Nigeria backs $2.5 billion telecom bid after China doubts

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ABUJA (Reuters) – Nigeria’s privatization body said it had cleared up any confusion over China Unicom’s involvement in a $2.5 billion bid for the former state telecoms monopoly, allowing it to go for final approval.

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The preferred bidder for Nitel was announced on February 16 and Nigeria said the consortium included Unicom (0762.HK), China’s second biggest carrier, little known Dubai company Minerva and a small local carrier.

Doubts arose when Unicom denied any involvement, but the Chinese firm later acknowledged its European unit had shown interest in joining the group bidding for Nitel but had never entered formal negotiations.

“There must have been a communication gap between Unicom Europe and Unicom China,” said Taiwo Osipitan, head of the technical committee of the National Council on Privatization (NCP), on Thursday.

Uncertainty over the bid also arose because of the mysterious identity of the group in Dubai which the consortium said would provide much of the financing for a bid that was five times higher than many analysts had believed Nitel was worth.

Osipitan said the bid had been examined by the technical committee and it was satisfied that process had been followed correctly and to the highest international standards.

“In the light of this, we have resolved to recommend to the NCP that the result of the bid be accepted,” he said.

Nigeria has been trying to sell Nitel for almost a decade and the controversy over the latest effort to do so is embarrassing for sub-Saharan Africa’s second biggest economy.

(Reporting by Camillus Eboh; Editing by Matthew Tostevin)

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