The MTN Nigeria refund is bigger than Absa’s market cap

MTN is in trouble after being targeted in what has been called a shakedown orchestrated by Nigerian authorities.

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has demanded that the mobile operator return $8.2 billion which it says MTN illegally moved out of the country.

The CBN also fined a number of major banks for their role in facilitating the movement of these funds out of the country. These banks included Standard Bank, Stanbic, Citigroup, and Diamond Bank.

While this amount by itself is extremely large, it wasn’t the end of MTN’s troubles.

Shortly after this demand was made, the Attorney General of Nigeria made its own demands of the mobile operator, stating that it owed $2 billion in back taxes on foreign imports into the country.

MTN has resolved to fight these demands in Nigeria’s High Court, stating that it was committed to its business in the country despite its problems with authorities.

Industry analysts have labelled Nigeria’s demands a shakedown, stating that it is concerning that the CBN demanded the money be paid into its coffers instead of the company of origin.

The news was not well received by the market, and MTN’s shares on the JSE tanked as a result.

Big money

The size of the amount demanded of MTN by Nigerian authorities is difficult to determine without comparing it to other metrics.

In rand terms, the total amount MTN has been ordered to pay back to Nigeria is around R154 billion.

This is alarming considering that MTN’s market cap is currently R139 billion.

The amount Nigeria has demanded be refunded by MTN remains exceedingly large when compared to other major companies in South Africa, too – including the market cap of our big banks, as shown below.


  • Market Cap – R113 billion

As of 10 September 2018, the market cap of Capitec was R113 billion, substantially lower than the R154 billion refund MTN has been ordered to pay.



  • Market Cap – R132 billion

As of 10 September 2018, Absa’s market cap was listed as R132 billion.

Absa logo


  • Market Cap – R131 billion

Nedbank’s market cap is also lower than the amount demanded from MTN and was listed as R131 billion as of 10 September 2018.

Nedbank logo

Alphabet acquisitions

The amount owed by MTN also exceeds the value of big acquisitions in the tech space, including those made by Google parent Alphabet in recent years.

Alphabet paid the equivalent of R138 billion to acquire YouTube, DoubleClick, Nest Labs, and HTC – bearing in mind that inflation has not been taken into account for the multiple transactions at different points in time.

The total amount paid by Alphabet over the years for these companies comes to $9.05 billion, considerably lower than the Nigeria refund amount.


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The MTN Nigeria refund is bigger than Absa’s market cap