Nigeria extends deadline for Nitel, will accept bids just for mobile operation

Telecoms

The extension of the Nitel sale deadline to 30 May 2009 and the acceptance of bids just for the company’s mobile arm give some sense of the difficulties there are in selling a company with the scale of problems it has in the current financial climate.

BNP Paribas and Eleda Capital Partners said in an advert in a local newspaper that Nigeria has also reviewed requirements for the pre-qualification of interested investors. The advisors said Nigeria was now willing to sell the fixed line operator Nitel and MTEL separately or as a combined entity, instead of the previous combined offer.

"At the submission of their Expressions of Interest, interested parties may indicate their preliminary preference to bid for either Nitel, MTEL or both" the advisors said.

Prospective investors are required to have a minimum of 1.2 million fixed or mobile telephone lines instead of 2 million previously, while a consortium must include a reputable operator that would hold at least a 20 percent equity post-privatisation.

Nigeria first tried to sell the troubled telecoms firm in 2001, but the preferred bidders failed to pay the $1.3 billion price by the stipulated deadline.

The company has since attracted little international interest and its value has declined over the years. Nigeria has overtaken South Africa as Africa's biggest mobile market with more than 62 million subscribers, according to the sector regulator, Nigerian Communications Commission.

Vodafone has announced its interest in buying into the market but is unlikely to take on the fixed operation if the mobile operation is available separately.

Reuters