By Aanuoluwa Omotosho and Tobi Opusunju
Nigeria’s fourth largest operator Etisalat got a reprieve at the weekend from its creditor banks following the intervention of two Nigerian regulators in the financial and telecom sectors to avert a major crisis in the country.
With over 20 million subscribers and a huge non-serviced loan from a consortium of banks threatening to take over the operator, industry stakeholders feared a takeover could spike further investments in a national economy in recession.
Etisalat got a breather on Friday following a meeting convened by financial regulator, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and telecom regulator, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to find a quick resolution to the loan default crisis facing the company.
Despite its loan problems, Etisalat said it was expanding its Nigerian operations with a greater focus on data which it foresees will define the market in the months ahead. CEO of Etisalat Nigeria, Matthew Willsher, said the company would be expanding its investment portfolio to drive mobile internet.
An official statement by the NCC states “Friday’s meeting succeeded in halting the attempt by Etisalat’s creditors at bringing it under any form of takeover. Receivership was completely taken off the table in a meeting that was very productive and constructive.
“The meeting, which held at the CBN Office in Lagos, had the consortium of banks being owed and Etisalat in attendance. The banks and the mobile network operator agreed to concrete actions that will bring all parties closest to a resolution.
“The CBN and NCC were able to secure for Etisalat the necessary oxygen to enable it to continue to meet urgent operational expenses.
“CBN Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele who chaired the meeting, was firm in declaring what needed to be done by both parties towards a quick resolution. The “NCC equally made it clear everything necessary must be done to protect the 23 million Etisalat subscribers and also protect the telecom industry to prevent potential investors from developing cold feet.
“Meanwhile, in a renewed effort to ensure that Etisalat remains in business while the consortium of banks meets their obligations to their customers, a meeting will hold on March 16 to agree on a payment restructuring path going forward.
“The NCC will lead the CBN in a possible crucial meeting with Etisalat’s shareholders anytime soon.”