Billionaire businessman and Chairman of Zenith Bank Plc , Mr Jim Ovia’s partnership deal with a global Chinese telecom Company (Name withheld) has been repudiated following the former’s quiet return of controversial Digital Dividend 900MHz Spectrum issued to his company, Cyberspace by former President Goodluck Jonathan. Cyberspace, a Lagos-based ISP, was issued the spectrum in very controversial circumstances. Experts say the issuance was a clear breach of industry procedures. It was issued at a paltry sum of N3billion.
Ovia, the founder of Zenith Bank had upon receipt of the spectrum from the Nigeria Communications Commission(NCC) entered into a partnership with an international Chinese firm to launch nationwide and worldwide, with the Chinese company providing technical support to Ovia’s Cyberspace.
Cyberspace paid the N3billion in March 2015.
High-level diplomatic sources at the Chinese Embassy in Nigeria told in The New Diplomat that the “partnership was later repudiated because there was no spectrum to run with as Mr Ovia had returned the digital dividend spectrum 900MHz to the NCC following the election of President Muhammadu Buhari and his subsequent swearing into Office on May 29th last year. And given Buhari’s no-nonsense posture to issues of transparency, it was feared that the deal could be probed by his incoming administration.’’
A top Diplomat and a Presidency official told The New Diplomat that the idea behind Cyberspace partnership deal with the Chinese firm was to enable Ovia’s firm go global since its original area of coverage was Lagos.
“Cyberspace, a fully-owned ISP based in Lagos belonging to Ovia covers only Lagos. So when he (Ovia) acquired Spectrum 900MHz, an action that generated so much public outrage and petitions in the industry, there was genuine concern in high quarters. The idea was to bring the Chinese firm on board to provide technical capability backing to enable Cyberspace launch nationwide and globally. But those were some of the grave ethical mistakes committed by former President Jonathan. Experts and those who are very knowledgeable in the industry believe that that 900MHz Spectrum which was handed over to Ovia’s company without public auction or public bidding at a meagre sum of N3billion could rake in as much as N100 billion if it is thrown open to public bidding process or public auction,” the official said.
Ovia had quietly returned the spectrum to the NCC as soon as President Buhari assumed Office. The NCC, then under Mr Eugene Juwal’s (a man believed to have been recommended to Jonathan by Ovia) had accepted the returned spectrum fearing that Buhari would not tolerate clear breach of ethics.
The Digital dividend enables telecom companies and internet service providers to launch faster mobile broadband services. The spectrum became available after the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) directed the broadcast industry to migrate from analogue to digital by June last year. The migration consequently freed part of the electromagnetic spectrum previously used for analogue broadcasting and this spectrum is coveted by telecoms companies worldwide.