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FG backs Akunyili, orders fresh licensing bid

By Prince Osuagwu & Daniel Idonor
ABUJA—The 2.3Ghz spectrum licence controversy may have been put to rest as the Presidency, yesterday, ordered the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, to refund the three companies, Mobitel, Spectranet and Multi-Links Telkom their licence fees and start a fresh bid immediately.

Close presidency source, told Vanguard yesterday that after looking at the pros and cons of the 2.3Ghz licensing round and the attendant furore it has generated, the presidency, decided to order a fresh bid while mandating NCC to refund those who won the controversial bids their licence fees.

The source, however, did not disclose whether those to receive the refund would be eligible to participate in the new bid nor explain in details how long the presidency gave NCC to conclude the refund process in order to continue with the fresh bid.

Official statement by Presidential spokesman, Mr Olusegun Adeniyi said that “having carefully reviewed official reports and representations from stakeholders, and after availing himself of competent advice on the recent licensing of the 2.3 GHz Spectrum Band, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua has come to the conclusion that the letters and spirit of the stipulated rules and guidelines were not adequately complied with”.

Prof. Dora Akunyili
Prof. Dora Akunyili

Meanwhile several attempts to contact the Head Corporate Affairs of the NCC, Mr Reuben Muoka, to confirm the story proved abortive as he was said to have travelled, but reliable sources at the NCC claimed ignorance of such a directive from the presidency.

However, one of the licensees, Mobitel, when contacted, confirmed the story but said it had wished for a more favourable outcome. “The management of Mobitel has met to consider the latest developments in respect of the 2.3Ghz licensing process. We are obviously unhappy with this state of affairs and had hoped for a more favourable outcome considering that Mobitel had fully complied with the requirements of the licensing process.

“However, Mobitel’s overall  plan to roll a top quality voice and data network in October this year, utilising our existing spectrum resources on the 2.2Ghz frequency band remains unimpeded,” the company source told Vanguard.

The controversy began when NCC in April this year, advertised bids for four slots of licences on the 2.3GHz spectrum which would see the winners deploy the Broadband Wireless Access on Worldwide Interoperability for Mobile Access (WiMAX) technology round the country.

On Thursday, April 30, 2009, the NCC in newspapers and on its website opened an offer to 40 companies that have expressed interest in the spectrum. They were given a deadline of Friday May 8, 2009 for payment of the slot fixed at N1,368,000,000 (one billion, three hundred and sixty eight million naira only) on a first-pay- first-served basis.

NCC said it was departing from its usual practice of selling off frequency spectrum licences through auctions to avoid jerking up the licence fees and apparently make it difficult for winners to rollout the service on time.

Out of the 40 companies short-listed for the offer, Mobitel Nigeria Limited, Spectranet Limited and Multi_Links Telkom Limited were announced as eventual winners.

A fourth company, Galaxy Wireless Communications Limited with office in Abuja, was dropped on the ground that it did not pay the final amount into the coffers of the NCC as at the closing of the offer.

But the Minister of Information and Communications, Prof. Dora Akunyili, immediately after the licensing round, dragged Engineer Ernest Ndukwe, executive vice chairman, NCC to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on the allegation of lack of transparency in the spectrum licensing among other issues such as frustrating government’s effort to lower tariffs, and eventually cancelled the bid.

The telecommunications industry was heated up and fears of impaired development loomed wide in the industry.
However, winners of the cancelled licences reacted to the allegations that the process was flawed. Mobitel, a private telephone operator (PTO) which few years ago went under, said it did not have any prior knowledge of the tender for the 2.3GHz spectrum band and it has irrefutable proof that its funds were only sourced for after the invitation to tender was published by the NCC.

Johnson Salako, executive chairman, Mobitel said “Mobitel has gone through the published due process and met all requirements for the award of spectrum in the 2.3GHz band. The company’s legitimate expectation is to receive a formal letter of award for this spectrum.

“In a case such as this where the due processes have been followed, we feel very strongly that the purported cancellation of this process is an infringement of Mobitel’s rights and we feel that the legitimate results from the tender process should be upheld,” he said.

Ijeoma Abazie, chief corporate affairs officer, Multi_Links Telkom in statement said “Multi_Links Telkom successful bid and payment for the 2.3GHz WIMAX Licence was guided by a strict code of corporate governance specifically the Sarbanes Oxley Act and the Nigerian Corporate Governance Code.

Abazie said Multi_Links Telkom applied for the 2.3GHz Spectrum Licence, based on the advertisement placed in the media and the Internet by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).

Considering the over stretched debate, the presidency referred the matter to the Attorney General of the federation, Mike Aandoakaa for interpretation. But a forth-night ago, the Attorney General was reported to have directed the presidency to let the bid process stand on the fact that the Minister does not have rights to cancel a licensing round conducted by the regulator, NCC.


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