- NCC, CBN Query Barclays’ Transparency in Sale of 9mobile
The two regulators that saved former Etisalat Nigeria (now 9mobile) from being taken over the a consortium of local lenders, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC), have questioned the handling of the sale process of 9mobile by Barclays Africa, its financial advisors.
A letter jointly endorsed by the heads of the two regulators to GTBank, which is the facility agent for the 9mobile syndicated loan, expressed displeasure with the “unwillingness of Barclays Africa” to follow due process in the bid.
In the letter, dated November 4, 2017, and endorsed by NCC’s CEO, Prof Umar Danbatta, and CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, the two regulators said they made it clear from the outset that the sale process must be “transparent and fair, with the financial and technical capabilities of the final bidders without question”.
They said they now have “serious concerns” since the appointment of Barclays Africa as financial advisors.
“They have repeatedly exhibited signs of opacity in the sale process for 9mobile. Given the overriding public interest in the company and the need for transparency, we advised that Barclays advertise the call for ‘expression of interest’. Barclays declined, insisting instead that the company being a private one, should not be taken through a public sale.
“This lack of a transparent process has proven to be selective and arbitrary, leading to allegations that the process is being teleguided to a rigged and predetermined outcome. The CBN and the NCC will not fold their arms and allow this to materialise,” the letter read.
Danbatta and Emefiele said they had received reports and petitions from various stakeholders, including some bidders, which have further heightened their concerns—but their suggestions to the board of 9mobile and Barclays on how to restore credibility to the process have been ignored.
The CBN and NCC then directed that all steps and decisions taken by the financial advisers as well as other advisers from the end of “expression of interest” must be communicated to CBN and NCC, who will have to approve in writing.
They also directed that the final bid process must be “open and transparent” in line with international best practices.
Danbatta and Emefiele said the December 31, 2017 deadline for the handover of 9mobile to the preferred bidders “remains sacrosanct”.
Ten firms are said to have moved to the financial stage of the bid process to acquire the ailing telco.
The companies listed are Globacom Nigeria Limited, Bharti Airtel, Alheri Engineering Limited, Smile Telecoms Holdings, Helios Towers, Centricus Capital, Africell, Abraaj Capital, Teleology Holdings Limited, Ericsson, Africa Capital Alliance (ACA) and The Carlyle Group.
The company formerly known as Etisalat Nigeria changed its brand name to 9Mobile in July after the Mubadala Group, the major investor from the United Arab Emirates, pulled out of Nigeria’s fourth largest mobile operator following a N541 billion debt.
The debt is owed to a consortium of 10 banks, with GTBank acting as the facility agent.
The sale of 9mobile, with 21 million subscribers, is expected to bring in the needed capital to restore it to good health.