A disagreement between the Ministry of Communication and Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) over the sale of Nigerian Telecommunications (NITEL) stake in the SAT 3 submarine cable project may stall the privatisation of the national carrier.

The SAT 3 cable project connects Africa with Europe and is a major revenue earner for NITEL

NITEL spent some $45 million about N5.9 billion in 2002 to co-own the facility which runs through the Atlantic ocean linking countries along the route.

Investigations by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja, revealed weekend that the ministry of communications had set up a telecom firm to manage the facility after the sale of NITEL.

The ministry took the decision because of its strategic importance to all telecom companies.

An impeccable source in the ministry, however, said the BPE had disagreed with the ministry's arrangement as it said that SAT 3 cable should not be separated in the sale of the company.

NAN gathered from NITEL's sources that the SAT 3 cable was listed in the data room presented to the six bidders for the company which commenced its due diligence a fortnight ago and had gone round to inspect NITEL facilities.

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of NITEL, Mr. Albert Mashi, confirmed to NAN in an interview that he got a letter from the ministry on the issue. Mashi noted that the company had sent its position to the ministry. "I have made my views known that SAT 3 is part of NITEL," Mashi said.

NAN gathered from the ministry that the ownership of the SAT 3 had been under contention for sometime as some operators, especially the second national carrier Globacom, had made an attempt to buy into the facility.

NITEL's CEO, however, declined to comment on the ongoing discussions between the ministry and the BPE on the ownership of the facility. Attempts made to speak with the Minister of Communication, Chief Cornelius Adebayo, on the issue failed as he was said to be indisposed.

Sources in the ministry who preferred anonymity confirmed that the ministry had written to NITEL to notify the company of the new telecom company that would manage SAT 3 after NITEL's sale.

Meanwhile South African regulator Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has urged African leaders to help cut prices on sub-Saharan Africa’s only undersea international communications cable in a bid to reduce prices for consumers and boost access to high speed internet services on the continent. ICASA appealed to the 53-member African Union (AU) – a pan-African group aimed at promoting political stability and regional economic integration – to intervene and help lower the cost of access to the West Africa Submarine Cable System at the annual Africa Investment Forum in Johannesburg. The submarine fibre-optic cable runs from the Portuguese town of Sesimbra, near Lisbon, to Dakar and on to Johannesburg, with most countries in southern, central and west Africa tapping into the cable for their international gateway. South Africa’s Telkom has the single largest stake in the undersea system at 13%, alongside 36 other shareholders in the project, including Nigeria’s NITEL. Telkom contributed about USD85 million to the cost of laying down the cables. However, ICASA has had to ask the AU to intervene because neither the operators nor their respective country regulators are able to ask for lower prices under international accords.

(sources: Daily Champion and All Africa)