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Fresh controversy over NITEL sale

By Emma Ujah

LAGOS—FRESH controversy has continued to trail last Tuesday’s declaration by the Bureau of Public Enterprises, BPE, of New Generation Telecoms as the winner of the bid for 75 per cent stake in Nigerian Telecommunications Limited,  Nitel and its mobile arm, M-tel.

Yesterday, China Unicom (Hong Kong) Limited, quoted as a member of New Generation Telecoms consortium, said they did not participate in the auction to buy Nitel.

Meantime, New Generation Consortium Limited, the preferred bidder said it was ready to pay $2.5 billion bid  for NITEL.

The group said in Abuja, yesterday, that it had backers who were prepared to demonstrate their readiness to takeover NITEL with a view to get it running within a short time and expand its operations in the interest of the Nigerian economy.

The Managing Director of G-Cell and coordinator of the consortium also refuted reports that China Unicom was the preferred bidder in the Tuesday exercise which was the Federal Government’s fourth attempt to sell NITEL.

However, in a statement reported by Reuters and Bloomberg, Sophia Tso, a Hong Kong-based spokeswoman for Beijing-based company, China Unicom, said, “Neither Unicom nor its unlisted parent joined the bidding for Nitel, as Nigerian Telecommunications is known.” She stated that her company never committed to the $2.5 billion offered by New Generation Telecoms at last Tuesday’s financial bid. The Chinese firm wondered why they were listed as a part of the consortium when they had not even signed the Memorandum of Understanding to be a partner in New Generation Telecoms.

BPE had declared after the bid ceremony in Abuja that the firm emerged the highest bidder with a bid of $2.5 billion for the first national operator, while Omen International emerged the reserved bidder with a bid of $956 million. BPE added that New Generation was a consortium of China’s Unicom, Dubai’s Minerva Group and Nigeria’s GiCell Wireless Ltd

In another twist, Telecom Corporation of New Zealand earlier said to be technical partner of Brymedia West Africa Ltd which also took part in the bid, has also denied any involvement in the process.

Mark Watts of Telecom Corporation was categorical in rebutting the claims by Brymedia that they were partners to the bid. “Telecom New Zealand is part of Telecom Corp and isn’t part of a group bidding for Nitel”, said Watts.

According to the statement by the authorised representative of New Generation Consortium Limited, Usman Gumi, “the preferred bidder of the NITEL bid is New Generation Consortium Limited. New Generation Consortium Limited is a consortium of several companies for the purpose of the NITEL bid and naturally the consortium would have financial and technical partners.”

According to Gumi, the financial backbone of the New Generation Consortium is the Minerva Group of United Arab Emirates and they have what it takes to turn round NITEL and give Nigerians good telecommunication services.
The Minerva Group,  not China Unicom, is the lead financial partner of New Generation Consortium Limited. Other consortium members are GiCell Wireless Ltd, a Unified Access Service Licencee, Sumatra Star GT Limited and BGL Private Equity Ltd.

However, reacting to the denial by China Unicom, Usman Gumi, Managing Director of GiCell, the Nigerian member of New Generation Telecoms,  told Reuters that  the Chinese firm’s involvement only extended to an interest in offering technical and managerial support. He said the consortium has financial backing from Dubai’s Minerva Group.

This is contrary to his position on the bid day when he declared that Unicorn China was committed to the bid and would provide all the support to its technical and financial obligation.


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