Nigerian government rekindles its attempt to sell Nitel

The Nigerian government has revived its attempt to divest itself of Nitel, the state operator which once monopolised the Nigerian mobile market.

Nitel has accrued vast debts and the sale would be via a process called ‘guided liquidation’.

The National Council on Privatisation is appointing a liquidator to the operator as the first step of rekindling its privatisation. This unusual strategy is an attempt to prevent a scenario in which any proceeds generated by the sale of Nitel are still outweighed by its debts, which are believed to be around $2.5 billion.

The mobile arm of Nitel, branded as Mtel, now barely registers in Nigeria’s vast mobile market, claiming on “a few thousand” subscribers out of 124 million, according to a Reuters report. In its prime, it had over 1 million customers. Nitel’s fixed-line operation is also faring poorly.

Despite this, only three years ago, only three years ago Nitel attracted a bid of $2.5 billion – five times its value at the time. The deal fell through after the bidder – a consortium of China Unicom and UAE-based Minerva – could not secure enough cash in time.

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