News agency Reuters reports that Dubai’s Minerva Group is the main financial backer of New Generation Technology, a consortium selected last week as the preferred buyer for ailing incumbent telco Nigerian Telecommunications (NITEL) with a bid of USD2.5 billion. After revealing the results of the bidding process, Nigeria’s Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) announced that New Generation was a consortium involving China Unicom, Minerva and local firm GiCell, but the Chinese company was quick to deny any involvement in the bid. GiCell’s managing director, Usman Gumi, told Reuters that China Unicom’s involvement only extended to an interest in offering technical and managerial support. ‘We have a firm commitment from our investors and partners, the Minerva Group, that we are working with. We did not pull all this out of the air,’ Gumi said in a telephone interview, adding, ‘We believe NITEL is worth the amount because of the infrastructure and potential that it has.’
According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, the Nigerian government began seeking a buyer for a minimum 75% of NITEL and 100% of its mobile unit M-Tel in July 2009 after previous majority shareholder Transcorp divested its stake earlier in the year. Prospective investors were invited to acquire either at least 75% equity in the entire NITEL conglomerate or a stake in one or several of its components, including M-Tel, submarine fibre-optic cable division SAT-3, the company’s domestic fixed line infrastructure, its national fibre-optic transmission backbone, and its CDMA network. Financial bids opened on 16 February 2010, but only six of the 14 pre-qualified consortia met the 5 February deadline for the submission of technical and financial proposals: Brymedia; AF21/Spectrum consortium; MTN Nigeria; Globacom Nigeria; Omen International; and New Generation Telecommunications.