Elias Kazzah, former Nigerian Telecommunications Limited [NITEL] staff and President of Senior Staff Association of Transport, Telecommunications and Corporations, (SSATTC) NITEL branch, has said that the sale of the ailing Federal Government owned telecommunications giant to NATCOM Consortium was another rip-off on Nigerians.
In an interview with correspondent, Kazzah doubted the capability of the new owners to turn around the fortunes of the ailing telecommunications companies.
According to him, “I don’t think that the new company has what it takes to start operations. I don’t think that they have the financial muscle.
“The Chief Executive Officer told the Senate Committee on Communications some time ago that they would start their operations in the middle of March, yet up till now; they have not taken-off.”
It would be recalled that the Federal Government through the Bureau of Public Enterprises [BPE], had sold off NITEL, and its subsidiary mobile arm, MTEL to NATCOM Consortium on December 3, 2014.
While announcing this in Abuja to newsmen, Benjamin Dikki, the Director-General of BPE, said NATCOM which is a consortium of seven local and foreign companies, emerged as the new owners of NITEL and MTEL by offering to pay $252 million, an amount said to have met the BPE’s bid price.
Dikki explained that the privatisation process was a guided liquidation that would help to resuscitate the two entities that had been moribund for over two decades.
He said that NATCOM emerged the successful bidder in technical and financial commitment from the array of up to 17 firms that keenly contested for the two companies.
According to him, “It is our fervent hope and desire this time around, we have succeeded in procuring a technically and financially qualified bidder that will not only meet the deadline for payment of the purchase consideration but more importantly deploy the required resources to rehabilitate and grow these companies to play a significant role in the Nigerian telecoms sector.
“We faced numerous challenges in packaging this transaction, including outstanding unpaid terminal benefits of ex-staff of NITEL and M-TEL, arrears of salaries of the retained staff and outsourced security and huge accumulated unpaid licence and other dues to Nigerian Telecommunications Commission [NCC].”
Kazzah, who was among the 400 NITEL staff laid –off in May 31, 2015 by the new owners, said that the Consortium lacked the financial muscle to turn around the NITEL/Mtel.
He alleged that the infrastructure, structures and properties of NITEL/Mtel were being vandalised by the new owners.
According to him, “As I am talking with you, all the structures, properties, buildings, cables, that were handed-over to the new company, including the exchanges have been vandalised and sold.
“Even transmitter stations, everything has been vandalised by the new owners. We have been wondering what they are going to use to operate.
“In Kaduna stations, they have removed the roofs, windows and all the facilities in some parts of the Stations.”
On the payment of their outstanding salaries, gratuities and pensions, Kazzah confirmed that the 400 NITEL staff that were left to monitor NITEL’s equipment and installations have been paid by the liquidators before their eventual sack.
However, he said that the members of staff, who were sacked in 2006 and 2010 were yet to receive their pensions, adding that the the defunct NITEL pension staff union has been clamouring for the settlement of their pensions.
Meanwhile, NATCOM has announced its plans to roll out services in Lagos and Abuja from April 8.
It was gathered that the telecom operator will be trading with the name “Ntel” as its marketing brand, meaning Nigerian Telecommunications.
Kamar Abass, the Chief Executive Officer, Ntel, who disclosed this in Lagos few days ago, said the operator would offer Nigerians fourth generation Long Term Evolution (4G LTE) network service.
Abass also said that all was set for the commercial launch following link from completion of agreements with channel partners as well as go-ahead from Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).