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Etisalat, which controls a 13 percent market share in Nigeria, has had a running battle with a consortium of 13 banks since March after it notified them of its inability to service its $1.2 billion debt in February.

According to a source the telecom company was truly dropping Etisalat as its operating name but no firm decision has been made in that regard.

"A number of options are being considered, but no final decision has been made," the source said, declining to confirm whether 9Mobile is among the options being considered by the telecom company.

Etisalat Nigeria was prompted to change its operating name after its foreign partner, Dubai-based Emirates Telecommunications Corporation (ETC), which controls 45 percent shareholding in Etisalat Nigeria, gave the Nigerian arm three weeks within which it must change the brand name.

The source said the telecom firm was hard done by the volatile foreign exchange rates and negative economic growth in Nigeria. But an official of the company said in June that about 42 percent of the loan had been repaid.

In March, the central bank, and the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) tried to prevent lenders placing the firm in receivership to avoid a wider debt crisis and agreed with banks to pursue a default deal.
But lenders, under pressure to avoid loan-loss provisions, have been pushing to finalise a restructuring before half-yearly audits.

The original loan was a seven-year facility to refinance a $650 million loan and fund expansion of Etisalat Nigeria's network.

The company missed payments in February after sharp falls in the Nigerian naira bloated the loan's value, making repayments difficult.

It's worth mentioning that the company's revenue went flat, while a further impact of roaming costs, rental charges, and network costs drove a double digit decline in Earnings Before Interest, Tax, Depreciation and Amortization (EBITDA) went down 20.86 percent to N33 billion.

As at today, we can categorically state that the outstanding loan sum to the consortium (of banks) stands at $227 million and N113 billion, a total of about $574 million if the naira portion is converted to US dollars. This, in essence, means almost half of the original loan of $1.2 billion, has been repaid," said Ibrahim Dikko, Etisalat Nigeria's vice president, Regulatory and Corporate Affairs.

However, Etisalat Nigeria last week, via a statement, insisted that the withdrawal of the right to use the name in Nigeria by ETC would not disrupt its services in the country.

"Emerging Markets Telecommunication Services Limited, trading as Etisalat Nigeria hereby assures its customers and other stakeholders that Etisalat Group's reported withdrawal of the right to the continued use of the Etisalat brand in Nigeria by EMTS does not in any way imply discontinuation of our business as Nigeria's fourth largest mobile service provider," read part of the statement.

A Nigerian telecom industry expert said that the name change was inevitable following the departure of ETC from Nigeria. But the official said he did not think services to subscribers would be impacted negatively.

"It appears that this change in name from Etisalat Nigeria will hopefully not mean a change for the worst in terms of the quality of service Etisalat was known for in its data service offering," said Olusola Teniola, who is the president of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria.

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