No Smile for 9 Mobile

By Oji Odu

It seems that Smile Telecoms Holdings, reserve bidder in the sale of 9 Mobile, Nigeria’s fourth largest telecommunications operator will have to wait longer to know whether it will takeover 9 Mobile. This is because preferred bidder in the sale process, Teleology Holdings Limited has embarked on an aggressive bid to raise the $300 million for the payment of the firm. This is after paying the non refundable $50 million.
Teleology has hired a global financial service firm USB, a financial services firm in over 50 countries to raise a $300 million bridge loan to seal the acquisition deal.
The Magazine learnt that Teleology had sought out the service of USB, to raise bridge loan from local banks and investors while the balance of $200 million will be raised through equity. This is in contrary to a recent report that Teleology actually offered $301 million to beat Smile Communications’ $300 million bid.
Teleology, a special purpose vehicle (SPV), was set up by Nigerian investors.Teleology is under the stewardship of Adrian Wood, one of the past CEOs of MTN Nigeria. Adrian Wood, an Australian-born technocrat, was the Chief Executive Officer of MTN Nigeria from 2002 to 2004.
In all of the opposition, Wood remained resolute and optimistic that he would deliver on promise in terms of the financial ability of Teleology to pay all monies pertaining to the acquisition of 9mobile, and in terms of the technical capability to handle 9mobile.
After beating the March 22 deadline to pay the non refundable $50 million, Woods set the ball rolling in less than 24hours as he announced his 10-point agenda on which the telecoms company would be managed. This he said will reposition the telecommunications company to deliver optimum value to its customers.
“9mobile is transiting into a new phase that will be defined by optimal value delivery: value to our employees, value to our customers, value to local communities and indeed to all stakeholders,” he said.
In a statement, Teleology detailed an ambitious action plan that would guide its rapid overhaul not only of the network but all aspects of the operations.
But Smile Telecoms Holdings , the reserve bidder has said it would reposition the company and make it attractive again within a space of 90 days, if given the opportunity to acquire it.
The company had expressed dissatisfaction over the manner in which the sale of 9mobile was handled, through a protest letter it wrote to Barclays Africa, the financial adviser that handled the sale of 9mobile, while calling for the review of the entire sales process that produced Teleology as the preferred bidder, because it believes 9mobile deserves the best and should be sold to an existing and qualified telecoms company with the right technical expertise and financial strength that is capable to manage and turn it around for the highly competitive market within a short period.
The Executive Director, Operations, Smile Communications, a subsidiary of Smile Telecoms Holdings, Ahmad Farroukh, who reacted to this recently said Smile has all it takes to reposition 9mobile and make it attractive and competitive again within a space of 90 days.
“We will bring three dimensional values to 9mobile if given the opportunity to acquire it. The first value is that we are Nigerian company already existing in the Nigerian telecoms space. So we will come up with our existing assets to boost the 9mobile operations. We will seek the permission of NCC to flip our existing 800MHz frequency to 9mobile to enhance its operations. What we are bringing to 9mobile is huge.
“The 800MHz frequency, which Smile Communications currently operates on, will be added to that of 9mobile to achieve the best frequency ever that will serve the customers better and help 9mobile to come out of its current challenges. Without exaggerating, we are sure to add additional 600 Base Transceiver Stations (BTS) of Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology, into the operations of 9mobile within a space of 90 days, if given the opportunity to acquire it.
“We will from day one, integrate our existing facilities with that of 9mobile to get the company back to its old good days, when it was the best voice and data telecoms company in Nigeria. 9mobile currently has 500 BTS across the country, and by the time we add our 400 existing BTS and combine it with the 600 BTS that we can provide within 90 days, 9mobile will be having approximately 1,500 BTS, which will match the number of BTS that the largest telecoms operator in the country currently has. So should we acquire 9mobile, we will make it competitive from day one with unprecedented speed of service delivery.”
He added, “The second value that we will bring to 9mobile is the monetary value. We will bring in fresh millions of dollars from foreign financing outside Nigeria, into 9mobile to pay off its indebtedness to the banks and also pay off any other group that the company is indebted to, and we will still have enough to invest in 9mobile and make it competitive. Let me tell you that several countries around the world still believe in the Nigeria story and we will reach out to them to get fresh funds to invest in 9mobile.”
The third dimensional value that Smile Telecoms Holdings will bring to 9mobile, according to him, is about the company’s long standing experience in telecoms business.
“I have handled telecoms business in Nigeria, including being the CEO of MTN Nigeria from 2006 to 2011, before I was appointed as Director to oversee the MTN West African operations, before joining Smile Communications. Nigeria has made me what I am today and I am grateful to God and to Nigeria. In Smile Communications and Smile Telecoms Holdings, we have seasoned telecoms experts and we are bringing that expertise to 9mobile if given the opportunity to acquire it. We are convinced that our three dimensional values will make 9mobile a successful company if we are allowed to manage it,” Farroukh said.

The acquisition process was recently put on hold by an order of the Federal High Court, Abuja. Two companies that claimed to be major stakeholders of 9mobile had earlier headed to the court to asked for a refund of $43,330,950 which was the amount they invested in the company.
Just as the fate of the entire acquisition process is no longer on the court case alone, Teleology Holdings has to raise the total $500 million for payment of 9 Mobile as Smile Telecoms Holdings prays for a slip by the preferred bidder so as to take over 9Mobile.



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