A seven-member committee set up by the National Council on Privatisation (NCP) in March to undertake further due diligence on the bidders of ailing incumbent telco Nigerian Telecommunications (NITEL) has submitted its report to President Goodluck Jonathan. According to local newspaper This Day, citing unconfirmed reports, the panel has made two recommendations; the first is that consortium New Generation Telecommunications, which emerged as the preferred buyer of NITEL in February with a bid of USD2.5 billion, be allowed to pay USD750 million as a deposit in the next ten days. Alternatively, the committee recommended the NCP negotiate with the second and third preferred bidders – British Virgin Islands-registered Omen International (which bid USD956 million) and Brymedia (USD550 million), respectively – to reach a preferred price for NITEL.
According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, the 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. After much delay, 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. After announcing New Generation as the preferred buyer, the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) revealed that the company was backed by Dubai-based Minerva, local firm GiCell and China Unicom, although the Chinese firm quickly denied the BPE’s claims and insisted that its involvement only extended to an interest in offering technical and managerial support. China Unicom’s denial cast a shadow of doubt on the integrity of the process, and the NCP inaugurated a panel to conduct due diligence on the bidders and investigate allegations of financial impropriety surrounding the sale process. Originally mandated with investigating the sale of NITEL within one week, the panel’s report took three months to compile after the new president reshuffled his cabinet in March, meaning the panel had to be reconstituted.