Business Hilights
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9mobile sale: Airtel, Helios petition FG over confidence issues

Fresh controversy is about to envelope the nearly concluded sales process of embattled 9mobile, formally Etisalat Nigeria.

Only yesterday, Wednesday, indication emerged that Bharti Airtel International, owners of Airtel Nigeria and UK private equity firm, Helios Investment Partners, have petitioned the federal government over the ongoing process to sell 9mobile, formerly Etisalat Nigeria.

Business Hilights recalls that Airtel had technically pulled out even as one of the shortlisted five finalists on grounds of alleged poor communications and openness of the process. The anxiety therefore pushed the telecom to avoid submitting its final bid for 9mobile.

However, even though Globacom and Helios Investment Partners LLP submitted bids, they did not make any financial offer for the firm, a development experts say may not even hamper their chances of being a preferred bidder after all.

Whereas Teleology Holdings Limited submitted a bid in excess of $500 million, Smile Telecoms Holdings quoted close to $300 million, thus making the duo as only companies that made financial offers as at the January 16 deadline.

Investigations by Business Hilights suggested that Airtel decided to pull out because “many things are not too plain with the entire process”.

A follower of the company along the lines of this bidding confided on one of the Nigerian leading media, TheCable that “Airtel believes too many things are hidden about the health of 9mobile, and that it is too risky for anyone to buy the company. Things became compounded with the court case by Spectrum Wireless. Remember the Strive Masiyiwa case over the ownership of Econet which hurt the company for a long time”.

Before the latest shock bordering on petition, Spectrum Wireless, a shareholder of Emerging Markets Telecommunications Service (EMTS); which owns the 9mobile licence, had gone to court against United Capital Trustees Limited; representatives of the debtors in order to stop the constitution of an interim board for 9mobile after the take-over in July 2017.

Though the board was constituted without recourse to it, Spectrum Wireless secured a ruling that voided the stay of the current board led by CBN’s Deputy Governor, Dr. Joseph Nnanna.

Already, the judgment had been appealed.

Business Hilights recalls that trouble started for the firm when in mid 2017, it was observed by consortium of 13 banks that Etisalat Nigeria cannot pay back a syndicated loan of $1.2bn.

At a time the banks were about to effect a hostile acquisition process, the combined efforts of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and the apex bank came to its rescue.

This development further forced the core investor, Mubadala Group from the United Arab Emirates to stage a pull out of Nigeria’s fourth largest mobile operator.

Accordingly, the company changed name and was being prepared for sale by Barclays Africa acting as transaction advisers.

The shortlisted companies are: Teleology Holdings Limited, promoted by Adrian Wood, the pioneer CEO of MTN Nigeria; Smile Telecoms Holdings, a telco operating in Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, Congo DR and South Africa; and Helios Investment Partners LLP, an investment company. Others are Airtel Nigeria, and Globacom.

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