Nigeria: Senate Chair on Privatisation resists guided liquidation of NITEL

Telecoms

The Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL)'s liquidation imbroglio is far from being over as the federal government is yet to reach a compromise with the Senate which still maintains that the moribund telecoms company will not be allowed to be sold in bits, Daily Trust learnt in Abuja.

The Senate Committee on Privatisation had said early this month when a liquidator was named for NITEL that it would not allow FG to liquidate the company and its mobile arm, Mtel.

Senator Gbenga Obadara, who chairs the committee, had said: "We have said it so well to the Vice-President who chairs the National Council on Privatisation that supervises the Bureau of Public Enterprises. There is no way the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria can accept guided liquidation of NITEL. What we want is concession of NITEL, a private public participation arrangement."

He alleged that those who are bent on liquidating NITEL without telling Nigerians its actual worth want to do that in their selfish interest.

They are only talking about the N351bn debt the company owes and they are not saying anything about those who owe NITEL, he said, vowing that the lawmakers would resist the liquidation, he said.

"Even from the N351bn they are talking about, they said NITEL and M-Tel owe the federal government N171bn. We have it on authority and the records are here that the federal government owes NITEL N250bn in services over the years. If you remove the net, how much remains.

"What we want is concession of NITEL, a private public participation arrangement. The concessionaire comes, revives NITEL for about five, 10 years and returns it to the nation. Now, we are talking about broadband penetration. The president himself agrees the future is broadband. And we know that NITEL has SAT-3 which can make this ubiquitous in the country. And now we want to sell our SAT-3 to somebody. Does that show any reasoning?

"NITEL has the widest network in the country. They have the widest penetration in the country. It is for personal interest that they want to liquidate NITEL. That is why we say no. They have failed for many years to sell NITEL and now we are saying no to liquidation.

"Why do they want to dispose of NITEL? No nation sells its incumbent operator. They had tried to sell what is not attractive. Let them advertise for concession and you will see how many people that will come forward. Let us adopt another approach," Obadara said.

A source at the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) told Daily Trust that the bureau is yet to reach a comprise with the Senate and as a result the liquidation has been put on hold for now.

The BPE source, who is a senior staff, said that though the agency is trying to find an amicable settlement to the issue it does not know what next to do for now.

"You know only the VP can tell us what next to do now. Honestly, the crisis is still on and the Senate I can tell you hasn't shifted ground. We'll still try to convince them; we hope they reason with us because liquidation is the only way for now to dispose of NITEL," the BPE source told our reporter yesterday.

The Director General of Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) Mr Benjamin Dikki had said the federal government adopted the guided liquidation for the moribund NITEL transaction because the company's liabilities far outweigh its value.

The director general noted that the sale process was the best option for NITEL/Mtel as any other mode of sale would have incurred huge liabilities for the government.

He appealed to the Senate to support the NITEL liquidation, saying Nigerians would gain immensely from it.