By Adekunle Adekoya
WHEN the news first hit the airwaves several weeks ago that Zain Nigeria might be up for sale, the feeling by most Nigerians, least of all subscribers to the 0802 number plan, was one of incredulity.
â€œWhich name dey wan answer again, now?,â€ was the question on many Nigerian lips, expressed in street pidgin.
Well, 0802 is not new to name changes, and in fact is the first and only network that has recorded several re-christenings since it first launched business on August 5, 2001.
Other â€œfirstsâ€listed by the company include introduction of a toll_free 24_hour customer care line (111); first to launch service in all the six geo_political zones in the country; first to introduce N500 recharge card; first to commence emergency service (Celtel 199); first to introduce monthly free SMS and first to introduce monthly airtime bonus among others.
Bharti coming in
In the last few weeks, Bharti Airtel of India bidded to acquire Zain Groupâ€™s Africa operations, or Zain Africa BV, excluding Sudan and Morocco for a sum of US$8.3bn. Presently, Zain is in 17 African countries viz: Burkina Faso, Chad, Congo Brazzaville, DR Congo, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, and Morocco. The rest are Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.
First, both companies signed a deal on exclusive talks which ended last week, March 25. As the deal expired, both issued statements indicating that the deal is as good as done. According to a posting on Zainâ€™s website, both companies have concluded â€œdue diligenceâ€ and after finalizing â€œdefinitive agreementsâ€ both will â€œmove towards obtaining any required approvals.â€
The statement: â€œFurther to the announcement made by Mobile Telecommunications Company KSC, â€˜Zainâ€™, on February 16, 2010, regarding the sale of its African unit, â€˜Zain Africa BVâ€™ to Bharti Airtel Limited, the company confirms that the Board of Directors of Zain met in Kuwait on Wednesday 24 March 2010, to review the latest developments and negotiations related to this matter.
â€œThe Board is pleased to report that the due diligence process has been completed. Both Zain and Bharti are now working towards finalizing the definitive agreements which will address all key terms and findings arising out of the due diligence.
â€œDefinitive agreements are expected to be signed soon. Upon signing, the parties will move towards obtaining any required approvals.â€
A similarly worded statement from Bharti reads: â€œFurther to our announcement regarding the acquisition of Zain Africa BV, we would like to report that the due diligence has been completed.
Bharti is now working with Zain towards finalizing the definitive agreements which will address all key terms and findings arising out of the due diligence.
â€œDefinitive agreements are expected to be signed soon. Upon signing, the parties will move towards obtaining any required approvals.
Bharti has already secured the entire financing requirement of USD 8.3 Billion for this transaction.â€
In addition, Bharti is reported to have formed two â€œspecial purpose vehiclesâ€ in the Netherlands and Singapore to buy Zainâ€™s Africa unit, according to a posting on Bloomberg.com, which quoted the Economic Times.
Econet â€”Â Coming out August 5, 2001, Econet Wireless Nigeria (EWN) started business with the 0802 number plan, trading as simply as Econet, with Marc Wazara as CEO. Its pay-as-you-go starter pack was branded â€œBuddie.â€ EWN was the trading subsidiary of Johannesburg-based Econet Wireless International, whose driving persona is Strive Masiyiwa, a Zimbabwe-born telecoms businessman. All seemed well, until 2004.
Vmobile â€” After a shareholder dispute, the company was purchased by Vodacom of South Africa. Willem Swart was named CEO, and â€œBuddieâ€became â€œVodagoâ€, after its South African sibling, â€œVeego.â€ Suddenly Vodacom pulled out of the country in one of the shortest-lived corporate deals, and the company quickly pulled itself together, and resumed trading as VMobile Nigeria, owned by Vee Networks Limited. Interestingly, Willem swart remained behind and continued to nurture the company, until 2006.
Celtel â€” As the year 2006 dawned, subscribers who were just getting used to the â€œVmobileâ€ brand name could not know that soon, again, another brand name change was imminent. In May of that year, Celtel International, owned and promoted by a Sudanese electronics engineer, Dr. Mohammed Ibrahim, acquired majority equity in Vee Networks.
Playing smart, Celtel endeared itself to Nigerians by appointing a Nigerian as chief executive in the person of Bayo Ligali. A massive rebranding exercise began, and its success was measured by the fact that subscribers, and indeed the general public easily talked of 0802 as â€œCeltel.â€
Zain â€” A little over two years after the Celtel brand had become entrenched, Mo Ibrahimâ€™s Celtel International fell prey to another corporate investor, MTC Group of Kuwait, which later tranformed into the Zain Group.
Since the victor always dictated peace terms to the vanquished in war situations, Zain effected another re-branding, and Celtel gave way to Zain under yet another re-branding effort. In previous re-brandings, the red/crimson/magenta/maroon colours remained constant.
Now that Bharti Airtel is coming, that family of colours may yet reappear, as it also features in the Bharti Airtel corporate logo.
Having gone thus far, both Zain and Bharti face some obstacles in way of the deal. Chief of these are litigations by aggrieved stakeholders, like Broad Communications which led other shareholders, including Masiyiwaâ€™s Econet, to institute a suit at the Federal High Court in January, asking that the services of a world class accounting firm be engaged to conduct an independent enquiry into the affairs of the company.
They are also challenging the intended sale of Zain Groupâ€™s 65 percent equity to Bharti Airtel, on the grounds that it is a clear contravention of its pre_emption rights because it was not formally informed of the move. If goings-on are anything to go by, Zain will proceed with the transaction, leaving only one other hurdle, that of regulatory approvals, both by industry regulator, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), and the capital market regulators, the Securities & Exchange Commission.