Jan. 29, 2022


Tunji Alabi

Nigeria

Tunji Alabi

Managing Director, Infratel Africa

With some 90 infrastructure sites for telephony in Nigeria, Infratel is working on bridging the digital divide.

BIO

Tunji Alabi has over 30 years of proven international strategic leadership experience. His experience spans many industries including banking, oil and gas, telecommunications, healthcare, FMCG, and consulting. Alabi started his career at Citibank NA in the UK, gaining experience in business leadership and technology. In 2003, he spent three years with Airtel Nigeria (formerly Vmobile) and rose to the position of director of strategy. He then spent five years as group head of technology at Ecobank before joining Fidelity Bank in 2014. He holds a degree in computer engineering from the Obafemi Awolowo University Ife, Nigeria, and a postgraduate degree in telecommunication from South Bank University, London.


Can you tell us about Infratel's operations?

We are located in six countries on the continent. In 2019, I partnered with a friend to set up Infratel with the goal of bridging the digital divide by building up infrastructure in rural areas. We have been rolling out infrastructure across Nigeria, in partnership with MTN and 9mobile. MTN is ahead of the curve on a global level. We bring towers and radio, MTN brings the spectrum, and we share the revenue. MTN takes the cost of sale, distribution, taxes, regulatory costs out of the pot before we share it, and then we take 60, and it takes 40. We have another organization called Emerging Africa that leverages the infrastructure to create value in the community. We provide telemedicine, e-learning, solar panels, mini grids, and energy boxes. We create a digital village within that community, and we call it a DigiHub. We do mobile phone sales, we promote financial inclusion and remittances services, and we are also starting to work with local companies that can adopt the sales. We want to work with IHS Towers as part of our CSR strategy. The Emerging Africa venture is a sister company to Infratel.

Where are you creating these digital hubs?

Everything we do is solar based; we do not use generators; therefore, we have to establish the hubs where there is plenty of sunlight. The north-central region used to be an interesting area, though this is not the case now as there are clashes between locals and settlers. We are operating in the states of Kogi, Kwara, Nassarawa, Niger, and Benue. Now that Infratel is building in the northeast, northwest, and southwest, we always start working with the king of each place, before we put the kiosks in place. We do not deal with governments. With every digital hub, we provide power to those who did not have any before.

What was your financial engineering strategy, particularly in order to invest in solar?

A great deal of the financing was from internal equity, though we had also been planning this for four years. If anyone is doing rural telephony in Nigeria, we are involved because we have done all the research. We managed to make a fair amount of money from companies that were working on that. We are currently building 90 sites of infrastructure around the country. One tower can serve a 3-km radius, and it is solar powered. We have also partnered with many international companies that provide solar power, and we act as their local partners. We then reinvest in our projects, and we are heavily involved in sustainability. We are also looking into super capacitor batteries, which have a 25-year warranty and do not use any chemicals, and we will bring them to West Africa. The main use would be for data centers for data storage. Basically, anywhere where you use lithium batteries today, you can use super capacitor batteries.

How would you assess the telecommunications sector and doing business in Nigeria compared to other countries in Africa?

Nigeria is a difficult place to do business on the surface. You have to do your research, and it takes time. It is not a country where one can do business by chance. Unfortunately, the data is not readily available, so you have to go out into the field and acquire the data. In Nigeria, there is also a lack of the bigger picture, and the country is more short-term minded, which makes it harder to work on. We decided to work in other countries, which is why we are in Cameroon and Zimbabwe. We cannot afford to be in Nigeria alone, and this is the way to sustain the company. It is much easier to do business in those other countries compared to Nigeria, but they do not have the population, and this is where the most money can be made.

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