(Adds comment from First Bank)
By Chijioke Ohuocha
LAGOS, April 28 The Nigerian arm of Abu Dhabi
telecom group Etisalat is meeting lenders in London on
Friday for talks on restructuring a $1.2 billion debt, Access
Bank CEO Herbert Wigwe said.
Etisalat Nigeria is the biggest foreign-owned victim of the
dollar shortages plaguing Nigeria's financial system. It signed
the $1.2 billion medium-term facility with 13 local banks in
2013 to refinance a $650 million loan and fund the modernisation
of its network, but is now struggling to repay the debt.
Access, one of the lenders in that consortium, is owed 40
billion naira ($131 million) by Etisalat Nigeria and more by its
contractors, although Wigwe declined to specify how much.
"They are in London having a meeting as we speak. In the
course of next week we would get clearer visibility on how to go
about (the debt restructuring)," Wigwe told analysts on a call
to discuss the loan as part of its first-quarter results.
A number of firms invested aggressively in the West African
nation in the era of high oil prices but are struggling to repay
loans or keep operating as the oil producer suffers from a slump
in global crude prices that has hammered its revenues, its
currency and dollars reserves.
Wigwe said the banks needed to verify all the debts on
Etisalat's books, especially those to trade creditors such as
IHS, which has said Etisalat owe it a payment of $8.5 million
for more than 120 days since Dec. 31.
Another lender, First Bank, confirmed that there was a
meeting in London and said it was positive that the loan will be
restructured as guided by the regulator and repaid.
First Bank said that its exposure to Etisalat was about 1.25
percent of its 2.1 trillion naira ($7 bln) loan book and that it
could write it off if necessary.
A source said that Etisalat has asked lenders to convert the
dollar portions of its loans into naira to help it overcome the
shortage of hard currency on the interbank market but that
lenders were opposed to this idea.
Wigwe said several options were being considered.
"We have done some financial restructuring which we have not
closed on. We are hoping to get an agreement with everybody,"
Nigerian dollar liquidity has been improving recently, with
the central bank intervening in the interbank market since
Wigwe said his bank is also exposed to Nigeria's biggest
airline, Arik Air, which was placed under receivership by
state-owned "bad bank" AMCON with debts of about 8 billion naira
but only around 3 billion to cover them.
He said AMCON was looking at ways to resolve the Arik debt,
either through a sale or a recapitalisation.
($1 = 304.85 naira)
(Additional reporting by Oludare Mayowa; Editing by Adrian
Croft and Hugh Lawson)