Global Systems Mobile Communication (GSM) service provider Etisalat is locked in discussions with its creditors who are battling to recover a $1billion loan.
In the talks are three banks – Zenith Bank, Access Bank and Guaranty Trust Bank—which advanced the telco the loan about two years ago.
A large portion of the loan, which was meant to expand the telco’s network, is unpaid. The banks are threatening to invoke a segment of the loan agreement, which allows the creditors to assume the management of the company.
The Nation had reported exclusively on Tuesday that creditors were contemplating assuming ownership of the GSM operator.
Following the report and the unfolding events, a segment of the media reported, albeit falsely, that the telco had been taken over by the banks. However, Etisalat, the sector’s regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and the Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), the umbrella body of all the practitioners in the information communications technology (ICT) industry, said there was no truth in the news that Etisalat had been acquired by the banks.
A source at Access Bank told The Nation that there was nothing to suggest that the bank had taken any steps to acquire Etisalat. There were no comments from Zenith Bank and Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB). An expected feedback from GTB to an email request on the issue had not come as at the time of filing this report.
However, NCC said it had requested Etisalat to furnish it with details of the issues, assuring that there was no cause for alarm. Its Director of Public Affairs, Tony Ojobo, said the regulator will advice based on the facts made available to it by Etisalat.
He said the insinuation that the Commission had given its blessing for the alleged takeover of Etisalat was far from the truth.
Ojobo said: “We have requested Etisalat to write a formal letter to the Commission detailing what transpired. It is based on this that the Commission will take whatever decision that would be deemed necessary. But let me assure you that there is no cause for alarm. All the issues will be resolved amicably for the good of the telecoms industry and the country.”
ATCON urged the Federal Government to save the telecoms industry from collapse by easing access to foreign exchange to carriers.
ATCON’s President Olushola Teniola said the report that Etisalat had been taken over by lenders was incorrect. He said the telco failed to meet its repayment obligation because of the current economic downturn.
Said Teniola: “The situation is that Etisalat owes some interest rate payments which have not been met, so, that means that they have basically not met their obligations. They are currently negotiating with the said banks to come to a conclusive resolution.