We are committed to operational excellence – IHS Nigeria CEO
Mohamad Darwish is the CEO of IHS Nigeria. In this interview, he said IHS has an accomplished track record of entering new markets and regions, having successfully developed leading positions in seven countries in Africa. He said the company has deployed latest and most innovative technologies which have seen its continued growth. Excerpts
Please give us an insight into what you do at IHS Nigeria
IHS Nigeria has over 16,800 towers in its portfolio and it’s a member of the IHS Towers group (“IHS”), one of the largest independent owners, operators, and developers of shared communications infrastructure in the world. IHS has an accomplished track record of entering new markets and regions, having successfully developed leading positions in seven countries in Africa – Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Rwanda, Zambia, and most recently, Egypt and South Africa; in Latin America – Brazil, Peru, and Colombia; and in the Middle East in Kuwait.
We have continued to experience growth over our 21 years of operation in Nigeria and maintained an upward trajectory due to our aim of deploying the latest, most innovative technologies and operational expertise. This includes colocation and lease amendment, build-to-suit, inbuilding solutions and distributed antenna solutions (DAS), and related network technologies such as fibre and rural telephony. We are supporting Nigeria’s digital transformation in partnership with the country’s leading mobile network operators (MNOs).
We believe our infrastructure has a positive impact on the Nigerian socio-economic environment. It enables our customers, primarily MNOs, to provide millions of Nigerians with access to digital services that help break down barriers, accelerate inclusiveness and drive transformation across multiple sectors, from manufacturing to healthcare, financial services, and education. As connectivity reaches more and more people, there is a ripple effect – a growing value chain where more individuals, businesses, and communities make connections, and more opportunities are created for people and businesses to thrive and prosper. Better connections equal better opportunities.
What differentiates you from other firms offering similar services, and how is yours unique?
We aim to provide unparalleled, best-in-class services to our customers using innovative and sustainable solutions. We are committed to operational excellence. Driven by a dedication to delivering superior service delivery through fast-paced deployments. Our people continue to be our most valuable asset and are guided by our four corporate values of customer focus, innovation, integrity, and boldness.
We are committed to acting with integrity as we seek to promote ethical business practices across all our operations. We believe our innovative mindset lies at the heart of our ability to be pioneering, flexible and agile in responding to customer needs in today’s ever-changing environment.
You were recently shortlisted as one of Africa’s fastest-growing companies, according to Financial Times, a leading financial news platform in the world. Tell us about it and what impact will it have on your brand.
The Financial Times published their 2022 ranking of Africa’s Fastest-Growing Companies in May, and IHS Nigeria was recognised as one of the top performers among 75 companies. Most notably, we were the only company within our sector, a significant achievement for a company which started in Lagos, Nigeria but has become a multi-national listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
This ranking acknowledges our expertise and commitment to high standards of corporate governance and sustainable business practices. It recognises IHS as a global company with an African heritage and Nigerian roots. It acknowledges the opportunities available for companies operating in Africa, specifically Nigeria. At IHS Nigeria, we continue to meet perceived challenges and leverage inherent opportunities. We hope our growth journey inspires other Nigerian companies, particularly small and medium enterprises (SMEs), to think ambitiously.
What would you say are your biggest constraints in delivering services to customers?
Despite the role of a towerco in expanding digital access in Nigeria, our sector continues to face challenges. That said, I believe these can be addressed with the right policies.
Currently, there are difficult macroeconomic factors at work; inflation, foreign exchange volatility and rising energy costs that are being grappled with globally. For Nigeria, additional issues, including insecurity, theft of base station assets, power, and other emerging network deployment challenges, such as the right of way and obtaining permits in urban areas, are further escalating these difficulties.
However, we believe that the Federal Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), in partnership with the private sector through the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) and Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) are working to address these issues. We look forward to the approval of the Critical National Infrastructure Bill, which seeks to address the issues of frequent fibre cuts, infrastructure ttheft, vandalisation and community access denial, amongst other sectorial issues.
The coronavirus pandemic has left a lot of disruptions in all areas of human endeavours, including your sector, even though there seems to be some level of easing now. How has this disruption impacted your areas of expertise within the industry?
The COVID-19 pandemic left a trail of socio-economic disruptions and challenges even in the most advanced economies. However, as a forward-looking our industry remained resilient throughout due to significant demand for data and voice-related services as consumers depended on these services to work, maintain social ties, and access remote services, including education and healthcare, throughout national lockdowns.
In Nigeria, we also had to navigate challenges relating to movement restrictions and supply chain disruptions to continue maintaining high operational uptime for our customers. It was certainly an interesting time. As forward-looking company with business continuity planning, we were able to operate relatively unaffected. With the support of the Federal Government that designated telecommunications as an essential service, we were able to ensure our sites continued to operate with limited, uninterrupted network availability. We introduced measures, including strict social distancing and personal protective equipment (PPE), for the safety and security of our employees, especially our frontline workers who conducted onsite and remote monitoring and routine maintenance throughout. In addition, we sought to support our local communities and leveraged multi-sectorial partnerships to aid national relief efforts. For example, in collaboration with UNICEF Nigeria, we funded the purchase and distribution of over 132,000 COVID-19 test kits, PPE and oxygen concentrators to the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control.
While the pandemic reiterated the importance of our services, it also highlighted certain gaps in Nigeria’s communications infrastructure. This has triggered the fast-tracking and renewed advocacy for additional infrastructure offerings such as fibre, rural telephony, and Internet of Things (IoT) technology. Since 2020, we have rolled out thousands of kilometres of fibre optics cable in Nigeria and continued to innovate our rural telephony solutions, which we believe are ahead of the curve. Using open-source software and satellite technology, some base stations are powered by solar, with integrated batteries, and can deliver cost-effective solutions in most rural communities. I am excited by the huge developmental potential this connectivity brings, as it helps those living in the most remote parts of Nigeria access healthcare, education, and employment, and hopefully help improve their economic situation.
Many companies are taking their social responsibility seriously to maintain good relations with the public. What steps are you taking in this regard?
We believe that our business model is inherently sustainable as we deliver shared infrastructure solutions that promote digital connectivity and inclusion. Our colocation model enables customers to lease space on existing towers alongside current tenants, thus reducing operational costs, the number of towers required and the environmental footprint of our industry. Increased infrastructure sharing means less equipment, lower emissions, reduced safety risks, and fewer road kilometres driven.
However, we do not believe our responsibilities end with the advantages inherent to our business model. We aim to ensure continuous improvement by taking a strategic approach to sustainability through our four-pillar sustainability strategy focusing on ethics and governance, environment and climate change, education and economic growth, and our people and communities. This global framework is aligned with international charters such as the United Nations Global Compact Principles (UNGC) and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as well as Nigeria’s national aspirations to use telecommunications as a tool for economic growth. These inform our commitment to finding practical, innovative, and sustainable solutions to address the most significant social and environmental challenges across our value chain. We engage our employees, customers, and suppliers to develop partnerships with organisations and deliver sustainable programs for our local communities.
Over the last five years, we have impacted millions of Nigerians through various sustainability initiatives aligned with nine UN SDGs. We collaborate with the government, private sector, and national and international development agencies, including the Nigerian Red Cross, UNICEF, USAID, and Save the Children.
In terms of our operations, we actively seek to reduce our environmental footprint through responsible waste management and renewable energy deployment. Today, a percentage of our sites are powered by solar energy, and under our Group Generator Recycling Program, we refurbish and donate generators. This helps bridge the electricity gap, power critical equipment in hospitals, schools, orphanages, and community centres, and prevent generators from going to landfills.