Airtel Nigeria has abandoned a proposed bid for beleaguered operator 9mobile.
While Airtel had been confirmed as one of the five shortlisted bidders, it has now deemed an acquisition too risky, claiming that “too many things are hidden about the health of 9mobile”.
Airtel’s move follows a legal dispute with the board of 9mobile’s parent group Emerging Markets Telecommunications Service (EMTS). A Lagos high court recently ruled in favour of breaking up EMTS after Spectrum Wireless claimed that the board was going against its interests and ignoring its contributions to the operator. The firm invested $35 million in EMTS in 2009.
9mobile’s sale is being handled by United Capital Trustees, which has stated its intention to appeal against the court order. The operator is being sold off after defaulting on repayments for a $1.2 billion loan that it took out from a consortium of banks.
The remaining four bidders all met the 16th January deadline for a final bid, with investment firm Teleology Holdings putting in over $500 million. Operator Smile was below this, with a $300M bid, while Globacom and Helios Investment Partners offered bids that did not feature a financial element.
The Nigerian market is led by MTN with a share of around 40% in Q4 2017, with Globacom taking second place with 24%. Airtel is third with 22%, and 9mobile fourth with 13%. Meanwhile Smile is significantly smaller than its rivals, with just 0.4% market share.