Reuters reports that the president of Nigeria, Umaru Yar’Adua, has instructed the new board of ailing incumbent telco Nigerian Telecommunications (NITEL) to privatise the firm within the next 60 days. ‘Mr President has directed that the privatisation of NITEL/M-Tel must be concluded in the next 60 days,’ said Vice President Goodluck Jonathan during the inauguration of the new technical board, adding, ‘The major challenge of this board is to resuscitate NITEL/M-Tel and prepare the two companies for privatisation.’ In July of this year the federal government invited bids for a 75% stake in NITEL, after a previous attempt to sell the ailing fixed line operator failed. The sale includes NITEL’s mobile arm M-Tel and its submarine fiber-optic cable division SAT-3, which links Africa with Europe and the rest of the world. Interested parties are invited to submit bids before the 2 October deadline.
According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms database, the federal government sold its 51% stake in NITEL to local company Transcorp for USD750 million in November 2006, retaining a 49% interest. Since then the telco’s initial 500,000 fixed lines in service have dropped to about 45,000, its workforce has declined from 12,000 to just 2,000 and the company is USD500 million in debt. In February 2009 Transcorp agreed to divest part of its shareholding in the telco and in late March the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) announced it was offering a 51% stake in the fixed line operator and 100% of its mobile unit. In late May Nigeria’s anti-corruption police charged the head of Transcorp and two other employees with fraud for embezzling around USD110 million belonging to NITEL and the following week the government revoked the sale of the incumbent to Transcorp.