Where did this Mafab Communications and its promoters emerge from? These were some of the initial feedback some deeply stunned Nigerians, particularly industry analysts, fervently sought answers to about the ownership of the new telecoms firm that fought Nigeria’s 5G Spectrum battle to the end, winning it alongside MTN on Monday at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel in Abuja, Nigeria’s federal capital. However, the answer isn’t farfetched as the new player in the Nigerian telecoms space is owned by a self-effacing billionaire businessman, Dr Musbahu Muhammad Bashir.
For the Kano-born silent tycoon, who is the Chairman of Althani Group, he has made a wide variety of investments, cutting across banking, insurance, oil and gas, real estate, telecoms, maritime and aviation, and thus helping the Nigerian evolving economy and its job market. To those who know him intensely, Bashir has developed a reputation for quietly running his mega businesses without floundering about seeking validation to herald his considerable achievements and endless resources unlike other wealthy Nigerians with unrestrained desire for show-off. But it’s awe-inspiring to see the entrepreneur suddenly a toast of the media with his indigenous telecoms firm surprising investors and analysts with a $275 million swoop on NCC’s three-horse race auction bid, slugging it out with the multinationals —MTN and Airtel. Initially, his hitherto unknown entity in the telecom space had taken everyone by surprise, emerging one of the contenders for the initial two licences for the next generation telecom network among the three preferred bidders. But on the D-Day, the surprising underdog went on to give the two telecoms giants a good run for their money, with Airtel dropping off at $270 million while Mafab joined MTN to pick the two Nigeria’s 5G licences at the eye-watering fees of $275 million each.
Expectedly, some immediately raised hell over the success of Mafab at the auction, wondering what experience this newbie would be banking on to execute the licence when finally granted. But some suggested that while Bashir and his firm might be regarded as the underdogs of the Nigeria telecoms mafia —it was just licensed July 8, 2020 to provide and operate local interconnect and international carrier services— he has, however, proven to be a promoter of a massive international data carrier with previous three licences for Interconnect Exchange, International Data Access and Value Added services. In fact, to underscore his readiness, sources said Bashir’s Mafab is almost ready to launch a greenfield mobile network operator, MNO, in Nigeria next year to join those existing players like MTN, Glo, Airtel and 9Mobile.
And to another set of doubters, winning is one stage, paying is yet another phase. To them, the winning bid price of $275 million (about N120 billion) to be paid by Mafab before February 24, 2022 at the prevailing exchange rate, is going to the government pocket 100 per cent. Bashir will still need to go sourcing for other huge funds to build and roll out the 5G infrastructure. But sources close to the business magnate say there is nothing to worry about. With his antecedent as a private equity investor, Bashir, it’s said, will be banking on his personal deep pocket with expected support from a rich network of powerful contacts who are high-net worth investors to make his dream of playing in the last-mile telecoms services market, albeit using the 5th generation telecom network to revolutionize the industry.