23 Jan

Daily Watch – NCC waves suspension wand over ‘call masking,’ ALSCON morass approaches resolution

  • Long queues of desperate motorists and other users of petrol returned to many petrol stations in Lagos and Ogun states on Saturday and Sunday after a brief respite from the scarcity that rocked the country from December to early January. Many stations in both states were shut on Sunday, while some dispensed the product above the official ₦145 per litre price. Some stations in the Ikotun, Ejigbo, Isolo, Idimu, and Igando districts of Lagos were selling at between ₦160 and ₦180 per litre, while others only sold to motorcycle riders and other petrol seekers with Jerry cans, who were charged at least ₦200 extra by petrol attendants, and as high as ₦1000 in Surulere. NNPC spokesman, Ndu Ughamadu told the Punch that the situation in Lagos and its environs were a result of technical hitches. “At the weekend, there was a technical hitch in ships berthing and discharging. But this has been rectified. So, today [Sunday] alone, 250 trucks have been pumped into Lagos compared with when we had the hitch and we supplied [less than] 200 trucks. So, normalcy will return in a matter of hours in Lagos,” he said.
  • The CBN said on Monday a key interest rate setting meeting intended for 22-23 January will not be held due to an inability to form a quorum, adding that the benchmark rate will be maintained at 14 percent. The decision comes because there are not enough members of the CBN’s MPC to form a quorum, the lender said in a statement. “Under these circumstances, and in the absence of a meeting of the MPC, the CBN shall continue to maintain key monetary policy variables as decided by the last MPC meeting,” the CBN said. On Friday, multiple news organisations reported that the interest rate meeting was unlikely to be held because several new members of the MPC have yet to be approved by lawmakers, citing central bank sources. At least five of the MPC’s 12 members are due to be replaced after retiring last year. At the heart of the matter is a stand-off between the presidency and legislature over the latter’s powers to confirm – or deny – executive nominees to key posts within the government. On Friday, a presidency official said he did not know when the stand-off would be resolved but it was being addressed by Muhammadu Buhari’s office.
  • The NCC says it will suspend the licenses of six companies which it claims are involved in “call masking”. The Cable reports that a letter dated 12 January by the telecom regulator said the affected companies had until 31 January to state why they should not be suspended. Call masking is a technique used to hide numbers when making calls or sending messages. In some cases, international numbers are masked with local numbers which are not charged, because the caller’s identity is completely hidden on the network. In July, the NCC gave telecom firms one week to end call masking. “The commission has recently been inundated with complaints regarding the prevalence of call masking and refilling in the industry,” the letter addressed to the CEO of Medallion Communications read. “Having carefully analysed all the relevant data collected in the course of its investigation activities, the commission has established a direct and indirect evidence against your company in the illegal and unwholesome activity of call masking and milling.” Other companies that received the letter are Interconnect Cleaning House Nigeria, Niconnx Communications, Breeze Micro, Solid Interconnectivity and Exchange Telecommunications.
  • The FG has given official recognition to Messrs UC Rusal, a Russian company, as the core investor in the Aluminium Smelter Company of Nigeria, Ikot Abasi, Akwa Ibom following the signing of the renewed Share Purchase Agreement by both parties in Abuja on Friday. The renewed SPA was signed during a brief ceremony at the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development and witnessed by Minister Kayode Fayemi; Minister of State for Mines and Steel Development, Abubakar Bwari; Director-General of the Bureau of Public Enterprise, Alex Okoh; Russian Ambassador to Nigeria, Nickolai Udovichenko; UC Rusal CEO, Vladislav Soloviev; ALSCON Managing Director, Dmitry Zavyaiov; and UC Rusal Head of Legal, Piter Maximov. According to a statement from the ministry, Okoh signed for the Federal Government, while Soloviev signed on behalf of the company, thus ending the protracted litigation that has made the aluminium smelting company unable to operate for almost a decade. Under the agreement, the FG retains a 20 percent equity in the company. ALSCON was incorporated in 1989 with the FG, Ferrostaal of Germany and Reynolds Incorporated of America as shareholders on an equity holding of 70 percent, 20 percent and 10 percent respectively.