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NCC plans public forum on transfer of Visafone resources to MTN on Monday

More than two years after its acquisition of Visafone, MTN Nigeria may be on its way to take full delivery of resources formally belonging to the defunct leading Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) technology player.

Before now, the new owner, MTN had been working on taking delivery of frequencies belonging to Visafone with some hitches traced to the regulations of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).

However, the current green light from the regulator over a planned forum on the matter next Monday in Abuja may provide better ground for the settlement of the issues.

It would be recalled that chairman of Zenith Bank Plc., and core investor in the CDMA telecoms segment, Mr. Jim Ovia had sold the company when he observed that GSM operators had overshadowed the survival capabilities of CDMA in the country.

The idea may have stemmed from the collapse other CDMA including Mobitel, Starcoms and Reltel over the years.

Though there were mounting pressure against MTN from its competitors on what they saw as undue advantage in instant access to Visafone frequencies which analysts believed was the major reason MTN considered in buying the firm, it is believed that the Monday forum may resolve the issue and handover the spectrum to the largest telecoms operator in the country for use after all.

This is based on the fact that MTN had acquired 100 per cent stake in Visafoneon the approval of NCC as required by the law.

But the regulator turned around and issued a statement clarifying that the transfer of the shares of Visafone to MTN did not automatically mean the transfer of the licence and frequency to the mobile operator.

In a clarification statement issued by NCC’s Director, Public Affairs, Mr. Tony Ojobo, the Commission had argued that “A decision to transfer the Visafone licence to MTN has not yet been taken. What has been approved in the transaction is 100 per cent shareholding and not the licence.

“The NCC’s final approval to the changes in shareholding of Visafone Communications was taken by virtue of Section 38 of the Nigerian Communications Act, 2003. Section 38 of the Act states that ‘the grant of a licence shall be personal to the licensee and the licence shall not be operated by, assigned, sub-licensed or transferred to any other party unless the prior written approval of the commission has been granted’.

Ojobo averred that “This clarification has become necessary in order to allay the fears in some quarters that the frequency has been withheld by the commission.”

According to him then, “Specifically, Visafone Communications Limited, with a Universal Access Service Licence deploying CDMA technology, applied to the NCC for an approval to effect a change in its shareholding structure by transferring 100 per cent of its shares to MTN Nigeria.

“Having met all the preliminary requirements for the grant of approval for change in shareholding structure, the NCC, in line with its established procedure, granted an approval-in-principle to Visafone Communications Limited, subject to the fulfilment of conditions to transfer 100 per cent of its shares to MTN Nigeria.

“Having fulfilled the conditions stipulated in the approval-in-principle, the NCC, in line with its procedure, granted a final approval to Visafone for the change in its shareholding structure.”

Industry observers say, depending on the outcome of the forum next Monday, MTN may be allowed to access the frequencies which had been laying fallow since the collapse of Visafone.