throughout the validity of the Form M.

Form M is a form of licence. Approval of a Form M depends, among other things, on the forex okayed for the importer by the CBN for a particular import. To obtain Form M, the importer must present his Tax Identification Number (TIN). In fact, the TIN is nowkey-username to log into the electronic platform to process this all-important document. Form M is not transferable from one importer to another. And a Form M approved for the import of a particular item cannot be used even by the same importer to bring in a different item.

The 17 companies

The 17 companies that managed to beat the system, cloning and utilizing Form M No: MF 20170010026  to bring in their different consignments, instead of obtaining 17 different Form M with 17 different tax identification numbers are:

1.Sengenmenge Nig. Ltd

2. Marko Nig. Ltd

3. Brasslet Nig. Ltd

4. Offor & Son Nig. Ltd

5. Lext Vin Nig. Ltd

6. Modul Oil & Gas Limited.

7. Supulus Nig. Limited

8. Zeb Holdings Limited

9. Amaju & Son Limited

10. Vintage Nig. Limited

11. Joneble Holding & Sons Limited

12. Kaslak Nig. Limited

13. Handhoast Limited

14. Ruffo Nig. Limited

15. Auto Creation E-Hub Limited

16. Sonnex Nig. Limited

17. Emy Cargo and Shipping Services.

Speaking on the issue of the Form M, Mr. Ojerinde Solomon, an importer at PTML container terminal said he had serious doubt if a Form M is transferable to another importer or consignments “because each consigned goods has its own Form M.”

Cargo manifest

Cargo manifest

Anti-corruption campaigner, Olalekan Akande, expressed his shock to SATELLITE TIMES that the systems of the Nigeria Customs Service did not detect the cloned Form M.

“There are many things involved here. Is it that the 16 companies do not have tax identification numbers to process their own Form M or is it that they were unable to get forex allocations locally to import and then resorted to using their funds in overseas to bring in goods but do not know how to explain their sources of the forex to CBN to get approval for Form M? We might be dealing with a case of money laundering here,” Akande intoned.

Under the Forex Restriction Guidelines, any importer that intends to finance imports using funds from overseas is required to submit a written confirmation from the authorised dealer on the source of funds, and evidence of the source of funds, before a Form M can be issued. This is to check money laundering and terrorism financing.

(to be continued)

 

 

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Investigations

EXCLUSIVE: South African President, UK and UAE lobbyists fought hard to stop MTN’s $8 billion sanction

– MTN’s dealings was tagged a national security issue

– Department of State Security (DSS) requested to step in

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South African President Cyril Ramaphosa
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa [Photo Credit: BBC.com]

Weeks before the CBN sledgehammer finally hit the South African telecom company MTN over fraudulent repatriation of $14 billion from the Nigerian economy, several ultra-powerful lobbyists were recruited from within and outside Nigeria and from a few foreign governments, including those of South Africa, UK and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to roll back the tide that threatened to sink the biggest South African company in sub-Saharan Africa.

In a statement released last Wednesday, Nigeria’s apex bank ordered MTN to refund the sum of $8 billion to the coffers of the Central Bank. The refund was the penalty for MTN’s exportation of $14 billion using fraudulent Certificate of Capital Imports (CCIs). For their roles in the illicit transfer, MTN’s bankers were sanctioned by CBN with Standard Chartered attracting a fine of N2.4 billion, Stanbic IBTC N1.8 billion, Citibank N1.2 billion and Diamond Bank N250 million respectively.

In February 2018, SATELLITE TIMES brought to public attention secret documents of MTN’s financial dealings found so outrageous it was tagged a national security issue, forcing the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) to request the Department of Security Services (DSS) to step in.

READ ALSO: INVESTIGATION: AGF Malami may file “criminal charges” against Standard Chartered, Stanbic IBTC and Citi Bank over MTN’s $14 billion transfers

In an exclusive report, SATELLITE TIMES published details of a secret forensic audit ordered by the office of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) which revealed some of the most repugnant demonstrations of impunity by a multinational company and how MTN illegally exported $14 billion out of Nigeria using fraudulent Certificate of Capital Imports (CCIs). The report titled “Investigations: Secret memos and documents from MTN’s $14 billion offshore transfers” also brought to public attention the role in the CCI saga of MTN’s four bankers namely Standard Chartered Bank, Stanbic IBTC, Citibank and Diamond Bank.

The $8 billion penalty was long in coming. About six weeks ago, SATELLITE TIMES was tipped off by an authoritative source that CBN was ready to hit MTN with a sledge hammer. The press statement read out last Wednesday by CBN ‘s Director of Communications, Isaac Okorafor, was actually prepared in July. But extraneous factors including influences of powerful political figures badly hamstrung the apex bank from making the pronouncement on MTN.

READ ALSO: CBN yields to Satellite Times’ report; orders MTN to refund $8 billion

On July 12, South African President Ramaphosa visited Nigeria and held a close-door meeting with President Mohammadu Buhari. The official reason for his visit was

“to thank the people of Nigeria and the leadership of Nigeria over many years for the support they gave to our (apartheid) struggle.”

The real reason for Ramaphosa’s visit was however different. Ramaphosa had dual interests in MTN. As President of South Africa, his intervention was needed to save one of South Africa’s biggest cash cows in foreign land. The other is that as a businessman, Ramaphosa has substantial interest in MTN.

Before he became Deputy President in 2014, serving under Jacob Zuma, Cyril Ramaphosa was a non-executive director and chairman of MTN Group with acquisition of minority stake in the group’s Nigerian interests. Ramaphosa was appointed to the MTN Board on 1 October 2001 and had been serving as chairman of the MTN Board since 2002. He had also been chairman of the nominations committee as well as a member of the remuneration and human resources committee at MTN.

The South African President was not only deeply involved with MTN, he was equally involved in others including a company called Shanduka Group. Shanduka was the President’s investment company, buying into MTN Nigeria in a $335 million deal.

The investment suffered massive loss in value due to the heavy fine imposed on MTN in October 2015 for violations of Nigerian subscriber registration rules. Another heavy penalty on MTN would provide multiple reasons for sleepless nights for the President that must be averted using every diplomatic instruments.

READ ALSO: INVESTIGATION: Secret memos and documents from MTN’s $14 Billion offshore transfers

SATELLITE TIMES further gathered that beyond political and business stakeholders in South Africa, strings were also pulled on Nigeria by powerful lobbyists and investors in UK and UAE. MTN maintains over 1000 personnel in UAE but curiously does not have a one telephone line in that country.

One of the last-ditch efforts to save MTN came from a powerful lobbyist from Funtua in Katsina State, described as a childhood friend of President Muhammadu Buhari. CBN was therefore slow in acting because the governor of the apex bank was uncertain if the lobbyist was a messenger of the President or that the Funtua businessman was merely carrying out his own protection racket.

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