The chairman of Nigeria’s Senate Committee on Privatisation, Ayo Arise, has said the government should approve the sale of ailing incumbent fixed line operator Nigerian Telecommunications (NITEL) to New Generation Telecommunications, the consortium which emerged as the preferred buyer for the telco after bidding USD2.5 billion. ‘I do not see why we cannot go ahead [with the sale],’ Arise told Bloomberg in a telephone interview, adding: ‘The bidding process appeared to be quite transparent.’ As previously reported by CommsUpdate, the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) announced New Generation as the preferred buyer for NITEL in February 2010, stating that the company was backed by Dubai-based Minerva, local firm GiCell and China Unicom. However, 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, prompting President Goodluck Jonathon to form a seven-member panel in March 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.
Last month, local press reported that the panel had made two recommendations; firstly that New Generation be allowed to pay USD750 million as a deposit within ten days, and secondly that the National Council on Privatisation (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. However, no further decisions on the fate of NITEL have since been made public.