NIGERIA – MTN Group Ltd. plans to sell shares in the carrier’s Nigeria unit worth about 101 billion naira (US$244 million), continuing a plan to dispose of assets and pay down debt.

Africa’s largest mobile-phone operator will offer 575 million shares in MTN Nigeria Communications Plc, which listed in Lagos in 2019, according to a statement on Thursday. The move is part of a broader plan to sell about 14% of the parent company’s holding in its largest and most profitable unit, the group said.

The Nigeria sale comes as MTN looks to finalize a sale-and-lease back of its South African telecom-mast portfolio and list shares in the Uganda operation in Kampala. The company also netted some proceeds from the initial public offering of towers firm IHS Holding Ltd. in New York last month.

MTN said third-quarter service revenue gained by 19%, driven by data and fintech sales.

This comes as the telecoms reports an expansion in its fintech, data and digital revenue during the nine months ended September 2021, despite losing 7.5 million mobile subscribers due to SIM card restrictions.

MTN Nigeria chief executive Karl Toriola the telecoms company expected the decline in the overall subscriber base to bottom out in the fourth quarter of this year as it continued to feel the pinch of the regulatory restrictions on new SIM sales and activations.

MTN Nigeria is the multinational company’s most profitable African market and has grappled with regulatory issues. It is working on shifting the perception of MTN away from that of a foreign value-extracting entity.

“We expect the decline in the overall subscriber base to bottom out and return to positive net additions in the fourth quarter 2021 as we progressively ramp up our SIM registration and activation infrastructure, while adopting and aligning with the new regulations,” Toriola said.

The Nigerian Communications Commission banned the sale, registration and activation of new SIM cards in December last year and directed mobile operators to update their records with national identification numbers for every SIM in Nigeria. The suspension on new SIM activations was, however, lifted in April.

Toriola said that as of Thursday last week, about 39 million subscribers had submitted their national identity numbers (NIN), representing around 57% of the subscriber base and 67 percent of service revenue. The deadline for NIN verification was on Sunday (October 31, 2021).

Toriola said while its overall subscriber numbers had continued to decline over the last quarter, this had been at a reduced rate.

He said overall service revenue continued to grow, increasing by 23.7 percent, ahead of the rate of inflation and supported by voice revenue growth of 10.6 percent and accelerated data revenue growth of 51.5 percent.

Fintech service revenue grew by 55.2 percent on the back of increases in the use of the Xtratime product coupled with broader fintech services. Xtratime, the service that allows customers to borrow airtime on credit and repay on their next recharge, is the company’s volume driver.

The company boosted its mobile money agent network by 234 000 registered agents to total 630 000 agents at the end of the quarter.

“As a result, transaction volume in the nine months rose by more than three times to 93.3 million, led by an active subscriber base of 6.6 million, up 97 percent year-on-year,” he said.

“While we await the outcome of our PSB licence application, we continue to expand our mobile money (MoMo) operations and explore other verticals to scale our fintech ecosystem.”

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