Nigeria: company returns Jonathan's spectrum

Lagos-based ISP company Cyberspace, one of two recipients of frequency spectrum reportedly sold secretly by Nigeria's former president Goodluck Jonathan, is believed to have handed back the spectrum to officials.

Mounting negative publicity and fear of a government probe are understood to be the reasons behind the company's decision to return the spectrum, via the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), to the govt.

Speaking to ITWeb Africa, a top NCC official said Cyberspace management decided to quietly return the spectrum following the bad publicity that characterised the announcement of the secret deal by the media.

"No one expected the widespread condemnation of the deal when it got to the knowledge of the public through the press. To avoid getting his name enmeshed in controversies, the Cyberspace's billionaire CEO, Jim Ovia, subsequently approached the NCC to quietly return the spectrum," the source told ITWeb Africa.

Ovia's company received the 900MHz spectrum.

The official also said that concern over a potential probe was another reason behind the company's decision. The new Nigerian government said it would probe the process through which the spectrums were secretly sold to Cyberspace and Globacom.

"NCC's standard policy of spectrum sale is via open auction. The sale of these frequency spectrums contravened this standard policy which means heads, especially in NCC, could roll if the new government finally decides to carry out a probe. To avoid troubles, Cyberspace decided to 'hands-off' the spectrum," the official added.

Recently it was reported that Jonathan is believed to have directed the NCC to issue what is regarded as Nigeria's Digital Dividend spectrum to Dr. Mike Adenuga Jnr and Jim Ovia, billionaire owners of Globacom Limited and Visafone Communications Limited respectively.

However, Adenuga's Globacom is yet to release any official statement on the saga. The network received the 700MHz spectrum and is still holding on to the two-year license on an exclusive trial basis.

It was revealed that Globacom's spectrum was pegged at a pro-rated price, based on a similar reserve price as the one issued Cyberspace but for only a two-year non-renewable tenor – this allows the company use the license "for a pilot operation" that cannot be renewed at expiration.