Victor Asemota, a tech investor, refutes Tinubu’s claim of bringing ECONET to Nigeria

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Speaking at the just concluded screening of presidential aspirants of the All Progressive Congress, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, former governor of Lagos State and party founder, claims to have played a role in building the telecoms industry in Nigeria by bringing Econet Wireless (now Airtel) to Nigeria.

However, tech investor, Victor Asemota has moved to debunk Tinubu’s claim, stating that Lagos State was only involved in its founding through the acquisition of secondary shares after much deliberations had taken place.

According to Asemota Tinubu didn’t even commit to Cybertel (Econet’s founding trading name in Nigeria) initially. until after Delta State, Oceanic and David Edevbie did the major work.

What Tinubu said at the screening

Highlighting his contribution to the development of the telecoms industry, Bola Ahmed Tinubu said “There are three highways in the development of a nation. If you have gas or supplying diesel, electricity transmission is also a highway and communication.

“I could remember that I brought Eron to this nation. Telecommunication is now a success today in Nigeria. I brought Econet. I helped them; they now want to adopt 5G; we started it. 

“Nigeria is rich. The essence of our livelihood must be placed on short-term and medium-term values. They must produce values for us,”

Asemota’s rebuttal

Disagreeing with Tinubu’s claim, Victor Asemota, who also worked at Econet during its early days gave his account of how Econet Wireless came into Nigeria.

He said, “My uncle held a party for Tony Anenih Jr. after his wedding in 2000 in Benin City.

“Many of the new state governors were in town and came for the party. He got five of them into his bedroom and pitched a company called ‘CyberTel’, which was supposed to bid for a GSM license 

“Only Delta State was very keen on it. The others told us that they would get back. Cybertel merged into the consortium called First Independent Networks Limited, which was started by Bolaji Balogun and his team at City Securities Limited. It was a harrowing period”.

He added that he had to travel to Delta and Akwa Ibom to ensure the commitment of the state as FINL was supposed to hold 60% of the license holding company, and 40% went to the foreign partner.

We later selected a small company from Zimbabwe called Econet because we felt it was easier,” he said.

He also revealed that “Econet was supposed to bring 40% of the license money and the technical know-how. We had the equity agreement as a shareholder, and technical services agreement as operator of the license. That 40% never came. It was excuse after excuse. We finally had to go back to the states. 

“The initial structure we had proposed was for the licensed entity, Econet Wireless Nigeria (EWN) owned by FINL and the technical partner to own 60% of the operating entity Econet Wireless Mobile (EWM) and the remaining 40% coming into that entity from states like Delta and AKSG.”

Asemota revealed that when the 40% from the operator wasn’t coming and other shareholders were leveraged to the hilt, state governments were allowed in to buy secondaries from existing shareholders who had covered the initial $285m license fee they didn’t bargain for, which caused the Shareholders approached states.

He said OANDO was also a shareholder, stating that Wale Tinubu (Oando founder) got Lagos State to buy their secondaries and come in. “That was the extent of the Lagos State involvement in the deal. His relative was the state governor, and it made it easier for OANDO to convince them. Tinubu didn’t even commit to Cybertel initially. Delta State and Oceanic saved ECONET. David Edevbie saved us all,” he said.