MTN Group remained committed to pushing ahead with plans to cut its presence in Nigeria, however the operator was tipped to pursue a sale in smaller chunks due to the effects of the Covid-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, Bloomberg reported.

In an interview, CFO Ralph Mupita told Bloomberg the South Africa-based operator would reduce its majority stake in its Nigerian business, the group’s largest unit, following numerous disputes with the country’s government over the years.

Most recently, it was hit with a claim to return improperly repatriated funds, as well as a demand for $2 billion in backdated taxes.

MTN holds a 79 per cent stake in the Nigerian business: it aimed to sell 15 per cent to local investors, but it will now likely conduct the sale in phases.

The move comes almost a year after MTN listed the unit on the county’s stock exchange, valuing the business at $5 billion at the time.

Its proposed sale in Nigeria is part of a broader three-to-five-year plan to dispose $1.4 billion-worth of assets, which could be put on the fence for now, added Mupita.

Virus impact
The coronavirus crisis has hit MTN’s share price significantly, reaching a 15-year low last week, but since rallying.

Mupita said the company, naturally, had no visibility on how it could all play out, but pointed to strong cash generation for its pre-paid contracts business and a resilient balance sheet.

He also told Bloomberg the company was preparing for a larger increase in data usage as more markets go into lockdown.

“We want to make sure that our networks have resilience and capacity,” he said. “We are looking at where we can drive broader coverage.”