MTN has announced plans to invest the equivalent of US$1.5 billion in Nigeria over the next three years to expand broadband access across the country.

President and CEO Ralph Mupita announced the programme in a three-day visit to Abuja and Lagos, during which he repeated MTN’s support for Nigeria’s plans to secure 90% broadband population coverage by 2025.

“Nigeria is one of our most important markets. We have a proud history of partnering with Nigeria and Nigerians to drive faster and more inclusive growth through digital transformation,” said Mupita, at a presentation that included Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari and other leaders of the country as well as senior executives of the group.

Relations between MTN and Nigeria haven’t always been so cordial. In 2016 the government threatened it with a fine of $5.2 billion, later cut to $3.9 billion, and cut again by 25%, for continuing services to unregistered SIM cards.

Then, in 2018 the Nigerian Central Bank said MTN had used “irregular capital importation certificates” and told it to repatriate $8.1 billion — a sum cut to just $53 million in order to settle the dispute.

Again in 2018, Nigeria said MTN owed the equivalent of $2 billion in unpaid duties and taxes dating between 2007 and 2017. The MTN group denied the liability.

Nigeria finally dropped that demand in January 2020, days before MTN was due to take the issue to court, with the company saying it would invest $1.6 billion. It is not clear whether the latest $1.5 billion investment commitment is related to last year’s promise.

At the ceremony, MTN welcomed Nigeria’s plans to auction 500MHz of 5G spectrum — in five blocks of 100MHz in the 3500MHz band, which Mupita said would facilitate accelerated broadband access.

Mupita confirmed the group’s plans to sell a 14% stake in MTN Nigeria to Nigerian investors. Plans were well advanced, he said, and this would happen as soon as conditions were conducive.

The company will also build what Mupita called “a new flagship headquarters in Lagos”, said Mupita.