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Nigeria may have new number one telecom operator by Jan 1

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  • Globacom could beat Airtel, Dangote Group, others to acquire 9mobile
  • How it all started pouring for 9Mobile (nee ‘Etisalat’)

9Mobile’s operating licence will be in the lockers of a new buyer, except there is a last minute intervention on/or before Sunday, December 31, 2017. By then, industry regulator- Nigerian Telecommunications Commission, would have conclude plan to unveil the new buyers of 9Mobile which investigation points at Globacom Limited.

This will apparently bequeath Globacom a new status as the number one, in Nigeria, in terms of subscriber base.

Yes, as the world is celebrating Christmas, and look forward to welcome the New Year 2018, Nigeria’s first indigenous telecommunications operator-Globacom is hammering its iron while it is glowing hot.

How it all started pouring 9Mobile, formerly Etisalat Nigeria

May 2013, Emerging Markets Telecommunications Services Limited, trading under the name of Etisalat Nigeria, signed a $1.2bn medium-term syndicated loan facility agreement with Zenith Bank Plc, Guaranty Trust Bank Plc, First Bank of Nigeria Limited and 10 other banks.

The company plan was to use the proceeds to refinance existing commercial medium-term debt of $650m and continue its network rollout across the country and also continue the release of innovative products and services to its over (then) 15 million subscribers.

Other banks involved in the deal are United Bank of Africa Plc, Fidelity Bank Plc, Access Bank Plc, Ecobank Plc, Keystone Bank Limited, First City Monument Bank Plc, FSDH Merchant Bank, Mainstreet Bank Limited, Stanbic IBTC Bank Plc and Union Bank Plc.

9Mobile’s problems (nee Etisalat), has lingered over time due to her indebtedness to 13 banks in Nigeria to the tune of N541billion.

June 2017, news filtered that the Banks are at dagger-head with Etisalat; in fact, they went ahead to take over the telecommunications Company and then Chairman, Etisalat Nigeria, Mr. Hakeem Bello Osagie unable to stop the moves.

It started pouring for Etisalat as its Abu Dhabi-based Etisalat Group technical partners announced decision to withdraw support for the telco and demanded Etisalat Nigeria’s immediate rebranding; in other words, Etisalat ‘exited’ the market.

Piqued by these towering mountain of corporate headache, the Nigerian investors, represented by Emerging Markets Telecommunications Services (EMTS) and which holds just 15% of the total investment, was forced to rebrand to 9Mobile, nine hours after the ultimatum was issued.

Not yet uhuru!

December 15, 2017, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) came out blowing hot. The regulator insisted that deadline for the handover of 9mobile to the preferred bidder is sacrosanct.

Thus, Globacom Limited, Bharti Airtel, Smile Telecoms Holdings, Helios Investment Partners LLP and Teleology Holdings Limited have all been shortlisted as the five bidders still in the running to buy 9mobile, the Nigeria’s fourth largest telecommunications provider.

The companies were selected through a process conducted by Barclays Bank, the financial adviser to the creditor banks, on December 4.

Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Prof Umar Garba Danbatta, speaking to journalists on the sideline of the 82th edition of Telecoms Consumers Parliament in Abuja reiterated that the five shortlisted companies had been allowed to conduct due diligence on 9mobile.

According to him, the next stage of the sale process after due diligence would be for the firms evidence of strong financial commitment to buy 9mobile.

He said Nigerian authorities would not just handover 9mobile to any company, but to a very “technically and financially capable company.”

Glo, the winner?

Globacom plans to buy 9mobile (formerly Etisalat) and after buying it, the network stands the possibility of emerging as Nigeria and Africa’s number one network, according to pundits in the telecoms sector.

Globacom’s acquisition of 9mobile would be an epic coup considering stiff competition from top telecoms players who have shown interest in the company.

The list of those who have tendered bid for 9mobile includes: India’s Bharti Airtel, operating as Airtel in Nigeria; Dangote Group’s telecoms business unit, Alheri Engineering Limited, which has the backing of U.S.-based Blackstone Group with an investment portfolio of $378 billion and a Nigerian subsidiary called the Black Rhino Group.

Others are Smile Telecoms Holdings, a South African telecommunications group with subsidiaries in Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda; and Helios Towers, the former owner and operator of the largest telecoms tower network in Nigeria and other countries, before it sold its Nigerian infrastructure to HIS.

Despite the fierce competition, Globacom is expected to scale through as the only successful bidder; if it succeeds in acquiring 9mobile, Globacom will consolidate its position as the most successful player in Nigeria’s telecoms industry and the network to beat in the African telecoms sector.

As at September 2017, NCC’s statistics shows MTN’s subscriber base stood at 50,307,169; Globacom- 37,349,979 and EMTS- 9Mobile- 17,203,940. By these numbers Glo is gearing up to become the number with a total subscription base of 67,511,109.

Industry stakeholders are keenly watching as Jan 1 2018 when the 9Mobile bid concludes. This will be a big dynamic change in the $70 billion telecom market in Nigeria. Thus, on Monday, Nigeria may have a new number in the telecom sector.

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