The financial crisis that led to the shutdown last week of one of the early pioneers of Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) service in the country, ZOOMmobile (formerly Reltel Wireless), is far from over as retrenched staff, trade partners and creditors are up in arms against the company.
Already, the ex-staff are mobilising to hold a massive protest against the owners of the company to push for the payment of salary arrears of about six months and other outstanding benefits, while the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) last week engaged the services of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to recover taxes running into billions of naira.
ZOOMmobile, which once boasted of sound financial plans and profit before tax of about N16 billion is now a shadow of itself, with debts totalling N27 billion owed other telecom operators for network interconnection, annual operating levies and spectrum fees owed the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), salary arrears owed ex-staff, debts to Swap Telecoms and other trade partners and tax authorities.
Chief Annie Okonkwo, Chairman of ZOOMmobile who spoke to LEADERSHIP last week said despite the change of management in 2011 and infusion of turnaround experts who were supposed to revive the once fledgling CDMA network, the company continued to bleed.
Explaining why he had to in one fell swoop sack staff and management, he said: “ZOOMmobile was operating at a negative, it was making loss. We were pumping N150 million monthly, whereas only N9 million was coming in. We needed to restructure and the best option was to curtail our losses.”
Sources within the disengaged staff said one of the reasons the management failed to revive the ailing network was lack of competent hands brought in to revive the company. “These people were recruited and paid roof-top salaries, given expensive vehicles with drivers but they lacked the requisite know-how to deliver, yet loyal experienced staff were not promoted and neither had their salaries raised.”
The former senator said the disengaged staff who demonstrated in front of the company head office early last week had been paid off. “They’ve paid them since last month based on money that came from outside, not money that they generated.”
However, it looks like the company is still going to have scores to settle as the disengaged staff are planning a massive demonstration this week with the support of the Save Nigeria Group (SNG).
On the future of ZOOMmobile, he said the board was already in discussion with a number of investors. “We are in talks with about five or six local investors with the aim of acquiring majority stakes.”
The CDMA mobile operator was last year disconnected from the terminating voice call (TVC) and short message service (SMS) to and from network of Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) service providers through a directive issued by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) due to inability to pay interconnect fees.
ZOOMmobile, had in 2011 appointed Mr. Momife, former managing director of Mobile Telecommunications Limited (Mtel), the mobile arm of Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL) as its chief executive few days before NCC ordered its disconnection from the telecom network.
Its interconnect debts which ran into billions of naira led the NCC to order its disconnection from the network of other operators after several meetings failed to resolve the situation. The telecom regulator had in an advertorial placed in a number of national dailies issued the directive empowering the operators to disconnect ZOOMmobile after 21 days from the date of the advertorial.