A Nigerian court has ordered the country’s privatisation agency to freeze the sale of national fixed line incumbent NITEL until a legal challenge concerning one of the telco’s core assets is resolved. The Federal High Court ordered the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) to halt the sale of the state’s 51% stake in NITEL after a workers’ union filed a challenge to Minister of Communications Cornelius Adebayo’s plans to strip the telco of its stake in international submarine cable SAT-3 ahead of privatisation. To add to the confusion, the BPE has contradicted Adebayo’s statements by insisting that SAT-3 is currently included in the privatisation proposals. The court has ordered the sale to be stopped while the dispute is resolved.
The BPE had originally hoped to conclude a deal in November. Two suitors – pan-African operator Celtel International and South Africa-based MTN Group – dropped out of the bidding last week. The remaining interested companies are South African cellco Vodacom, Chinese equipment vendor Huawei Technologies, Orascom Telecom of Egypt and the relatively unknown Newtel consortium – thought to feature a number of prominent African businessmen, including Nelson Mandela’s son-in-law Kwame Amuah.