Abimbola: Strong Corporate Governance, Ethics Key to MainOne’s Success

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In this interview, MainOne’s Chief Financial Officer, Solanke Abimbola, discusses the company’s success over the past decade, expansion plans and projections for 2021 while noting that adherence to corporate governance principles and ethics have been key to the company

MainOne celebrated its 10 anniversary this year, and the company has been recognized for the leadership role it has played in the expansion of internet access in Nigeria. What are your projections for the ICT industry and MainOne in 2021?

We are pleased that for a company that is only ten years in operation, we have had such impact on Internet access across the West African region. In 2021, we anticipate that more people will migrate online, businesses will adopt cloud-based solutions to improve operational efficiency and data consumption per capita will increase, resulting in the growth of infrastructure requirements. To meet the increase in demand across the various market segments, we are expanding our terrestrial fiber footprint across the region and we are making additional data center investments including the expansion of our MDXi facility in Lekki, Lagos, and construction of a new data center facility in Appolonia City, Accra Ghana which will be ready for service in the first quarter of 2021. In addition, we expect to continue to see increased growth and investments in the start-up and innovation ecosystem which are driving locally relevant content and applications.

One of the factors that has distinguished MainOne over the years is the kind of products it brings to the market. What are the recent products you have developed, and what philosophy underlies product development at MainOne?

Our strategy remains enabling businesses and retail ISPs in the West African region with broadband infrastructure solutions to serve their end users and customers. This is built on the significant investments we have made in building out world class infrastructure across the West African region, whether via our Connectivity, Colocation, Cloud or Managed services. We are a company of many firsts and most recently we announced the launch of the first locally available Microsoft Azure Peering Service in West Africa. This service provides enterprises using Microsoft Cloud services with a secure high-performance experience relative to what is currently available in the market.

What should we expect from MainOne with your new investments in data centers in Nigeria and Ghana?

We want to continue to consolidate our leadership position in the data center space across West Africa. In addition to our existing facilities, the new facilities will also be carrier neutral secure facilities which will allow customers the capacity and flexibility to adapt to market changes especially during these challenging times of a Pandemic and recession. The data centers provide the highest quality of services to allow our colocated customers run their businesses online with 24X7 operation of a data center. They cater to the increasing demand for colocation and interconnection services we are experiencing from multinationals and local businesses seeking shared services facilities for their ICT resources in world class facilities.

The success of MainOne in the last decade is predicated on its Corporate Governance stance. What is your position on the Accounting Separation Framework (ASF) directive issued by the NCC this year?

MainOne has built a strong reputation of good Corporate Governance and take pride in our compliance practices. We have worked with our regulator’s directives on Corporate Governance and hold ourselves out as a role model and advocate for Nigerian companies in our industry. We think the ASF initiative by the NCC is laudable and long overdue to enhance fair competition in Nigeria’s telecom industry but only if the guidelines are transparent, objectively applied, and implemented.

Have you had issues with reporting your financials in the past, and how have your stakeholders responded to issue of disclosure?

MainOne is a private company but we have an open record of compliance with all our statutory filing obligations since inception with the various relevant agencies including Federal and State Tax agencies, the Corporate Affairs Commission, NCC and also the FRC among others. We have had no issues with reporting our financial statements in the past and we have consistently disclosed information to both shareholders and regulators when required. Of course, as a private company we do not publish our financial information in the public domain.

MainOne is administered from its headquarters (in Lagos), but the company is not solely a Nigerian company. How are the component units administered?

MainOne is a multi-national company, with our Group holding company registered in Mauritius. The group includes subsidiary companies in the various countries in which we operate including Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Portugal. Our Group operational headquarters is based in Lagos Nigeria and the company is also majority owned by Nigerian investors. We are proud to be a Nigerian owned multi-national company.

What is your stance with respect to regulations, policies and corporate governance in the countries where you operate?

MainOne conducts its business in an ethical manner and one of our core values is integrity. Our business is focused on doing well and doing good as Africans for Africa in accordance with applicable laws, rules, and regulations in countries in which we operate. Obeying the law, both in letter and in spirit, and ensuring regulatory compliance is a critical performance measure for the entire company and an area in which we have performed well.

We have invested significantly in regulatory and compliance frameworks and ensuring that we adopt international best practices in meeting all compliance requirements.

What are your expansion plans for 2021? Any plans for Cameroon? Any challenges on the road there?

In 2021, we plan to explore further opportunities to expand in Francophone West Africa e.g. Niger and Mali, while we continue to drive plans to further expand in our existing countries i.e. Nigeria (Lagos), Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire. In Burkina Faso, we have partnered with the World Bank to provide bulk connectivity services to a consortium of operators through the PAV – Burkina Cooperative. With regards to Cameroon, we have extended our submarine cable to Kribi and partnered with Cameroon Telecommunications Corporation (CAMTEL) to accelerate broadband access and expedite penetration in that country and into neighboring Central African countries.

In the past, issues with taxation and Right-of-Way clearances encumbered broadband deployment, especially in Nigeria. Have they all been resolved? What has changed in the last half decade?

Major improvements have been made in the region especially in the last couple of years with regards to Right of Way challenges. However, there are still some lingering issues. Early this year, Ekiti and Kaduna State governments reduced the cost of Right of Way charges and several other states followed suit. We believe these moves will help accelerate the deployment of fast and efficient infrastructure in these states though these conditions are not sufficient for the level of investment required. Challenges remain in terms of infrastructure sharing arrangements and also the need for policy consistency over time that will encourage companies to make these long-term investments. As soon as we tackle these issues effectively, we will be able to realize our vision to diversify from oil and create a digital economy.

Tell us about the developmental impact of your services. What have you seen changed in the lives of people and organisations as a result of your services?

Our biggest achievement to date is building the pioneering international backbone that reduced the cost of connecting our region to the Internet by orders of magnitude thus enabling access for our citizens. We have provided wholesale Internet services to over 10 West African countries and Internet penetration in our region has grown from less than 10% to approximately 40% today. Today, we have 6 cables landing in Nigeria and the country is ranked 7th globally in terms of Internet population. In addition, we have played a major role in enabling the start-up ecosystem in Nigeria which is now ranked N0.1 in sub-Saharan Africa and which has relied on the critical technologies we have deployed to drive their business models.