Mr. Adrian Wood

Teleology’s ability to meet the March 22 payment deadline for 9mobile, underscores Adrian Wood’s unparalleled passion to drive telecoms’ business in Nigeria, writes Emma Okonji

Adrian Wood, an Australian born technocrat, was the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of MTN Nigeria from 2002 to 2004. He took over from the pioneer CEO, Mr. Karel Piennar. When Wood left the services of MTN, he was replaced by another CEO, Mr. Sifiso Dabengwa, who had since left Nigeria after his tenure.

Although Wood left the stage when the ovation was loudest in 2004, his passion to own and drive a telecoms business in Nigeria, kept him back in the country. After he left the services of MTN Nigeria, Wood was seen shuttling in and out of the country to manage other businesses, but he had always kept his passion to own and control a telecoms business in Nigeria. Such passion to run a telecoms business in Nigeria made Wood to form alliance with other technocrats to register a telecoms company called Brymedia Consortium. In 2011, Brymedia bided for the sale of NITEL, alongside New Generation Communications of China, and Omen International.

Unfortunately for Wood, Brymedia came third in the entire bid process, while New Generation Communications of China, and Omen International came first and second respectively.

New Generation Communications of China, which was listed as the preferred bidder by the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), had pledged $2.5 billion as bid price for NITEL, but was unable to make payment after winning the bid, a situation that compelled BPE to shift focus to the second winner, Omen International, that also declined making payment.

Wood at that time, was passionately waiting to get the opportunity to pay the bid price of Brymedia since the first and the second winners declined making payment, but BPE did not extend such opportunity to the third winner, probably because the bid price of $550 million that was pledged by Brymedia during the bid process to acquire NITEL, was considered to be too meager.

Driven by passion and convinced that it was an opportunity to own a telecoms business in Nigeria, Brymedia offered to raise its bid price of $550 million to $600 million to acquire NITEL, but was not given the opportunity to do so.
Still not discouraged in his passion for Nigerian telecoms business, Wood had to retreat and waited for another opportunity to come.

While waiting patiently, the 9mobile financial crisis struck, which forced the management of 9mobile to seek for fresh investors that will invest and takeover the company. Again, this was another opportunity for Wood to prove his passion right, and he immediately lashed on the opportunity to establish a new company called Teleology Holdings Limited to bid for the sale of 9mobile.

Wood assembled the best of technocrats with long standing years experiences, working in the telecoms sector from within and outside the country, to bid for 9mobile. In 2017, Barclays Africa, the financial adviser handling the sale of 9mobile, called for expression of interest for the sale of 9mobile and Wood’s Teleology was among the 16 telecoms companies that expressed their interests to buy 9mobile. At the end of the bid exercise, Wood’s Teleology was announced as the preferred bidder for the sale of 9mobile and Smile Telecoms Holdings was as the reserve bidder.

His dream and passion to manage a telecoms business eventually came true, and Wood was prepared to go the extra mile to raise the $500 million bid price offered by Teleology Holdings. He was expected to achieve this in another 90 days to acquire 9mobile, having, met the 21 day ultimatum given it to pay the $50 million non-refundable deposit, which deadline was March 22, 2018.

Wood’s ambition

Wood had told journalists in Lagos some years back that Brymedia Consortium was very much interested in NITEL, but had to back out of the race when it was denied the opportunity by the BPE, to pay and own NITEL, after New Generation Communications Consortium and Omen International, declined payment of the $2.5 billion that the New Generation Communications Consortium actually bided to acquire NITEL.

According to him, “when we discovered that the process to privatise NITEL by the Bureau of Public Enterprises, was becoming unnecessarily too long, we had to give up the struggle, more so that we were willing to raise our bid price, when the first and second winner declined payment of the $2.5 billion, which the first winner bided, and we were not given the opportunity to so.”

When BPE eventually sold NITEL to NATCOM Consortium in December 2014 for $252.25 million, under a guided liquidation process, Wood summoned up courage to congratulate the man driving NATCOM, Mr. Tunde Ayeni and his consortium, but he was still optimistic that this dream would still come true.

According to Wood, “I spoke with Ayeni in December 2014, shortly after he won the NITEL bid and I said to him that I wished him the best in his endeavour to turn around NITEL.”
“I am still in Nigeria, representing another company as non-executive director. The company does mobile advertising and we are willing to invest in Nigeria,” Wood said in 2014.

The emergence of Teleology

When the opportunity to invest in 9mobile came in 2017, Wood did not hesitate to use Teleology Holdings to bid for the company. The opportunity came, following the financial crisis that the telecoms company suffered from the 13 local banks that threatened to take over it, for failure to repay the $1.2 billion loan it took from the banks in 2013.

