By Oluwatobi Opusunju
Barring any hiccups, 9mobile is expected to get new owners by December 31 in a sales pitch being midwifed by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to save the troubled telco from the knackers shop after huge unpaid debt, and boardroom intrigues nearly made a consortium of banks and financiers to forcefully takeover 9mobile then called Etisalat Nigeria.
The operator was re-christened 9mobile after Etisalat UAE pulled out months back and a financial truce was brokered by the Central Bank of Nigeria and NCC with creditor-banks. The rescue agreement entails getting a transitional management for 9mobile while the regulator seeks new investors. The deadline is December 31, 2017.
There have been investment overtures from big offshore telcos including Orange and Vodacom while local players Globacom Limited, Smile Telecoms Holdings, and Bharti Airtel have also expressed a buy-into interest. Other bidders are Teleology Holdings Limited and Helios Investment Partners LLP.
Knowledgeable persons in the industry who should know, say while the regulator has narrowed to five which did due diligence on 9mobile but it sees three as most likely to go for closure. “There are no straight-cut bidders. The market still holds strong attraction and there are encouraging moves to make some of the bidders form a consortium to offer both an attractive bid and a stronger assurance of early rebound for 9mobile or whatever name its new owners choose to give it,” said one of them.
With more than 17 million subscribers, 9mobile holds the fourth position and trails heavily behind MTN, Globacom, and Airtel. The third largest operator, Airtel has over 34 million subscribers. MTN leads with subscribers in excess of 40 million.
Telecom regulator Prof Umar Garba Danbatta at the recent 82nd edition of Telecoms Consumers Parliament in Abuja assured stakeholders of a positive outcome for sale of 9mobile and reiterated that the commission will ensure a buyer with proven technology with financial capacity.