The fate of Etisalat Nigeria, the fourth largest telecommunications network operating in the country, hangs in the balance as the telecom giant battles to pay its creditors.
Etisalat Nigeria had in 2013 obtained a seven-year loan facility of $1.2billion from 13 local banks and their foreign counterparts to refinance a $650 million loan as well as the expansion of its network but the company had missed the payment due to dollar shortfall in Nigeria’s financial system.
The loan, which involved a foreign-backed guaranty bond, was for Etisalat to finance a major network rehabilitation and expansion of its operational base in Nigeria.
The 13 local banks involved in the loan deal include: Zenith Bank, GT Bank, First Bank, UBA, Fidelity Bank, Access Bank, Ecobank, FCMB, Stanbic IBTC Bank, and Union Bank.
Investigation revealed that Abu Dhabi state investment fund Mubadala, the second-largest shareholder in the business, had in April presented a final restructuring plan to the banks which they flatly rejected. The banks further gave a one month window for repayment which lapsed in May 31st, 2017.
It was gathered that with the telecoms company unable to redeem its payment, the banks have since issued Etisalat a default notice.
This is just as it was learnt at the weekend that Etisalat Nigeria is working with its lenders and Abu Dhabi state investment fund Mubadala, the second-largest shareholder in the business, to resolve debt woes it said were caused by a devaluation of the naira currency.
Mubadala spokesman Brian Lott told Reuters on Friday that a local media report saying that the fund has pulled out of Etisalat Nigeria was wrong and that several proposals are under discussion.
He declined to elaborate on the options being considered but said he will know more next week.
The Nigerian affiliate of Abu Dhabi-listed Etisalat has said it is in talks to restructure a $1.2 billion loan after missing a repayment, though sources have said that talks reached a deadlock on April 28.
In a statement by Ibrahim Dikko, Vice President, Regulatory & Corporate Affairs, Etisalat Nigeria, the company described as spurious news report that Mubadala Development Company, the majority shareholder of the company is exiting the business.
In the statement which reads in part, Dikko said: “Whilst it is premature at this stage of the ongoing discussion to affirm that this is the conclusive option, Etisalat Nigeria considers it pertinent to state that parties in the negotiation are considering a number of options and discussions are at an advanced stage regarding the syndicated loan agreement with the banks. It will therefore be presumptive and in bad faith to begin to predict the outcome.”
Etisalat Nigeria, he stressed, “Can confirm that negotiations with the consortium of banks regarding the syndicated loan agreement signed in 2013 have reached an advanced stage. As noted in an earlier statement, we are considering a number of options and are not taking anything off the table at this time.”
Etisalat, he further emphasised, “Remains a viable business, having recorded its best financial year in 2016. So parties are keen to ensure that the ongoing discussions and eventual outcome do not affect the day to day operations of the business whether now or after the announcement of our agreement. All parties have continually demonstrated an interest in the continued operations of Etisalat as a business as it remains a backbone of millions of small business owners; multinationals, government and indeed Nigerian subscribers in general.”
However, it does appear that the apex bank and the regulatory agency in charge of the telecoms sector are not willing to stick their necks out for Etisalat again judging by their mute indifference to the lingering crisis involved the embattled telecom company and the banks.
When asked for his comments,CBN spokesman, Isaac Okoroafor, Acting Director of Corporate Communications at the weekend, his rather terse response spoke volumes. “Call the Etisalat people please. We have nothing to say on that.”
His counterpart at the NCC, Tony Ojobo, informed our correspondent that he was going to get back soon but never did as at the time of filing in this report.
In the view of industry experts, the future of the telecoms sector looks bleak without Etisalat.