Analysts said acquiring 9mobile could see Airtel Nigeria overtake Globacom, and give it the power to compete with market leader MTN. Vodafone lost the opportunity to operate in Nigeria during the early days of GSM as the company turned down request by the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) to buy the then ailing NITEL.
India’s Bharti Airtel is looking to merge its Nigerian arm with 9mobile, which has just rebranded from Etisalat Nigeria following takeover as a result of financial problems, a source close to the telecom company has said.
France’s Orange mobile and United Kingdom’s Vodafone had earlier emerged as potential bidders for the Nigerian fourth mobile network. The two companies were said to be in “strong running” to buy 65 per cent of the telco.
Reports have said “no fewer than five” companies had expressed interest in Etisalat Nigeria, although only the two international telco giants – Orange and Vodafone – have shown “concrete interest”.
The Economic Times of India had reported that Bharti was looking to boost its assets in Nigeria, and this may explain its interest in 9mobile.
Presently, Nigeria is Bharti’s largest African market, where it generates around 30% of its revenues.
“The collapse of Etisalat Nigeria – and the withdrawal of Etisalat itself – is seen as a potential opportunity for consolidation (by Bharti),” the Economic Times of India claims in one of its reports.
The Bharti Airtel chairman, Sunil Mittal, had previously spoken of the potential for mergers in some of its African assets as part of a rationalisation plan, according to reports.
Despite being a major market, Bharti’s unit has not broken into the top two operators in Nigeria since it bought Zain Group’s sub-Saharan Africa assets.