By Anthony Ogbonna
The Chairman of Etisalat Nigeria, Mr. Hakeem Bello Osagie, has resigned his appointment following the approval of a restructuring plan for the telecommunications firm.
The resignation is effective immediately, according to an insider source.
“Although the chairman had planned to leave immediately the banks made the take-over move, he opted to tarry until a road map for the company was finalised. The timing of the resignation was strategically delayed till now when stakeholders have agreed a plan and comes more than a week after Mubadala Development Company directors tendered their resignation.”
The source also said that, “The development also reflects Mr. Bello-Osagie’s deep commitment to protecting the interest of all stakeholders. It is now expected that Etisalat Nigeria under its new shareholding structure will navigate through its current loan repayment challenge with minimum impact.”
“Over the last several months, the chairman has worked extensively with critical stakeholders to prepare clearly articulated strategies and robust road maps that will mitigate the impact of the new shareholding restructuring and realignment on the operations and management of the 4thlargest telecoms player in Nigeria.”
“With this development, the new board will assume control of Etisalat.
This is coming following interventions, which have been roundly applauded, from regulatory agencies, including the Nigeria Communications commission (NCC) and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and other stakeholders to ensure that the best decisions are taken in the interest of the subscribers, employees and the Nigerian economy.”
The source conclude by saying that , “Further announcements on the composition of the new board are expected from the stakeholders.”
Recall that in just less than four months, telecom company, Etisalat Nigeria survived two alleged take-over attempts by a consortium of 13 banks it borrowed money from in 2013 to fortify its network and expand its operations in Nigeria.
On each occasion, interventions by the telecom sector regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, its counterpart in the banking sector, the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, were all it took to avert the impending doom such an action could unleash on the bourgeoning telecom sector.
Etisalat and $68bn market: However, industry practitioners are complaining that the impact of the attempts alone could threaten the strength of Nigeria’s telecom sector, considering that Etisalat Nigeria contributed immensely to the over $68bn market it has become.
Part of the reasons that informed their fears included the pulling out of the two biggest investors, Emirates Telecommunications service of UAE and Mubadala Development Company, who together have divested their 70 percent holding in the company.
To them, these pull-outs could lead to a loss of jobs, poor network maintenance, loss of foreign investor confidence and the corresponding domino effect on the other operators, subscribers and the sector itself, if adequate measures are not taken.
Takeover, a bad precedence
A telecom sector analyst Dr. Thompson Ona said: “what has been happening to Etisalat over the past three to four months on this loan saga should be of concern to every Nigerian. If the precedent of allowing the banks to take over a telecommunications company is created, Nigeria may not be able to deal with the domino effect on many fronts. What expertise do the banks possess to run a telecommunications company? Where is Mobitel today after a bank took it over?
“Remember, Etisalat has employed a lot of Nigerians who are bread winners in their respective homes. If this situation leads to loss of jobs, can you imagine the number of people that would be affected? Most importantly, how can we convince a foreign investor to come and invest in the sector which we incidentally are positioning to take over as the mainstay of the economy from oil? These are the critical factors the two regulators, particularly the NCC should consider and do everything humanly possible to forestall this anomaly about to happen.”
EMTS, trading as Etisalat Nigeria, is a Nigerian company duly incorporated under the laws of Nigeria in partnership with Mubadala Development Company and Etisalat of the United Arab Emirates. It acquired the Unified Access Licence from the Federal Government in January 2007. The licence includes a mobile licence and spectrum in the GSM 1800 and 900 MHz bands.
Etisalat acquired a 40 per cent stake in EMTS and became the operator of the Unified Access Licence. NCC vows to protect Etisalat Meanwhile, the NCC has sounded a clear warning that a takeover may have complications due to the provisions of the Nigerian Communications Act.
Director Public Affairs of NCC, Mr Tony Ojobo, in a statement, said: “The commission has drawn the attention of the banks to provisions of the Nigerian Communications Act (NCA) 2003 Section 38: Sub section 1: The grant of a licence shall be personal to the licencee and the licence shall not be operated by, assigned, sub licensed or transferred to another party unless the prior written approval of the commission has been granted;
Sub section 2: A licencee shall at all times comply by the terms and conditions of the licence and the provision of this act and its subsidiary legislation. The NCC wishes to reassure the over 21 million Etisalat subscribers that it will do all within its regulatory power to ensure that Etisalat subscribers continue to enjoy the services provided by the operator.”
Loan impact, minimal on banks: Just as NCC was cautioning on takeover, a research based and emerging markets investment firm in the United Kingdom, Exotix Capital, has asked the banks to manage the debt as it only has minimal impact on their operations.
The firm in a research report entitled ‘Nigeria Banks’, said the impact of the $1.2bn syndicate loans out of which about 42 per cent ($504m) has been repaid, was modest. Head of Equities Financials Research, Rahul Shah and Equity Research Analyst, Jumai Mohammed, disclosed that “we estimate a modest impact on banks. At a headline level, loans to Etisalat Nigeria represent 1.9 per cent of aggregate bank loans. Likewise on our sensitivity analysis, the Etisalat loans would on average have a -12 per cent, -2 per cent and -0.3bp impact on our FY17f net profit, equity and capital adequacy ratios for the banks, respectively. We believe the banks should easily be able to absorb a shock of this magnitude.”
Geometric growth: The telecom company made the first official call on its network on March 13, 2008 in the presence of officials from the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, and the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In September of same year, it kicked off commercial operations with the 0809uchoose campaign which enabled Nigerians choose numbers special to them as their mobile numbers.
The company since then has grown in geometrically accumulating over 21 million subscribers on its network, over 5000 on its employment and well over 13 percent market share. It has also made investments in network infrastructure, roll out expansion, mobile broadband and other Corporate Social Responsibility and development initiatives, including the Etisalat prizes for innovation and Literature.
Its partner, the Etisalat of UAE has been the telecommunications service provider in the United Arab Emirates since 1976 and has footprints in 18 countries traversing the Middle East, Asia and Africa. In its many years of operations, it has built up state-of-the-art telecom infrastructure and taken a leadership position of innovation, and quality service delivery among regional and international operators.
This gave Nigerians hope that despite being about the last entrant in the Nigerian telecom sector, it has all it takes to help EMTS weather the storm. To actually prove this, the three investors making up Etisalat Nigeria unfolded their investment plans to make the brand a strong competition to already existing operators.
Network rehabilitation: In April 2013, the company announced it would invest over $500 million to expand its network, enabling further potential market growth of 17 per cent and went ahead to obtain a medium term loan of $1.2bn from a consortium of 13 banks, which it used to refinance an existing $650 million loan and fund a modernisation of its network.
The loan, which involved a foreign-backed guaranty bond, was for it to finance a major network rehabilitation and expansion of its operational base in Nigeria. However since 2016, the consortium of banks has been having a running battle with the mobile telephone operator over repayment of the loan facility.
Meanwhile, Etisalat said that it had consistently serviced the debt until when it began to experience cash flow problems following the steep depreciation of the naira and the impact on its foreign currency denominated exposure. It, however, revealed that the outstanding loan sum to the consortium stands at $227m and N113bn, a total of about $574m if the naira portion is converted to US Dollars. This in essence means almost half of the original loan of $1.2bn has been repaid.
Following breakdown in negotiations, the company’s two foreign investors, Emirates Telecommunications Service and Mubadala withdrew their interest in the concern, compounding the problems of EMTS. Now, it appears a takeover is most likely but Etisalat Nigeria said some options, including restructuring of the shareholding and change in ownership are being considered even as final arrangements regarding ownership and board structure are still in development stage.