Visafone Nigeria Ltd, a telecommunication company previously owned by Jim Ovia recorded sales of about N950 million from Zenith Bank alone between 2013 and 2015. This amount was disclosed in the financial statement of Zenith Bank Plc as a related party transaction.
Jim Ovia is the Chairman of Zenith Bank and the single largest shareholder of the bank. He was also the owner of Visafone Plc.
According to the disclosure, Zenith Bank paid Visafone, N235 million N364 million and N352 million in 2015, 2014 and 2013 respectively. The bank did not disclose how much it paid Visafone in the years prior to 2013. However, analyst believe Visafone may have raked in over N1.5 billion from Zenith Bank in the last 5 years.
Visafone has also enjoyed bank loans from Zenith Bank and as at 2014 carried about N345 million in loans from the bank. The loan was about N2.6 billion in 2013. Visafone has since repaid all of the loans. It is a frequent practice for bank directors to use their influence to obtain loans from their banks. CBN allows this provided it is at arm’s length and is performing.
Visafone was incorporated in Nigeria on June 20, 2007 following the acquisition of Cellcom and received its Unified Access Service Licence as a telecom operator from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) on August 1, 2007. The company was eventually acquired by Jim Ovia and rebranded subsequently to Visafone. Visafone is currently the largest CDMA operator in Nigeria (owns over 95% of the market) with over 2.1 million subscribers.
Visafone in January 2016 announced that it has been acquired by MTN after months of negotiations that began in 2015.