IHS seeks to scupper rival’s deal on MTN Nigeria towers

By Nqobile Dludla

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – IHS Holding has offered improved commercial terms to MTN Nigeria for the lease of 2,500 towers it lost to American Tower Corporation (ATC), saying the move would prevent network disruption in Africa’s most populous country.

MTN Nigeria, owned by South Africa’s MTN Group announced in September that the leasing on 2,500 sites due to expire in 2024 and 2025 was awarded to ATC Nigeria after a bidding process.

The mobile network operator said the deal would diversify its towers portfolio and unlock significant network cost efficiencies.

IHS Towers Chairman and CEO Sam Darwish told Reuters that these towers represent only a small fraction of his company’s total tenancies but it is willing to match ATC’s terms.

“IHS has offered improved commercial terms on the 2,500 towers to close the gap (between the offers) as our main aim is to prevent network disruption in Nigeria,” he said, without providing details on the terms.

MTN said the agreement with ATC is final and that MTN would continue to engage constructively with IHS on further opportunities that arise, including renewal of its other sites.

“Our preference is always for bilateral renewal, subject to competitive pricing and terms. In this instance the ATC proposal was superior,” the operator told Reuters.

IHS owns 16,000 towers in Nigeria, of which 14,600 are leased by MTN. About 13% of MTN’s portfolio sits with ATC, while 80% sits with IHS.

There is mounting fear that the cell-tower operator may lose more contracts as MTN Nigeria reviews other tower contracts coming up for renewal. The remaining tower leases with IHS expire between 2025 and 2029. The majority of those expire in 2029.

IHS is also embroiled in a shareholder dispute with MTN Group, its largest shareholder with a 26% stake, along with French financial investor Wendel and activist investor Blackwells Capital over governance issues.

Darwish said that IHS continues to engage with Wendel and MTN on the issues.

(Reporting by Nqobile Dludla; Editing by David Goodman)