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Respite for 9mobile, as lender banks agree to delay $1.2bn loan talks

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Respite may have come the way of 9mobile, as feelers from the consortium of banks it owes $1.2 billon is that they are willing to wait until new buyers are found.

The inability to settle the loan facility, taken by the formerly known Etisalat Nigeria, had prompted a number of issues, including the pulling out of Nigeria by the United Arab Emirates firm, Mubadala, and its subsequent demand for dropping of the brand name, Etisalat, within two weeks of exiting the country.

Confirming the decision of the banks to delay further talks on the loan, one of the major stakeholders, First City Monument Bank (FCMB), disclosed on Tuesday that the need to give the new management team a breathing space had made it imperative to allow it get buyers before resuming any further discussion on the loan.

A senior management staff of the bank, throwing more light on this, said, since the search for new investors would amount to injecting fresh funds into it, whatever could lead to achieving that seamlessly was acceptable to the banks.

“Whatever will lead the company in going into receivership should be avoided at this point in time,” the senior official stated.

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The Nigerian telecoms regulator, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) had in july 2017 stepped in to save Etisalat Nigeria from collapse and had prevented lenders from placing the country’s fourth biggest telecoms group into receivership.

This led to the dissolution of both the board and management teams, as well as name-change for the company.
Among the 13 banks with most exposed risks on the $1.2 billion loan are, FCMB, owed $142 million, GTBank with $138 million, and Access Bank being owed $131 million.

Others whose risks were said to have been relatively reduced are: Zenith Bank, First Bank, UBA, Fidelity Bank, Ecobank, Stanbic IBTC Bank and Union Bank.

9mobile’s chief executive officer, Boye Olusanya, was reported as having told the two investment banks that the firm had hired for sale of the teleco, Citigroup and Standard Bank, that time was running out on management to quickly get buyers to take over its ownership structure.

He had earlier requested from the telecoms regulator, the NCC, concessions on spectrum and foreign exchange access to help shore up revenues for 9mobile.

As at Friday, it was reported that three companies had already shown interest in buying the firm, with the question of whether it will be jointly or singly owned now to be sorted out.

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