MTN expands in Nigeria

IOL pic nov26 br mtn nu niger0 (56681517) BLOOMBERG A customer uses a cellphone beside an MTN Connect Point in Lagos, Nigeria. File picture: George Osodi, Bloomberg

Johannesburg - MTN Group agreed to buy Internet provider Visafone Communications of Nigeria to expand in Africa’s biggest economy even as the South African company awaits a local court ruling on a record $3.9 billion fine in its biggest market.

The acquisition will ensure that “Nigerians experience a boost in the quality of broadband Internet services” and data speeds, MTN Nigeria Executive Amina Oyagbola said in an e-mailed statement on Friday, without disclosing terms. Visafone offers voice as well as online services in Nigeria, according to the statement.

MTN said December 17 it will ask a Lagos court to rule on the fine, which was imposed by the Nigerian telecommunications regulator for failing to meet a deadline to disconnect 5.1 million unregistered subscribers. The initial fine of $5.2 billion was reduced by 25 percent earlier in December following talks with the regulator led by MTN Chairman Phuthuma Nhleko.

MTN shares have declined 34 percent since the fine was made public on Oct. 26, valuing the company at R232 billion ($14.5 billion). The stock traded 0.6 percent higher at R127.01 as of 11:01 a.m. in Johannesburg.

Lagos-based Visafone is a wireless network provider founded in 2007 by Jim Ovia, a Nigerian businessman who also created Zenith Bank.

MTN had about 62.5 million subscribers in Nigeria at the end of September, almost a quarter of the total of 233 million customers.


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