Reps probe Etisalat’s eclipse, says takeover is illegal

By Kokumo Goodie, Lagos, Nigeria

Nigeria’s House of Representatives has mandated its Committee on Telecommunications to probe the reasons for the collapse of Etisalat Nigeria (now 9mobile).

The Lower House averred that one of the reasons for the probe is to protect the interests of its subscribers and other stakeholders in the telco, the fourth largest service provider in the country.

The decision of the of the House was as a result of the adoption of the prayers of a motion moved by a member, Hon. Saheed Akinade-Fijabi

He recalled that Etisalat Nigeria (now 9mobile) had commenced business in Nigeria in 2009 after acquiring the unified access license (UAL) to provide mobile phone (GSM) services riding on spectrum in the 1800 and 900 MHZ bands from the regulator of the sector, the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) in January 2007

He said the telco grew subscribers to over 21 million and controlled about 12.9 per cent of the country’s telecom market share.

“Etisalat Nigeria was formerly owned by three shareholders, namely Emirates Telecommunications Group Company (40 per cent), Mubadala Development Company, Abu Dhabi (45 percent) and EMTS Holding BV (15 per cent);

“Aware that Etisalat Nigeria obtained a loan of $1.2 billion (377.4 billion Naira) in 2013 from thirteen    Nigerian banks which involved a foreign-backed guaranteed bond to finance a major network rehabilitation, upgrade and expansion of its operational base in Nigeria;

“Etisalat Nigeria had so far paid about half of the initial loan amounting to about N504 billion with total outstanding sum of about $574 miliion but had reneged on its debt servicing obligations after the intervention of the Nigerian Communications Commission and the Central Bank of Nigeria to restructure the loan and new repayment deadline.”

Fijabi lamented that the failure of the telco to meet its debt servicing obligations with its consortium of lenders since last year led to its foreign major shareholders pulling out and eventual take-over by the lenders.

He averred that the take-over of Etisalat Nigeria which was renamed 9mobile by the banks is a clear violation of Section 38 (1) of the Nigerian Communications Act, 2003

According to him, the Act  provides that “the grant of a license shall be personal to the licensee and the license 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”;

When the motion was put to a vote by the Deputy Speaker, Yussuff Lasun, it was passed by a majority support of lawmakers and referred to the House Committee on Telecommunications with a mandate  to report back in eight weeks for further legislative action.

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