The Nigerian market comprises 37% of MTN group revenues. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

MTN’s subscriber woes in Nigeria, its biggest market, have caused a steep plunge in profit.

The company said on Thursday it expected headline earnings per share for the year to December to decrease about 20%.

MTN attributed the poor showing to, among other factors, the underperformance in Nigeria, as a result of millions of subscriber disconnections.

Africa’s largest telecoms group is facing a $3.9bn fine from Nigerian regulators for missing the deadline to disconnect 5.1-million subscribers who were not registered as required by the law. The group is seeking an out-of-court settlement.

MTN said, given the discussions, "There remains some uncertainty as to the final quantum of the Nigerian fine, should an out-of-court settlement be reached."

It would issue a further trading statement "as soon as there is a reasonable degree of certainty as to the likely range" within which headline earnings per share were expected to decrease as a result of its problems in Nigeria.

The Nigerian market comprises 37% of MTN group revenues and the current fine equates to more than twice its annual average capital spending over the past five years.

Last month MTN Nigeria confirmed it would report profits of about $955m, which is far short of the fine. The fine was initially $5.2bn but was cut by 25%. MTN Nigeria CEO Ferdi Moolman said at the time that the reduced fine could bankrupt the company, as it represented 95% of its annual turnover.

The fine led to a significant drop in the share price last year. But since the beginning of this year, it has gained 15.6% to R153.70.

The fine also resulted in a management shake-up, leading to chairman Phuthuma Nhleko taking charge of operations after CEO Sifiso Dabengwa quit.