NITEL OWES MTN AND ECONET N2.9 BILLION

Mergers, Acquisitions and Financial Results

NITEL is indebted to MTN Communications Nigeria and Econet Wireless Nigeria to the tune of about N2.9 billion. It was learnt that the debt is for the settlement of calls terminated on the GSM networks from NITEL’s fixed lines network between July 2002 and December 2002.

Confirming the development, MTN’s Chief Marketing Officer, Afam Edozie, said that the over N2.9 billion was inclusive of the 20 per cent outstanding from the settlement of the voices of calls terminated on the mobile network from NITEL fixed lines from August 2001 to June 2002 bills. It was learnt that out of the N2.9 billion, MTN is owed about N1.6 billion for calls terminated on its network by subscribers of NITEL while Econet is owed N1.3 billion.

Though Edozie who spoke with The Guardian in a telephone interview admitted that his firm was being owed over N1 billion by NITEL, he was silent on the actual figure, saying he could not confirm the details of the invoices.

He disclosed that the invoices for the bills had been sent to NITEL since January but that till now there was no indication of a possibility of paying the debt by the national carrier. MTN and Econet have forwarded the details of the call records so as to facilitate the account settlement from NITEL’s end. But the invoices, which were accompanied by the details of the call record since they were sent in January, have not received any positive response from NITEL.

An investigation revealed that the delay in getting a positive response across to the private operators (MTN and Econet) is not unconnected with the move by government to privatise NITEL that has led to the appointment of a management contractor.

Also, NITEL on its part appears not to be convinced enough that the bill is actually the figures claimed by the GSM operators. To this end, NITEL, according to sources is carrying out an in-house verification and comparison of the invoices sent by both MTN and Econet as the private operators themselves are also owing NITEL for calls terminated on NITEL’s network from the GSM network.

Following unending wait for a positive response, the GSM operators have now appealed to the Communications Minister, Dr. Halilu Bello Mohammed and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) for their intervention.

The NCC on its part invited all parties to a meeting last month where it directed NITEL to settle their accounts with the GSM operators as soon as possible. But nearly one month after, nothing seems to have happened.

In his response, the Corporate Affairs Manager for Econet Wireless Nigeria, Mr. Emeka Opara, said that despite entreaties made to NITEL over the need to urgently settle the bill, nothing positive had happened. NITEL’s Deputy General Manager, Public Relations, Tayo Ekundayo, in an interview with The Guardian acknowledged that they had received invoices from the GSM operators.

He, however, noted that such invoices would have to be screened to compare with the records of NITEL. "You don’t expect us to supply because they sent invoices claiming an amount as being owed them, then we just go ahead and pay. We have to cross-check with our own invoices for clarification," he stated.

According to Ekundayo, what NITEL is owing the GSM operators is being exaggerated while little is only said about what the GSM operators are owing NITEL.

"We are also owed by the GSM operators because it is a two-way affairs while subscribers from NITEL’s fixed lines network call into their networks, their subscribers also call into our network," he said.

It took the intervention of the Presidency which mandated the minister of communications to direct NITEL to settle the August 2001 to June 2002 bills before NITEL agreed to pay 80 per cent of the total amount.

This time around, it may also require the same measure. Already subscribers to both networks stand the risk of not being able to enjoy the slightly improved seamless calls across the networks.

The Guardian