Rural Telephony - Prospective Operators Get Ultimatum On Due Diligence in Nigeria

Telecoms

Federal Government weekend gave the five prospective operators for the National Rural Telephony Project (NRTP) two weeks from June 15, to embark on "further due diligence."

Authoritative sources told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that the period would enable the operators to ascertain the current state of the network built in 218 locations across the country. There had been speculations that government might review the December 18, 2008 award of the NRTP to the five prospective operators.

However, the Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Information and Communications, Dr Abubakar Mohammed, had at the inaugural meeting of the negotiation between government and the operators on Wednesday, doused that apprehension."I want to assure the winners that government is not saying that we are going to change it (the December 18 financial bid result) because that is not possible. The winners are still the winners but we just want to ensure that certain processes are followed before you are given your letters," he said.

Six months after series of follow-up meetings between government and the prospective operators, the project, which was built with a $200m concessionary loan from the Chinese government, has yet to take off. Again, Mohammed explained that: "Government had not concluded the processes but we are all determined to do so because we know what this project means to this country.

"The government of course wants to make sure that we agree with you on terms for this project and from the letters we sent to you, we are calling you so that we can schedule how we can carry on with the process," he said.

On the due diligence, the permanent secretary gave an assurance that the ministry would cooperate fully with the operators to visit the sites and ascertain the current state of the networks. NAN leant that after the due diligence, formal negotiation with the operators will open from June 29 to July 3.

The operators will negotiate on two documents namely: the lease agreement and license from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). Charles Ozodinaobi, the Director of Telecommunications Services of the ministry said negotiations would be "open-ended."

He listed regulatory, technical (interconnectivity and upgrade of network) and tariff issues, as some key areas for discussion.In an interview with one of the operators, Mr Nnamdi Ejiogu, the Managing Director of Telefund Ltd., asked government to provide a detailed timetable for the inspection of the networks by the operators.The preferred bidders are: Giicells Wireless Ltd., (Bauchi), Voice Wares Network (Enugu), Key Communications (Ibadan), Hezonic Ltd. (Port Harcourt), and Telefund Ltd. (Abuja and Kaduna).The operators are expected to pay a total of $285.2million (N41.62 billion) to the Federal Government from the bid.

This Day