Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the 2023 presidential aspirant for All Progressive Congress (APC) affirmed during his presidential screening that he pioneered the entry of the Zimbabwean telecommunication company Econet, known as Airtel, into Nigeria.
He 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 Econet 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”.
This has been met by many as some people claimed it is a big blunder and a lie on the part of the former governor of Lagos State. Here’s why.
Econet in Nigeria: The backstory
Econet Wireless Nigeria made its entry into Nigeria in 2001. It was one of the three telecoms that got the GSM licensing auction in Nigeria. The funds used to acquire the licence, according to Strive Masiyiwa, were obtained from different investors.
He said, “I managed to assemble a consortium of 22 investors to put up the money needed to bid. Our shareholders were all Nigerian, primarily institutional investors including leading banks and two state governments, Lagos and Delta.
The license cost us $285 million and was the most expensive license ever issued in Africa at the time. Most of our investors had between 1-10% shareholding”.
The role of Tinubu in Econet
Although Tinubu played a role in Econet Wireless Nigeria while he was the governor of Lagos State, facts and records showed that he did not bring telecommunication to the country.
This was further refuted by the renowned Nigerian tech entrepreneur and investor Victor Asemota.
While Bola Tinubu was the governor of Lagos, he invested in Econet Wireless Nigeria on behalf of the state government. This was due to the failure of Econet to provide the promised 40% fund needed to acquire the 2001 GSM license.
With this, the state government was allowed to buy part of the secondary shares worth $285 million from existing shareholders. This was made possible by Wale Tinubu, the chief executive officer (CEO) of Oando and a relative of the former governor of Lagos State.
With the exchange rate of N133.4 to $1 in 2001, the Lagos State government invested about $29 million out of the $285 million. This was about 9.5%. The investment made by the state yielded N11 billion to the N4 billion invested in the company.
Though the institutional investment was made under his administration, it did not translate to him being the forebearer of the company in Nigeria. This was done by the founder of the company – Strive Masiyiwa.
Strive Masiyiwa, now the richest man in Zimbabwe and one of the wealthiest in Africa, started the Econet journey in 1994 when he sold his engineering company Retrofit to fund Econet wireless.
Though the initial stage of the company met with opposition from the government, he succeeded and launched the telecom in 1998.
The company started its operations with mobile phone companies in Botswana and Zimbabwe. But today, it operates in more than 23 African markets, including Nigeria.