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9mobile sales process under fire from Nigerian regulator and central bank

9mobile sales process under fire from Nigerian regulator and central bank

Barclays Africa’s sale of 9mobile has come under scrutiny by Nigeria’s telecoms regulator and central bank, both of which have said they have “serious concerns” over the sale.

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) have jointly stated that Barclays Africa has “repeatedly exhibited signs of opacity” despite demands for the sale process to be “transparent and fair”.

In a letter, the two bodies wrote “given the overriding public interest in the company and the need for transparency, we advised that Barclays advertise the call for ‘expression of interest’. Barclays declined, insisting instead that the company, being a private one, should not be taken through a public sale.”

“This lack of a transparent process has proven to be selective and arbitrary, leading to allegations that the process is being teleguided to a rigged and predetermined outcome. The CBN and the NCC will not fold their arms and allow this to materialise,” they added.

The recipient of the letter was GTBank, the agent that enabled a $1.2 billion loan that Etisalat Nigeria. The operator defaulted on loan repayments to its creditors, which prompted parent firm Etisalat to scrap its management agreement with the unit, which then rebranded as 9mobile.

Ten companies have advanced to the financial stage of the bidding process, but the CBN and NCC believe that certain firms with strong technological portfolios and secure financial status have been unceremoniously dropped from the sale process.

NCC executive vice-chairman Umar Danbatta and CBN governor Godwin Emefiele noted that this belief had been exacerbated by complaints from stakeholders, including some that were lodging bids. Ten firms have reached the financial stage of the process, including Africell, Bharti Airtel, Globacom Nigeria Limited, Helios Towers and Smile Telecoms Holdings.

The two authorities demanded that Barclays Africa receive their written approval for all of its decisions, and noted the “sacrosanct” deadline of 31st December by which ownership of 9mobile must be transferred to the approved bidders.

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