. Concern rises on revocation by FG

JUSTUS ADEJUMOH

The recent plans by the Federal Government to probe the sale of the national telecommunications carrier – Nigeria Telecommunications Company (NITEL) with its subsidiary Mobile Telecommunications (M-TEL) by the previous administration may be stirring an air of uneasiness in NATCOM.

On August 18, the President ordered the investigation into the sale of NITEL which bid was won by NATCOM Consortium. He asked for the details of NITEL transaction and ordered it forwarded to his office in a memo.

While the President was quoted not to be opposed to the sale of NITEL, he said his concern is to ensure that the country was not short-changed.

Some industry observers are of the view that if the sale of NITEL is to be probed, the governments should expand its tentacles to the spectrum licences sold since the inception of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).

Speaking with Hallmark, a former Commissioner with NCC, Steven Bello, expressed mixed feelings over the announced NITEL sale probe plan.

According to him, “The government has the prerogative to do what is needful. The sale of NITEL was historically intriguing. But the best part of the history of the company is that it was eventually bought by a willing and capable buyer. I don’t think much can be done by the government about the sale. The worst thing I think can happen is for the successful bidder to be asked to pay extra amount for, it was indeed underpriced. For anybody to revoke the deal at this stage would further spell doom for NITEL which had been rejected by many suitors until NATCOM recorded the feat of paying fully for it.”

While also commenting on the planned NITEL probe, the National Association of Telecommunications Subscribers’ (NATCOMS) President, Deolu Ogunbanjo, said the government needs to be careful with the probe so that the efforts made in successfully getting a buyer for the moribund network would not be in vain.

“It is true that many things are wrong in the country. This cuts across almost every sector, especially in the government circle. I think the Federal Government needs to exercise caution into a probe into a company like NITEL so that we will not fall back to square one. Prior to the successful sale of NITEL and M-Tel, many investors made attempts to buy it without success. This took a very long time. That is not to say that if due process was not followed, it should not be questioned. But I am particularly concerned about a situation where the sale would be revoked. This will definitely jeopardise any chance of resale.

Moreover, NATCOM has put a lot in place already. They have been hiring staff, importing equipment and investing heavily to ensure that the network comes alive for Nigerians to start using landlines and enjoying accessible and affordable services,” Ogunbanjo stressed.

NATCOM offered $252.25 million for the two operators, while NETTAG which competed with NATCOM was disqualified for failing to include a $10 million bid bond with its technical proposal. NATCOM, a special purpose entity set up for the acquisition of NITEL and M-Tel, comprises seven local and international companies and investors, including Olatunde Ayeni, who has interests in the energy and banking sectors.

It would be recalled that in 2010 the preferred buyer of the telecommunications company, New Generation Telecommunications, failed to meet a number of deadlines to pay its $2.5 billion offer, while reserve bidder Omen International also failed to come up with the $956 million it offered for the company.

Industry observers posit that the myriad of challenges which enmeshed NITEL before it was bought leaves little hope for NATCOM for successful deployment of telecom services in the country within three years and even beyond.

But with the moves being made by the Federal Government to investigate the sale of NITEL, it is only hoped that NATCOM would not be boxed into a tight corner or totally stripped of the acquisition which the company is believed to be investing heavily on to fast track its rollout.