Nigerian regulators have set a Jan. 16 deadline for receipt of binding offers from prospective bidders to acquire debt-laden telecom firm 9mobile, the telecoms regulator said on Thursday.
The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) alongside the central bank approved the deadline after 9mobile’s board requested a time extension, the NCC said.
It added that Barclays Africa will review bids submitted before the deadline and make recommendations to 9mobile.
Nigerian lenders picked Barclays Africa to try to find new investors for 9mobile after banks took over the telecoms firm, formerly called Etisalat Nigeria, for defaulting on its loan.
“The winner will now apply to NCC in order to commence the processes for securing the regulatory approvals … to give full effect to the transfer,” the regulator said in a statement.
Etisalat Nigeria took out a $1.2 billion syndicated loan from a group of 13 local banks but struggled to make repayments due to a currency crisis and recession in Nigeria last year.
The Nigerian central bank then intervened to save the company from collapse and prevent creditors from putting it into receivership, leading to a change in its board and management, as well as the new name 9mobile.
The crisis forced the telecoms company’s one-time parent Etisalat to terminate its management agreement with its Nigerian business and surrender its 45 percent stake to a trustee following the central bank intervention.
Private equity firm Helios Investment Partners has submitted a bid to acquire 9mobile. Nigeria’s Globacom and Bharti Airtel’s local subsidiary have also submitted bids, sources say.
The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has said it didn’t anoint any preferred bidder to acquire 9mobile.
Some newspaper publications had alleged that a preferred bidder has been anointed by NCC to acquire 9Mobile and thereby speculated on the outcome of the ownership transfer process.
But NCC in a statement Thursday said the Barclays Africa remained in full control of the process leading to the emergence of a new owner for the company.
“Barclays has not authorized any publication on the matter and is obliged to maintain full confidentiality thereon”, the statement signed NCC’s spokesman Tony Ojobo said.
Since the debt issue, 9mobile, the country’s fourth biggest operator, has lost subscribers. In October its total number of users had fallen to 17.1 million, giving it a 12.2 percent market share, from 20 million subscribers with a 14 percent share earlier this year, the telecoms regulator said.