MTN Nigeria: Stop the Extortion!!! (and be socially responsible for once!!!)

August 3, 2013 § Leave a comment

Kenneth Amaeshi, PhD

I borrowed the first part of the title of this article from a Commentary by Christopher Akor on Sahara Reporter’s online portal (June 15, 2011). The piece ostensibly resonated very well with many readers given the comments it attracted. Two years down the line, MTN Nigeria, like the proverbial leopard, literally appears incapable of changing its spots. This is worrying given the recent pronouncement of MTN Nigeria as a dominant operator in the Nigerian mobile voice communications market – 44% share of the market!! – (NCC, April 25, 2013).

I have been a pre-paid customer of MTN Nigeria for a while now. I will struggle to classify myself as an uninformed customer – although it is easy to be unwittingly dragged by the likes of MTN Nigeria into doubting one’s cognitive and information processing capabilities through their unclear and in some instances, outrightly mischievous marketing strategies. MTN Nigeria appears to excel and thrive in this game of misinformation and information distortion. Here is an example: “Wow! The smartest way to recharge! Get double your recharge. Dial *888*PIN# from 6pm Friday to 11:59pm Sunday”. On the face of it, it looks straightforward, right? Dial *888*PIN# from 6pm Friday to 11:59pm Sunday and get double your recharge.

This is my layman’s interpretation of this message, but I was fooled. I did not know it was a hoax! I saw it, mentioned it to a friend and he tried it on a Saturday evening only to realise that the “double recharge” promised in the marketing message would expire at 11:59pm on Sunday. One would ordinarily expect that once the recharge is made within the stipulated time frame, the usage would continue as long as the customer wanted it based on his or her usage. If MTN Nigeria wanted to be clear and explicit with customers, I wonder why it did not also state in the same message when the doubled recharge would expire. That also left me wondering what MTN Nigeria had in mind in constructing such a deceitful and misleading message in a very unclear manner.

On a similar note of seeming roguish behaviour, I use the MTN Nigeria blackberry services. I sometimes use the blackberry service to watch video clips on my phone, which I considered part of my blackberry service deal. However, without notice recently, I suddenly realised that MTN Nigeria opted out of my blackberry services and deducted from my call recharge credit instead for downloading video clips on my phone. Again, I find this practice very bizarre, predatory, and unfriendly; and it left me wondering why a firm like MTN Nigeria would engage in such ruthless pranks and gimmicks, despite its market dominance.

In my opinion, these despicable acts speak volumes in themselves, and I suspect there are many of such roguish behaviours out there. In conclusion, I came to the view that either MTN Nigeria thinks Nigerians are mind-readers or it is clearly out to prey on its customers. The latter is not untypical of big dominant firms with monopolistic tendencies, which MTN Nigeria seems to exhibit profusely. The bewildering dimension of it all is that MTN Nigeria would still go about posturing as a socially responsible organization. Yet, the company seems to forget that social responsibility goes beyond setting up a philanthropic corporate foundation. Misselling and misinformation, as allegedly exhibited in the examples above, are clearly acts of social irresponsibility.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) ought to be a sincere and genuine corporate commitment to reducing its negative impacts and increasing its positive impacts on its different stakeholder groups (e.g. customers, shareholders, employees, regulators, the government, unions, local communities, et cetera). It is about Creating Shared Value – i.e. win-win outcomes for the business and the society. It is a business orientation and culture that recognises the firm as an entity embedded in a network of relationships with different stakeholder groups; and to be successful and sustainable, a business should be genuinely committed and responsive to these stakeholder groups. It should afford any firm that is truly committed to it a richer and more advanced paradigm to continuously challenge its business purpose and align itself to its core values, aspirations and mission. It is a way of maintaining the legitimacy of a firm’s actions in the larger society by bringing its stakeholder concerns to the foreground and minimizing information asymmetries between actors.

MTN Nigeria appears to be far from this view of a socially responsible firm in the marketplace. To a large extent, it still seems to exhibit the locust behavior characteristic of impatient foreign investors. Yes, it was a risk for MTN to invest in Nigeria. Yes, MTN should recover its investments and extract as much value as possible. However, this shouldn’t be at all cost and by all means – including marketing pranks. Despite its alleged propensity to extort, MTN Nigeria would be better off considering itself as a truly Nigerian firm that has come to stay and behave as such. Otherwise, the long term sustainability of the firm is very much at risk. MTN should not be the proverbial roasting grasshopper that thinks of itself as an oily creature!

I have written this article to express my frustration. It is also an attempt to encourage other Nigerians to learn to hold firms like MTN Nigeria accountable for their seeming reckless behaviours and irresponsibility masked as competitive strategy. If we don’t, they will continue to take advantage of us all in the name of legitimate profit-seeking behaviours. I lost about N1,300 in my case, which I could have chosen to ignore; but imagine 100,000 Nigerians suffering the same fate! That’s a whooping N130m!! Little drops of water make a mighty ocean, as they say. To be more graphic, MTN Nigeria’s published customer base is about 45m (NCC, 2013). If it missells to 1% which is 450,000 and these customers spend an average of N100 per day, that’s N45m and up to N1.35b per month!! Why won’t misselling be a big strategic competitive move in Nigeria? Big firms are really big trouble!!

It seems MTN Nigeria needs a tutorial in Africonciousness – “a socio-mental awareness of Africa and her people first as a continent and human beings with genuine needs, before being a market with viable consumers” (Amaeshi, 2013) – to be a truly African success story.

Amaeshi is a member of Thought Leadership Forum, Nigeria


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