In resolving the crisis, it was agreed that a bid process be carried out to get fresh investors, and Barclays Africa was appointed to handle the sale.

After due considerations, based on their technical competences and financial capabilities to manage 9mobile, Barclays Africa, finally announced Teleology Holdings as the preferred bidder and Smile Telecoms Holdings as the reserve bidder. Letters were transmitted to both final contenders on February 21, 2018, informing them of their positions in the sale of 9mobile.

The letter also directed Teleology Holdings to make a non-refundable cash deposit of $50 million within 21 days of from the date of the letter, dated February 21, 2018, or stand the chance of losing the bid to the reserve bidder, which is Smile Telecoms Holdings.

A source at Barclays Africa who confided in THISDAY, said the letter served as the official document for the conclusion of the sale of 9mobile.

The challenges

Shortly after the letter was transmitted to Teleology informing it of its emergence as the preferred bidder, there was jubilation in Wood’s camp, despite the challenge of raising the funds for the acquisition of 9mobile, that was before Teleology.

The letter was transmitted in February 21, and 21 day window was given Teleology Holdings to pay the $50 million non-refundable cash deposit. The deadline for payment was March 22. But as at March 20, Teleology had not paid the money, which raised doubts whether Teleology was capable of meeting the payment deadline.

But to the joy of those who believe in the team players of Teleology and to the surprise of its opposition group, the $50 million non-refundable cash was paid at the peak of time, barely 24 hours to the March 22 deadline.
Having crossed the initial huddle, Teleology is still faced with the payment of another $500 million which is the bid price it settled for during the bid process. It is given 90 day window to make that payment.

Many stakeholders, who were afraid that Teleology may not meet the deadline for the payment of $50 million cash, are already expressing fears that it may be extremely difficult for the company to pay the $500 million in 90 days, given the delay it had in meeting the initial payment deadline.

Opposition

Although the reserve bidder was also communicated the same way the preferred bidder was committed, but Smile Telecoms Holdings had from day one, opposed to the emergence of Teleology, while doubting the level of transparency exhibited by Barclays, in handling the sale of 9mobile.

In a clear display of opposition and dissatisfaction in the manner in which Barclays Africa handled the auction of 9mobile, Smile Telecoms Holdings wrote Barclays to express its dissatisfaction in the entire bid process.
Smile’s protest letter, which was addressed to Barclays Africa, was dated February 21, 2018.

Of particular concern, to Smile Telecoms Holdings, is that the selection of the preferred bidder was announced before the stated deadline of 26 February 2018 as set out in the process letter.

The company therefore, requested Barclays, to as a matter of fairness and urgency, provide a practicable with verifiable and preferably third-party authenticated proof that the party that has been selected as the preferred bidder has indeed satisfied all the conditions precedent to that selection.

While this was going on the Chairman, Governing Board, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Senator, Olabiyi Durojaiye, wrote the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), and insisted that the preferred bidder must show evidence of technical expertise of managing a national telecoms company in the last three to five years, aside the financial competence, and vowed not to issue operational licence to any preferred bidder that lacks such competences, even though the company meets up with the 21 day window given it to pay the non-refundable cash deposit of $50 million.

Wood’s strategic plans

In all of the opposition, Wood remained resolute and optimistic that he would deliver on promise in terms of the financial ability of Teleology to pay all monies pertaining to the acquisition of 9mobile, and in terms of the technical capability to handle 9mobile.

To set the ball rolling, Wood, in less than 24 hours after meeting the March 22 deadline for the payment of the $50 million non-refundable cash deposit for 9mobile, announced his 10-point agenda on which the telecoms company would be managed.

Teleology, in a statement detailed an ambitious plan of action that would guide its rapid overhaul not only of the network but all aspects of the operations.

According to Wood, “9mobile is transiting into a new phase that will be defined by optimal value delivery: value to our employees, value to our customers, value to local communities and indeed to all stakeholders.”
He added that the new organisation to emerge would be “engineering led and brand driven.” In delivering service, “we will strive to ensure that 9Mobile operations deliver fulfillment to our customers, empowerment to local communities, protection to the vulnerable, and excellent rewards not only to our shareholders but to all stakeholders.

Wood added that Teleology has set out a 10-point plan that aggregates its mission and how it intends to turn the 9mobile organisation around.

“Part of the plan is to double the 9mobile network with new 3G/4G specific cell sites as well as a several thousands of kilometers of fiber optic cable across the country. It will drive a special program of rural internet coverage, focusing on 4G with broadband access planned for all of Nigeria’s 774 Local government areas,” Wood said.