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9mobile Asks Citi, Standard Bank to Shop for Investors

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agency report

9mobile, the mobile operator formerly known as Etisalat Nigeria, has appointed Citigroup and Standard Bank to find an investor to buy into the firm and three companies have shown interest, a banking source close to the deal said on Tuesday.

India's Bharti Airtel, which already has a presence in Nigeria, as well as Britain's Vodafone and French telecom company Orange have shown interest, the source told Reuters.

"These are still early interest signals but they are looking at the company as an attractive entry strategy," the source said.

Godwin Emefiele, Governor, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) says that 9Mobile, one of the four biggest telecommunication companies in Nigeria remains strong with a solid revenue base.

Emefiele said this while fielding questions from newsmen at the end of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) meeting of the CBN on Tuesday in Abuja.

According to him, the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC), supported by the CBN intervened in the company because of its huge contribution to the nation’s economy.

“9Mobile employs more than 4,000 workers, with about 20 million subscribers nationwide,’’ Emefiele said.

The CBN governor noted that the apex bank and NCC could not allow the company to go down because of the negative impact on jobs, which was capable of impacting on the economy.

While expressing delight in the indication of interests by some potential investors in the rescue of the communications company, Emefiele said that the interventions were temporal.

“The intervention is temporal, it should not last more than 90 to180 days. I am gratified that potential investors are taking part,’’ Emefiele said.

9Mobile had been struggling to meet its contractual agreement with its creditors before the intervention of the NCC with the support of the CBN.

9mobile declined to comment.

Citigroup, Standard Bank, Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Orange were not immediately available to comment.

The telecoms company took out a $1.2 billion loan four years ago from 13 local lenders to refinance existing debt and expand its mobile network but it struggled to repay the credit due to a currency crisis and recession in Nigeria.

The crisis forced the telecoms company's one-time UAE parent Etisalat to terminate its management agreement with its Nigerian business and surrender its 45 percent stake to a trustee following the regulatory intervention.

9mobile's Chief Executive Boye Olusanya said earlier this month he would be focused on getting the telecoms company back on track to make a profit, while working on the paperwork to eventually raise new capital. He also said the company was open to new investors.

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