9mobile, the mobile operator formerly known as Etisalat Nigeria, has appointed Citigroup and Standard Bank to find an investor to buy into the firm and three companies have shown interest, a banking source close to the deal said on Tuesday.
India’s Bharti Airtel, which already has a presence in Nigeria, as well as Britain’s Vodafone and French telecom company Orange have shown interest, the source told Reuters.
“These are still early interest signals but they are looking at the company as an attractive entry strategy,” the source said.
Central Bank Governor Godwin Emefiele said earlier on Tuesday that advisers had been appointed to manage the sale of 9mobile, which is the fourth-largest mobile operator in sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest economy and most populous nation.
The central bank and Nigeria’s telecoms regulator intervened this month to save the company from collapse and prevent creditors putting it into receivership, leading to a change in its board and management, as well as the new name 9mobile.
9mobile has 20 million subscribers with a 14 percent share of the Nigerian market. South Africa’s MTN is the market leader with 47 percent, Nigeria’s Globacom has 20 percent and Bharti Airtel’s local subsidiary has 19 percent.
9mobile declined to comment.
Citigroup, Standard Bank, Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Orange were not immediately available to comment.
Emefiele, speaking after the central bank’s policy meeting on Tuesday, said 9mobile’s revenue was stable and it made 16 billion naira ($52.5 million) in June. The governor said the company had not lost subscribers due to its debt crisis.
He said the advisers would organise a tender to request proposals from prospective investors. He did not provide a timeline but said the management of the telecoms company by its interim board should not last more than 90 to 180 days.
The telecoms company took out a $1.2 billion loan four years ago from 13 local lenders to refinance existing debt and expand its mobile network but it struggled to repay the credit due to a currency crisis and recession in Nigeria.
The crisis forced the telecoms company’s one-time UAE parent Etisalat to terminate its management agreement with its Nigerian business and surrender its 45 percent stake to a trustee following the regulatory intervention.
9mobile’s Chief Executive Boye Olusanya said earlier this month he would be focused on getting the telecoms company back on track to make a profit, while working on the paperwork to eventually raise new capital. He also said the company was open to new investors. ($1 = 304.75 naira)