A widely read Nigerian news site has celebrated telecoms giant MTN’s recent earnings.
“MTN has made history by being the first company in Nigeria to make over N2 trillion in one year,” Legit.ng posted on Facebook in February 2023. The site’s Facebook page has more than 2.3 million followers.
MTN Nigeria is the biggest mobile operator in the country. It is part of the MTN Group, which provides telecoms services in 21 countries in Africa and the Middle East.
MTN’s audited financial statements for 2022 show that it made N2 trillion (about US$4.3 billion) in revenue, up by 21.6% from N1.65 trillion in 2021.
The company has 74.1 million subscribers in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country.
But is MTN the first Nigerian company to make that much money in one year?
Profit counts – revenue ‘is meaningless’
Africa Check asked the Nigerian Exchange Limited and Securities and Exchange Commission whether MTN’s earnings were indeed “historic”. We will only be able to verify the claim once they have responded to our questions.
Aliyu Sulaiman, a former head of accounting at Bayero University in the northern state of Kano, told us there could be other companies making a lot of money – but their full income wasn’t accurately reflected in their books. Such creative accounting, if it exists, is difficult to verify because it is hidden.
Abayomi Adebayo, a professor of economics at Obafemi Awolowo University in southern Nigeria, told Africa Check that the true revenues of companies listed on a stock exchange couldn’t be hidden, and were generally reflected in their official accounts.
“My worries about celebrating revenue is that until the overall operating expenses are established, the value of the revenue is meaningless,” he said. “The ultimate income to shareholders is net profit.”
MTN Nigeria reported a N359 billion profit after tax for the 2022 financial year, up 20% from N299 billion in 2021.
MTN revenue higher than state budgets?
But a second Legit.ng claim is easier to verify. MTN’s N2 trillion revenue is “higher than the total budget of Lagos and other 35 states in Nigeria for 2023”, it said.
But the news site didn’t say whether it was comparing the revenue with the combined budget of all 36 Nigerian states, or just one state.
Lagos is Nigeria's commercial hub and has the highest budget of any state. It has budgeted N1.77 trillion (about $3.84 billion) for 2023.
If the comparison is with Lagos state alone, the claim is correct.
But if compared to the combined budget of all states – over N9 trillion in 2023 – the claim would be inaccurate.
Just a handful of states are enough to show this. Akwa Ibom (N700 billion), Delta (N571.6 billion), Bayelsa (N385.2 billion) and Cross River (N330 billion) together exceed MTN’s 2022 revenue.
The budgets for just Lagos (N1.77 trillion) and the federal capital territory, home of the political capital of Abuja (N607.9 billion), also add up to more.
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