9mobile (Etisalat) seeks concessions from NCC to boost revenues ahead of sale


By Camillus Eboh and Chijioke Ohuocha

ABUJA/LAGOS (Reuters) – The head of 9mobile, the mobile operator formerly known as Etisalat Nigeria, has asked the telecoms regulator for concessions on spectrum and foreign exchange access to shore up its revenues ahead of finding new investors.

On Tuesday, Central Bank Governor Godwin Emefiele said 9mobile had appointed advisers to find new investors after regulators stepped in to try to save the company from collapse due to it big debts.

Citigroup and Standard Bank have been appointed to manage a sale process and three major investors have shown interest.

9mobile’s CEO Boye Olusanya on Wednesday asked the Nigerian Communications Commission to revisit its floor price on data, interconnect rates and national roaming fees in order to help the country’s fourth-largest mobile operator meet its obligations, the NCC said, citing a meeting with 9mobile.

“We want to see a viable and thriving 9mobile,” NCC’s Executive Vice Chairman Umar Garba Danbatta said, adding that he wanted to safeguard investors, subscribers and employees.

Danbatta said in a statement that more than $2 billion foreign direct investment by Mubadala of UAE was at stake, while 20 million subscribers and over 2,000 workers would have been affected if the NCC had not intervened.

9mobile declined to comment.

9mobile has a 14 percent share of Nigeria’s highly competitive mobile telecoms market. South Africa’s MTN is the market leader with 47 percent, Nigeria’s Globacom has 20 percent and Bharti Airtel’s local subsidiary has 19 percent.

Etisalat Nigeria was the biggest foreign-owned company affected by dollar shortages in the country due to lower oil prices and a recession, making it difficult for the company to make repayments to lenders and suppliers.

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It took out a $1.2 billion loan in 2013 from 13 local lenders to refinance existing debt and expand its network but it struggled to repay four years later.

Etisalat International’s CEO Hatem Dowidar told Reuters this month that it had been unsuccessful at converting some of its dollar debt to local currency and had decided to exit the market, giving the Nigerian business notice to phase out the brand.

Central bank governor Emefiele on Tuesday said 9mobile’s revenue was stable and it had made 16 billion naira ($52.5 million) in June, adding that the company had not lost subscribers due to its debt problems.

9mobile’s Olusanya has said he is focused on getting the company back on track to make a profit, while working on plans to raise new capital. He also said the company was open to new investors.

(Writing by Chijioke Ohuocha. Editing by Jane Merriman)

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