By GABRIEL OMOH
Government agencies in Nigeria and the officials that run them either have short memories or they are simply indifferent to the feelings of Nigerians.
They are in the habit of playing on the emotions of the citizenry who now care less about governance. It is a shame that the Federal Government officials have come out again to insult Nigerians by telling the world that two firms have been selected to buy up the assets of Nigerian Telecommunications Ltd. (NITEL.)
NITEL has become the proverbial bone that hangs on a dog’s neck; it can neither eat it nor throw it off. NITEL is hanging on the neck of the Federal Government; it is no longer useful and the government has not been able to find buyers over the years.
NITEL has gone through several botched privatisation bids. In 2011, its privatisation process failed for the umpteenth time when Omen International, the reserve bidder, did not revalidate its bid for the national carrier.
Omen was said to have concluded that it would be unable to raise the money it offered for NITEL, just as the New Generation Consortium, the preferred winner of the February 2010 bid, was unable to. New Generation Consortium was made up of China Unicom of Hong Kong, Minerva Group of Dubai and Nigeria’s GiCell Wireless Ltd. In 2001, Investors International London Limited (IILL) made the first attempt to acquire NITEL but defaulted in paying the bid price of $1.317 billion, thus forfeiting the bid.
Pentascope of Netherlands was appointed to revamp NITEL, but that attempt also failed and left NITEL debt-ridden. Orascom also attempted to acquire NITEL with $256.5 million but lost the bid to Transcorp which acquired NITEL for $500 million. The sale to Transcorp in 2006 was the most successful with Transcorp acquiring a 75 per cent stake which was later reduced to 51 per cent owing to issues of finance. Transcorp at the time got a $500 million facility from a consortium of banks led by UBA Plc to acquire the shares. The Transcorp attempt also failed to revive NITEL and it eventually exited.
Last week, the Federal Government said it has yet again approved two of the 17 interested companies to bid for the assets of NITEL and its subsidiary, Mobile Telecommunication Ltd (MTEL).
Has any Nigerian ever cared to find out why NITEL is unsellable? Is it because it is in a very bad state? Certainly not! It is because NITEL, like NEPA, was a place where government functionaries found jobs and contracts for the boys.
Those that have been eating and milking the nation dry profit from NITEL and other federal parastals. So why will they allow it to go for free? It is the double dealing in government quarters that has made it impossible for NITEL to function as well as being sold.
It was laughable when the Minister of Mines and Steel, Alhaji Musa Sada said that the approval of the two companies followed the consideration of the evaluation reports for the expression of interests on the guided liquidation of NITEL/MTEL.
According to him: “Part of the consideration that we had, we had quite a number of companies and about 17 were shortlisted based on a criterion; it is guided.
There is a criterion that is used at every point in time and of this evaluation of the 17 (companies), two qualified for request for proposal issuance. This is what the Council deliberated upon and approved the qualification of the two companies, and the two companies are NATCOM Consortium and Nectar Consortium.”
Was the council not guided by this same criterion in the past and it failed to deliver, what will make the difference now? Are the entrenched interests no longer there?
Nigerians were frustrated that NITEL failed to deliver impeccable services that can compare with other networks of the globe. They are not too optimistic that the present government can do what it is planning to do with NITEL. Looking from 1958 to the arrival of Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) in Nigeria; NITEL was able to provide just 450,000 lines.
Today, there seems to be no functional land line in the country. GSM has taken over. But this is an aberration from the norm. Land lines are imperative for communication and data transmission. It is shameful to recall that Mrs. Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke who was the Chairperson of Transcorp on the day of handover by BPE said they have secured one million euro from a European Bank to invest in NITEL/Mtel.
She also said they were partnering with British Telecom and Etisalat as technical and financial partners respectively. Where are the two companies today? BT left, citing issues bordering on lack of funding by Transcorp and non- adherence to corporate governance as reasons. Etisalat secured its own GSM licence in Nigeria as they couldn’t work with Transcorp.
Now, the minister would want Nigerians to believe that “These are groups of investors in the sector and they came top with 90.7 per cent and 90.2 per cent, respectively. These are the two companies the council today approved for further consideration in this exercise.” The minister said that government’s efforts at getting NITEL/MTEL back on stream had been strenuous and challenging.
He, however, said that by the time the ongoing arrangement was fully implemented, NITEL and its subsidiary, MTEL, would attain the height for which they were originally established. You will agree with me that efforts at getting NITEL back on stream has been very strenuous because of so many issues, so many problems; but this time around, there have been strong efforts so that we do not go back to what we had before.
Mr Minister, time, only time will tell how successful this effort will be this time around.