By Prince Osuagwu

Vice President Goodluck Jonathan was upbeat with the renewed sale of Nitel when some journalists approached him sometime early this year in Manhattan, New York, at an Investors’ Forum organised by BNP Paribas Consortium, the transaction advisers in NITEL privatisation, at the instance of the National Council on Privatisation.

Jonathan, through his Senior Special Adviser on Economic Matters, Mr. Sam Worlu,  did not mince words but promised that government would get the Nitel sale, right this time around. To be fair to the VP, he did not just make an empty promise because he came home immediately to begin a deliberate and perhaps workable privatisation policy for Nitel .

First, The Federal government in a renewed effort to sale Nitel after revival efforts by Transcorp failed, inaugurated, July 2009, an interim Technical board for the sale of Nitel and gave it a sixty- working-day ultimatum to conclude sale of the first national carrier.

In further trying to help the board and BPE, government also decided to unbundle sale of Nitel, giving room to buyers who may be interested to some parts of Nitel. All, in the bid to get the whole sale processes right.

NITEL buildingFollowing this move, BPE, in July 2009, placed advertorials, in both local and international media, requesting interested buyers to apply for either at least 75 per cent equity in the entire NITEL conglomerate or a stake in one or several of its components like the mobile (GSM) arm, MTEL,  SAT-3, CDMA network, domestic fixed line telephony, national fibre-optic transmission backbone and Analog System (TACS.)It however, clarified that preference would be given to bidders who desire to acquire NITEL fixed lines, transmission backbone, MTEL and SAT-3 components together, while those bidding separately for MTEL must be ready to make necessary investments to detach MTEL from NITEL networks.

Following that advertorial, about thirteen or more companies, including some prominent telecom companies already operating in Nigeria, like Globacom, MTN and Etisalat, indicated interest.

According to BPE, Expressions of Interest (EOIs) applications, were also received from companies like Omen International Limited (BVI), Summit Group, MTI Consortium, Finetek.Com, Ericsson Consortium and MTNL Limited, India.

However, no sooner the announcement of bid interests from Second National Operator, Globacom and MTN was made by BPE, than a furore sparked off by industry enthusiasts who said that either way, any of the existing operators buying NITEL would create an imbalance in the telecom field of play.

Particularly on Glo as the SNO, some see its bid as creating another monopoly, which was why NITEL  as big as it was, could not engender strong telecom development before privatisation of the sector.  Apparently acting on the impulse of public outcry, PBE, however, on October 15, 2009, bared the existing GSM operators including Glo, MTN, Zain and Etisalat from buying M-Tel, the mobile arm of Nitel and the SAT3.

BPE said it  acted on the instruction of the NCC which believes that purchase of Mtel by any of these companies would present competition challenges and will conflict with the regulator’s guidelines and licensing conditions.

Now, calculating from the time government gave 60-working day ultimatum, Nitel should be gone to its new owners by November 23rd, 2009. But up till now, there is no new buyer yet for Nitel. Is this once enviable national asset jinxed? Why is everything surrounding getting it on its feet, always in a stalemate?

However, Bureau for Public Enterprises, BPE, has explained that the failure to sell Nitel as the 60-day deadline given by the Federal government, expired November 23rd, was due to the strike action embarked by Nitel workers.

BPE said that the strike action by  Nitel workers protesting the backlog of salaries owed them, had kept the doors of Nitel facilities locked and could not allow investors to do physical due diligence on the Nitel assets.

But, in an exclusive chat with the Bureau’s spokesperson, Mr Joe Anichebe, Mobile Week gathered that  series of meetings were on to see if the Federal Government would raise money to pay the striking workers some of the backlog so that peace would return and Nitel allowed to be assessed by investors.

Anichebe said that once the workers are paid and the gates to the facilities opened, it may take less than one week to conclude sale of Nitel to new investors.

How Mark, Abacha quarrelled over NITEL

A book which revealed how Senate President, David Mark, as then Minister of communications, fought with late General Sanni Abacha over NITEL aircraft is due for launch in the afternoon of Saturday, December 5, 2009 at the Ocean View, Victorial Island Lagos.

The book titled ‘The Story of NITEL: An Archetype Government Enterprise’ uncovers secrets and how the once vibrant and viable government telecommunications company was wrecked by its operators and supervisors, while government looked on.

Written by a frontline ICT journalist and publisher of eWorld Magazine, Aaron Ukodie, the book gives a detailed account of the roles of various actors in the now widely known NITEL saga and quagmire.  With a foreward by the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the book is a researched work on the processes that reduced the former telecom monopoly to a beggarly status and offers a case study of how many public organisations are run in Nigeria, and how national interests and well being are oftentimes sacrificed on the altars of personal and sectional interests.

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