Virgin Mobile and Vodacom are among the firms that have expressed an interest in acquiring 9mobile.
Formerly known as Etisalat Nigeria, the operator has rebranded after the UAE-based Etisalat Group scrapped its management agreement with the unit in June, relinquishing its 45% stake in the Nigerian operator to a trustee. The parent firm dropped its support after Etisalat Nigeria failed to reach a deal with its creditors to restructure its $1.2 billion debt following missed payments.
Following its recent rebrand as 9mobile, the operator has announced that it is open to new investors. Among the interested parties is Bua Group, a Nigerian company with a presence across several sectors. Virgin and Vodacom are also looking to deliver memoranda of interest to the consortium of banks which is receiving bids.
A number of former executives at MTN Nigeria are reportedly lending their support to Virgin Mobile’s bid, since it has offered to stand the balance of 9mobile’s $1.2 billion debt, which it owes to 13 financial institutions. Another factor in their support is likely the longstanding rivalry between MTN and Vodacom.
Virgin is aiming to upgrade all of the operator’s cell sites to 3G or 4G, which would be a significant development since most Nigerian cell sites are currently 2G. 9mobile’s market share is around 13%, placing it behind MTN, Glo Mobile and Airtel.