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NITEL: Technical Board accuses BPE of sabotage

Weekly Trust findings show that power play between the principal bodies saddled with the responsibility of securing a sound deal for the future of Nitel…

Weekly Trust findings show that power play between the principal bodies saddled with the responsibility of securing a sound deal for the future of Nitel may be the ailing company‘s greatest undoing this time. It will be recalled that after the cancellation of the sale of Nitel to Transcorp early last month, government constituted a seven-man technical board to take charge of Nitel pending the emergence of a new investor.  A source who prefers anonymity, told Weekly Trust that the BPE is bent on rendering the technical board useless and conniving with interested parties to sell Nitel as scrap without value.” We have evidence that the BPE does not mean well for Nitel. We are aware of a security report showing that BPE is behind the various crisis bedevilling the technical board since it was constituted to manage the affairs of Nitel after the cancellation of its sale to Transcorp. The two BPE members on the Technical Board have stopped attending our meetings and even before then the BPE refused to implement the decision to pay 50 percent of SAT-3 debt. We asked the BPE to also pay so that it would not be disconnected from London. We recently had to also pay PHCN debt of N350, 000 to prevent them from totally disconnecting Nitel facilities”, he explained.

The source equally informed Weekly Trust that BPE is against most of the decisions taken by the technical Board which is best interest of Nitel.”When we took over we decided to pay half salary for June while we look for ways to pay 12, months arrears owed workers. We also appointed Zainab Sa’ab as the Acting MD of Nitel but the BPE kept antagonising all our actions with the argument that the Board was inaugurated and so we cannot take decisions. Should we wait for the inauguration while Nitel rots away,” he queried.

The source further said that the BPE is the greatest culprit in the vandalisation and devaluation of Nitel. “The downfall of Nitel started with the intervention of the BPE in their dubious privatisation process. When Obasanjo took over in 1999, Nitel was worth $8 billion. Today, thanks to the BPE which first gave the company to Pentascope and later Tanscorp, Nitel value now stand at less than $200 million and they have never deemed it fit to apologise to Nigerians for misadvising government on the competence of these companies they have been off-loading Nitel to. He said since 2004, Nitel had no audited account and management were and BPE never cared because they want to sell Nitel as scrap”.

Reacting to the accusation of Nitel technical board, BPE spokesman, Chibo Anichebe said as far as BPE is concerned, the Technical Board has not been inaugurated hence they cannot take any decision because any sitting they call is null and void. On the value of Nitel, Anichebe said they will sell Nitel for the best value and that the technical board are just contractors campaigning around the country that BPE is fighting them. He said the same people told Obasanjo in 2004 that Nitel was worth $3 billion when Investors International London Limited (IILL) bidded $1.317 billon but when former President Obasanjo asked them to bring the $3 billion they ran way.

Observers in the telecom industry believed that the BPE and the government of former President Obasanjo did not help Nitel.

It would be recalled that at 2002 when the first attempt to sell the company to Investors International London Limited (IILL), Nitel had over 10,000 employees and generated billions of naira in revenue. In 2003 before Pentascope took over, Nitel generated and collected N51.43 billion as revenue in one year from about 555,055 connected lines .After 23 months of Pentascope take over, the connected lines dropped to 440,000 and a debt profile of over N40 billion was incurredwhich eventually led to the revocation of the to from Pentascope. In 2005, Orascom, the Egyptian telecoms giant failed to buy the company because their $250 million bid was said to be below the reserved price.

The take over of Nitel by Trans-national Corporation (Transcorp) in 2006 was celebrated with fanfare. The $500 million deal promised to turn around the company but three years after they left Nitel in a sorry state.

As at June 1, 2009, when government finally revoked the sale of Nitel to Tanscorp, the company’s stood at N17 billion naira.  When they took over, Nitel’s connected line was 400,000.

three years after, it dropped to less than 100,000. Working lines was 296, 000, it has dropped to 5,000.M-tel had about 1.3 million lines when Transcorp took over, as at today, the lines stand at less than 100, 000. The 250,000 CDMA lines that was at 90 per cent completion before Transcorp took over has not been completed. There were 249(out of the original 284) active exchanges in the Nitel network nationwide at the time tanscorp took over. Today less than 60 of them are working. Many of them and shut down due to power problems.

The Transmission link nationwide through optic fibre network and the Micro-wave (Radio) link have broken down. Today, calls cannot be made in any part of Nigeria (e.g. Abuja to Kaduna) on a land line. Most observers are waiting earnestly to see whom the BPE will hand over Nitel to this time around.

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