Directors of Etisalat Nigeria, except its chairman, Hakeem Belo-Osagie, have resigned from the network operator’s seven-man board in a move seen as an attempt to absolve themselves of criminal and civil liability for the non-payment of a $1.2 billion loan taken from 13 Nigerian banks.
Following Etisalat Group’s disclosure on the Abu Dhabi Stock Exchange that it was transferring 45 per cent of its stake and 25 per cent of its preference shares in its Nigerian subsidiary to the legal representative of lending banks, ThisDay reports that the six Mubadala and Etisalat Group-appointed Non-Executive Directors, NEDs, who are all nationals of the United Arab Emirates, tendered their resignation last week.
Other shareholders of Etisalat Nigeria include Mubadala Development Company with a 40 per cent stake and Emerging Markets Telecommunications Services, EMTS, representing the Nigerian shareholders, with 15 per cent.
The consortium of banks had threatened to takeover the operations of the telecoms company, unless it repaid the loan in full. Etisalat had in 2013 approached a consortium of 13 local banks for a loan of $1.2 billion for network upgrade and expansion. The money was sourced in dollar and naira components.
However, citing the economic downturn of 2015-2016 and naira devaluation, which negatively impacted on the dollar-denominated component of the loan, Etisalat wrote its creditors informing them of its intention to halt the installment repayment of the loan, until such a time that it was able to raise more money.
It was gathered that the directors intentionally stepped down from the board in a bid to exonerate themselves from the liability of the debt default that has enveloped Etisalat Nigeria, even as a source was reported as saying that the banks will not allow them to go scot-free.
A source, who was aware of the directors’ resignation, told the newspaper that what they forgot is that they had used a Dutch-registered company, of which they are also the directors, to guaranty the loans from the banks, and as such cannot run away from their obligations to their Nigerian lenders.
According to him, “Yes, they resigned because they are trying to absolve themselves of the loans they have left behind.”
“But they cannot run away because they had used a company registered in the Netherlands where they are directors to guaranty the loans, so they will still be held liable should Etisalat Nigeria fail to repay the loans to the banks.”
He also disclosed that the only NED left on the board was the chairman, Belo-Osagie, clarifying that the Chief Executive Officer of Etisalat Nigeria, Mr. Matthew Wilshire, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Information Officer and Chief Commercial Officer are not directors of the company.
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