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Labour to buy-out NITEL/Mtel

By Victor Ahiuma-Young
ORGANISED labour in the nation’s telecommunication sector, under the umbrella of the Senior Staff Association of Communications, Transport and Corporations (SSACTAC), has declared interest in acquiring 75 per cent equity stake in the troubled national carrier, Nigeria Telecommunications (NITEL) Plc and its GSM arm, Mtel.

The Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE), saddled with the responsibility of privatising NITEL, on Wednesday, said no fewer than 13 potential investors  (excluding labour) have shown interest in buying at least 75per cent stake in NITEL.

BPE named some of the prospective investors to include the Nigerian arms of South Africa’s MTN (MTNJ.J) and Emirates Telecommunications Corp (Etisalat) (ETEL.AD), MTNL India (MTNL.BO), a group involving Spain’s Telefonica (TEF.MC) and Nigerian firm Globacom.

SSACTAC’ President-General, Mr. Adetunji Adesunkanmi, told Vanguard, yesterday, that the  union had got the backing of unnamed consortium of banks to finance the fund required and that the technical know- how was not a problem since members of the association have varied experiences spanning decades.

He said the association had written to BPE’s Director-General, Dr. Christopher Anyanwu, since August 25, on its interest in acquiring shares in the companies, but that up till yesterday, BPE had not invited it.

Adesunkanmi declared that the workers were very important in any decision concerning NITEL/MTel and warned that should the workers be relegated to the background, they would not hesitate to frustrate the sale, explaining that as at today, the workers are owed 13 and 11 months salaries arrears that amount to over N11 billion.

Part of the letter of interest the association sent to BPE and made available to Vanguard read in part: “We are directed by the Central Working Committee (CWC) of our Association, the Senior Staff Association of Communications, Transport and Corporations (SSACTAC), to write in connection with the above mentioned subject matter in the ongoing bids for NITEL and MTEL SSACTAC is the recognised trade union body organising senior workers in the two telecommunications outfits, NFTEL and MTEL. Our over thirty (30) years interaction with the workforce who are the key assets in the two (2) telecommunications giants gives us a head start over ail other bidders.

We are interested in acquiring 75% of equity in the entire NITEL conglomerate and all of MTEL.

SSACTAC is willing to provide evidence of its ability to put in place the necessary technical, financial and administrative requirements to restore both outfits to profitable service to all stakeholders.”

On Tuesday, the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) said it would evaluate interest from companies including the Nigerian arms of South Africa’s MTN (MTNJ.J) and Emirates Telecommunications Corp (Etisalat) (ETEL.AD), MTNL India (MTNL.BO), a group involving Spain’s Telefonica (TEF.MC) and Nigerian firm Globacom.

Africa’s most populous nation is one of the world’s fastest growing mobile markets, adding 7 million new subscribers in the last quarter of 2008 alone, and has overtaken South Africa to become the biggest on the continent.

That could make it attractive to foreign investors, particularly if Nitel’s MTEL mobile unit can be bought at the right price. But the government has struggled to sell Nitel, largely because of the state of its fixed line infrastructure.

The BPE said preference would be given to bidders seeking to acquire Nitel’s fixed lines, its transmission backbone, components of its South Atlantic Terminal underwater cable (SAT-3) and mobile unit MTEL together.

Those bidding separately for MTEL must make necessary investments to detach MTEL from the Nitel networks, it said.

President Umaru Yar’Adua last week instructed the new board of Nitel to privatise the company within 60 days, the latest in a series of deadlines which have come and gone for the sale.

Nitel’s fixed lines have fallen to less than 100,000 from five times that figure in 2001, while MTEL subscribers have dropped to a few thousand. New investors have been hard to find.

Nigeria ended Nitel’s monopoly in Africa’s most populous nation in 2001 and tried to sell the operator the same year. However, preferred bidders failed to pay the $1.3 billion price tag by the deadline, leaving it in state hands.


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