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Nigeria: controversy surrounds NITEL/MTEL sale

Nigeria: controversy surrounds NITEL/MTEL sale.

Lawmakers in Nigeria have decided to investigate the sale of the country's former national carrier NITEL and its mobile subsidiary MTEL, based on accusations that the companies were undervalued and the winner of the bid, NATCOM Consortium may only be interested in the assets of the companies and not in resurrecting them.

Speculation over the futures of NITEL and MTEL gathered momentum when it was announced that NATCOM Consortium would be rolling out 4G Long Term Evolution Technology (LTE) services. This suggests that the revamped NITEL may focus on data services and not voice or SMS, which were the native services provided by the moribund NITEL and MTEL.

The Consortium is empowered to do this through licenses, rights of way and other infrastructures it received when it secured NITEL and MTEL.

Many in the industry expected the Consortium would launch revamped voice and data services to make it competitive in the market, but by focusing on 4G LTE services only, lawmakers and other stakeholders now suggest that NATCOM Consortium may not intend to resurrect NITEL.

Instead, there is speculation that it may use the waning company's backbone, licenses and infrastructures to launch its own services – a notion the company has vehemently rejected stating it will be rolling out its planned services in phases.

During a recent session in Nigeria's Senate, members of the house agreed to saddle committees on telecommunications and privatisation with the task of conducting thorough investigations into the liquidation and takeover of the two companies.

The report of the investigation is expected in eight weeks for deliberation.

Moving the motion for the investigation, Hon. Henry Nwawuba argued that the sale of the two companies and their takeover had sparked controversies with suggestions that they were undervalued.

He said NITEL and MTEL could generate wealth and create employment for a large number of Nigerians, hence the need to ensure that things were "properly done in the sale".

Supporting Nwawuba, the Minority Leader of the house, Leo Ogor, said NITEL and MTEL are worse now than they were prior to their sale. He added that Nigeria's privatisation policy favors foreigners who are interested in tapping into the country's resources.

"The probe will take a critical look at the country's privatisation laws to immediately reverse the sales. There are needs to ensure that these assets are returned to the real owners who are the Nigerian people," Nwawuba concluded.

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