More than five million MTN subscribers in Nigeria were on Thursday disconnected from the network after the review of their registration documents, thereby cutting the company’s full-year forecast for subscriber numbers.

The spokesperson for the MTN Group, Nik Kershaw, said, “MTN, which operates in more than 20 countries across the Middle East and Africa, had 5.1 million subscribers cut off in Nigeria, its biggest market, at the end following checks on personal documents.

“The company is also facing ongoing regulatory restrictions related to its market-leading position in Africa’s most populous country.”

Kershaw, however, said that about 3.4 million of the subscribers might have been reconnected, following steps to correct the irregularities in their registration documents.

The development, our correspondent learnt, was the fallout of the Nigerian Communications Commission’s sanction in August on telecommunications firms over improper Subscriber Identification Module registration.

The firms were asked to pay N120.4m in fines for failing to fully comply with the directive of the commission to deactivate pre-registered and defective SIM cards.

While MTN, which has over 62 million subscribers on its network, was asked to pay N102.2m; Globacom was slammed with N7.4m; Etisalat, N7m; and Airtel, N3.8m.

However, the MTN Group spokesperson said in a statement that the company would add 14.8 million net subscribers this year, compared with a previous forecast of 16.75 million.

“The carrier’s customer base grew 0.9 per cent to 233 million in the three months through September compared with the previous quarter,” Kershaw said.

He added that MTN shares gained 2.4 per cent to 186.45 rand as of 3:31 pm in Johannesburg, on Thursday, valuing the company at R345bn ($25.2bn).

Meanwhile, stockbrokers said the MTN stock in South Africa was down 16 per cent this year, compared with a 14 per cent gain for Vodacom Group Limited, its cross-town competitor.

However, a money manager at Cape Town, South Africa, Steve Minnar, said on the MTN website that while the loss of Nigerian customers was a short-term setback, “it does point to a tough regulatory environment.”

“They have been struggling with the regulator for many years in the Nigerian environment,” he added.

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Source : Punch