Right now, I do not know. You would not know either until a winner emerges among the firms that have submitted their expression of interest to Barclays Africa. All I know is that there are 16 companies jostling to buy the embattled telecom giant and, I also know that whoever emerges as the preferred bidder for 9mobile would, without doubt, repay the $1.2 billion debt it owes the 13 Nigerian banks. The banks would like that, I know.
9mobile is the fourth largest network operator in Nigeria. But how did the once vibrant, youth-focused, 9ja brand get to this low level? In 2013 erstwhile Etisalat, now 9mobile approached a consortium of 13 Nigerian banks for a loan to upgrade and expand its network. The fund was sourced in dollar and naira denominations. However, in 2015-2016, the recession and the further devaluation of the naira poorly affected the dollar-denominated loan.
Therefore, 9mobile, then Etisalat, informed its creditors about its intention to halt the repayment of the loan in instalments until such a time when it would be capable to raise more money. The banks turned deaf ears. Rather, the banks threatened to possess 9mobile if it fails to meet its payment obligations.
Cornered and helpless, 9mobile was forced to renegotiate its loans terms with the banks. But the banks would not entertain emotions, as the banks blatantly said no to 9mobile offer. Consequently, 9mobile’s board and MD/CEO jumped the sinking ship. Since then, 9mobile has been wobbling.
However, since last month, the list of would-be buyers of 9mobile had increased. The reason was attributed to the efforts of the Federal Government to protect investments in the telecoms sector, as the government is already positioning the sector as its biggest revenue source, after the global fall in oil prices.
Media reports showed that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) had requested the banks to accept from 9mobile a five per cent provision as part of their third-quarter results. The directive, which the banks have complied with and the Senate’s resolve to investigate Etisalat Nigeria as to how $1.2 billion loan was utilised as well as the emergence of Barclays Africa to source new investors for 9mobile have, without doubt, raised the confidence of intending buyers of 9mobile.
As it stands, in the forefront for the acquisition of 9mobile, is Africa’s biggest telecom operator, MTN. India’s Bharti Airtel, operating as Airtel Nigeria, is also blowing tough. Ntel, operator and owner of the defunct NITEL and MTel, has equally thrown its hat into the ring. Others are not keeping quiet. They all want the heart and soul of 9mobile. Who wins?
Among all of these firms no one wins, for now, as the process is on hold. Because Barclays Africa, the financial advisor to the sale of 9mobile, is reportedly unhappy with how the CBN and Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) are meddling with the bidding. Therefore, among the 16 grooms who are asking for the heart and hands of 9mobile in a marriage, anyone can acquire 9mobile. On December 31, the date 9mobile goes to a new suitor; whoever gets the nod pays 9mobile’s $1.2 debts. That I know.