According to the Greek historian Herodotus (b: 484 BC), the Phoenix was a mythical bird from Ethiopia. It was spectacularly large, beautiful and adorned with mind-blowing plumage. The Phoenix made a nest out of cypress branches but not in preparation to lay eggs; the Phoenix was preparing to die. While sitting in the nest, the bird creates a great deal of heat and set itself on fire from the heat. After three days, the Phoenix reemerges from its own ashes – reborn, renewed and released from the sentence of death. It was able to live on, forever.
This assertion was corroborated by the Greek poet, Hesiod, (b: 700 BC) who declared that the Phoenix could outlive nine generations of ravens. That’s about 90,000 years in Hesiod’s time. This makes cats nine lives look insignificant.
Today, the Phoenix is not just an ancient Ethiopian bird or Egyptian mythology; they are brands and organisations that have evolved in the mimicking of the Phoenix to rendezvous with death and still exhale breath. Brands and businesses alike, repackage for several reasons: some for more efficiency, some for better customer service delivery and others because it feels good to dress fancy. These are not Phoenix brands, Phoenix brands transform to survive the impossible.
After bookmakers consistently wrote-off the brand’s ability to survive which was made worse with exit of Etisalat, their United Arab Emirate partner, 9mobile sprang out of its ashes into a business concern that became the most sought-after brand in 2017. Taking a new name and becoming a bride for both foreign and local investors who wanted to buy over not just the brand and what it stood for but also its potential, which is extremely promising.
Owned by Emerging Markets Telecommunication Services Ltd (EMTS), trading as Etisalat Nigeria, the telecommunications company secured a $650 million loan agreement in 2011 (split into two tranches of N82.5 billion and $100 million) to support its expansion plan across the country from a consortium of eight leading Nigerian banks namely; First Bank, Zenith Bank, Access Bank, Fidelity Bank, United Bank for Africa, Bank PHB, Guaranty Trust Bank and Oceanic Bank.
This loan was to help boost Etisalat Nigeria’s network expansion across the country and offer even better-quality service to it’s over Seven (7) million customers, sealing its claim as the most innovative and fastest-growing GSM mobile operator.
In 2013, the company further signed a USD1.2billion medium-term syndicated loan facility agreement with Zenith Bank Plc., Guaranty Trust Bank Plc., First Bank of Nigeria Limited and 10 other banks. The company used the proceeds to refinance the existing commercial medium-term debt of $650m, continued network expansion and release of innovative products and services to it’s over Fifteen (15), million subscribers.
Due to the economic recession the country experienced, the company found it difficult to pay back at 600 Naira to a Dollar for a loan it took when the foreign exchange was 160 Naira to a Dollar. The process to sell the company began.
The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), to ensure that 9mobile is sold to the right investor that will inject the much-needed fund to resettle the ailing telecommunications company.
Bharti Airtel, Teleology Holdings Limited, Globacom, Smile Telecoms Holdings, and Helios Investment Partners amongst others tried to outbid one another for the coveted telecommunications company with Teleology Holdings Limited emerging as the preferred bidder while Smile Telecoms Holdings was the reserved bidder. 9mobile showed it had more than a cat’s nine lives, it had to be a phoenix with unlimited lives.
The 9mobile brand proved to be a dogged Nigerian outfit, worthy of the 9ja ‘can-do-spirit’ of Nigerians.
The brand further experienced several challenges such as the extension of the bidding process due to the preferred bidder not being able to meet the payment deadline; objections from certain quarters that had interest in the bidding; attempts to use court injunctions to derail the bidding process, and untimely summons by one of the legislative houses.
Use of the media to give the false illusion of anarchy in the bidding process which was dispelled not just with words but by the actions of the parties in the bidding process. The regulators, NCC and the CBN, guided and ensured the Nigerian company did not go under as is the case with many companies.
It was a great relief to many Nigerians, employees – direct and indirect, and millions of teeming customers of 9mobile, when the preferred bidder, Teleology Holdings Limited, finally made the payment for the company. It was a pleasant relief not just because of job security or the benefit to the Nigerian economy, especially at this time but because it generated empathy from Nigerians who understand firsthand how to survive challenges and evolve from it not bitter but better, that is the 9ja spirit.
Even as the fourth entrant in the Nigerian telecoms market, 9mobile was still able to own the vital youth segment by satisfying the huge appetite for data consumption and innovation in that sector. This was achieved with packages such as EasyBlaze which propelled the brand to become the country’s market leader in the data segment.
9mobile has proved to be a Nigerian brand both in character and in spirit. One thing is obvious in the Nigerian telecom sector and that is no matter the challenges, the 9mobile brand has resolved to be here for 9ja and is determined not to leave the shores of the country anytime soon.