Telecoms giant Etisalat International has withdrawn from Nigeria, its Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Hatem Dowidar said yesterday.
The withdrawal may not be unconnected with Etisalat Nigeria’s indebtedness to a consortium of banks.
The firm has terminated its management agreement with its Nigerian subsidiary, Dowidar said.
Last week, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) intervened to save Etisalat Nigeria from collapse after talks with its bankers to renegotiate a $1.2 billion loan failed.
Etisalat, with a 45 percent stake in the Nigerian business, said last month that it had been ordered to transfer its shares to a loan trustee after the failed talks.
Dowidar said all United Arab Emirates (UAE) shareholders of Etisalat Nigeria, including state-owned investment fund Mubadala, had left the company.
He said in an interview with Reuters that talks were ongoing with Etisalat Nigeria on technical support, adding that it could continue to use the brand for another three weeks before phasing it out.
“There’s a new board and we are not part of that company. We have sent our termination letter for the management agreement,” he told Reuters.
The telco took a $1.2 billion loan with 13 local lenders in 2013 to refinance an existing loan and fund expansion, but struggling to repay four years later.
Dowidar said Etisalat International had written down the value of the telco on its books, adding that transferring its 45 per cent stake to the lenders after loan renegotiation talks failed had no impact on the group.
Asked whether Etisalat would consider entering Nigeria again, Dowidar said: “The train has left the station on that one. Being in that market as an investor … are we willing to risk more money compared to the reward for the long-term?”
The CEO said Etisalat had been unsuccessful at converting some of its dollar debt to the Nigerian currency. He also said the group might exit or merge with a local rival in markets where it was not one of the top two players. He did not specify which markets.
Etisalat is among the top two in markets such as the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Egypt and Afghanistan, he said.
“(Nigerian) lenders may try to continue to operate the company until they find a buyer (or) they may merge the company with the existing players in Nigeria, he said, adding that it was tough to say what lenders would do.
“The brand agreement in either of these two scenarios won’t be a long-term thing, so we take out the brand; in the long term Etisalat won’t be in Nigeria.”
But Emerging Markets Telecommunication Services Ltd. (EMTS), trading as Etisalat Nigeria, yesterday said it is aware of reports regarding Etisalat Group’s withdrawal of the right to the continued use of the Etisalat brand in Nigeria by EMTS.
Its Vice President (Regulatory and Corporate Affairs), Ibrahim Dikko, in a statement, said EMTS had a valid and subsisting agreement with the Etisalat Group, which entitles EMTS to use the Etisalat brand, notwithstanding the recent changes within the company.
The statement said: “Indeed, discussions are ongoing between EMTS and Etisalat Group pertaining to the continued use of the brand, and EMTS will issue a formal statement once discussions are concluded. The final outcome on the use of the brand in no way affects the operations of the business as our full range of services remain available to our customers.”
“EMTS launched its opration in Nigeria in 2008 with “0809ja” to affirm the “Nigerianness” of our origin and sphere of influence.
“In our nine years of operation, we have remained a prime driver and avid supporter of the Nigerian spirit of excellence, and we will continue to stay true to our “Naijacentric identity”. This notion is strongly reflected in our core messages and depicted in major projects and initiatives which we have been known to support. All these initiatives have their foundation embedded in supporting key aspects of the Nigerian fabric: building Nigerian businesses and empowering Nigerian’s with a focus on the youth.
“Nigeria remains the soul of EMTS’ business and we have made the brand alluring to our teeming subscribers who see a piece of the spirit and character of Nigeria in everything we do. EMTS is here to stay and we wish to assure our esteemed customers that our core values of youthfulness, customer-centricity and innovation will remain the pillars on which we operate. We thank our esteemed customers for their abiding faith in us.”