The scramble for the soul of 9Mobile begins


As the crisis rocking Etisalat Nigeria which led to its name change to 9Mobile is settling down, prospective investors are already lining up to take over the company


At the last count five formidable investors have already indicated interest in acquiring majority shares of the newly unveiled 9Mobile. Until last week, 9Mobile was known as Etisalat Nigeria but had to change its name after its international partners, Mubadala Development Company PSJC, a 45 per cent shareholder and Etisalat Group of UAE with 40 per cent stake in the company pulled out when the company entered troubled waters because it was unable to meet up with the repayment of its $1.2 billion debt it owed a consortium of 13 local banks leading to the take over of the company by the banks.

The early birds include, India’s Bharti Airtel, which already has presence in Nigeria, trading as Airtel Nigeria, Britain’s Vodafone and French telecom group, Orange. Others are BUA Group as well as Virgin Mobile from the United Kingdom, while there is also speculation that Dangote Industries is keen on taking up 60 per cent equity in the company.

Chief Executive Officer of the company, Boye Olusanya, had at the unveiling of the new brand last week informed reporters that the company was open to any investor that shows serious interest. He said the withdrawal of the UAE partners is not the end of the company but only paved way for new investors.

Explaining why the brand is a best buy for serious investors, Olusanya said the new brand identity reflected the bold and creative attributes the company shared with its subscribers. He noted that the innovative services, which have sustained the company in the last nine years, would continue to do so as it was not planning to discontinue giving customers quality and innovative services.

He said: “Our new trading name, 9Mobile, represents our 0809ja heritage, our 9ja-centricity, and our evolution over nine years of operations in Nigeria. Although our trading name has changed, we remain true to the same values on which our company was built. In our nine years of operations, we have remained at the forefront of innovation and take pride in consistently delivering superior experiences to our subscribers.”

To show its readiness for sale and to position itself to ensure that it goes to the best suitor, the brand only two days ago announced the appointment of Citigroup and South Africa’s Standard Bank as advisers to manage the sale process for the telecoms company.

Central Bank Governor Godwin Emefiele, speaking after the bank’s policy meeting on Tuesday, said the advisers would manage the search for a major investor to acquire the company.

He said 9mobile’s revenue was stable, adding that it made N16 billion ($52.50 million) in June and that it had not lost subscribers due to the debt crisis.

“I am very gratified at the surge by potential investors who have written showing interest. Advisers will eventually call for RFPs (request for proposals), everyone will go into a data room and conduct due diligence, and the best person will win,” Emefiele said.

With 20 million plus subscribers and a share of 14 per cent of the Nigerian GSM market, 9Mobile has established itself as a strong brand in Nigeria. Entering the market when there were already three big players, the brand wasted no time in stamping its feet as the most innovative and youth centric telecom company in Nigeria with its 0809ja proposition.

It would be recalled that this is not the first time a telecoms company in Nigeria will be going through this process of rebranding. The brand known today as Airtel Nigeria, actually started in 2001as Econet Wireless Nigeria, but just after three years in 2004 there was a shareholder dispute that led to the company being purchased by Vodacom of South Africa. Suddenly Vodacom pulled out of the country in one of the shortest-lived corporate deals. The company resumed trading as VMobile Nigeria, owned by Vee Networks Limited before Bharti Airtel of India came knocking, purchased the brand and changed its name to Airtel Nigeria.

If Airtel survived four name changes, 9Mobile will emerge from this stronger.



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