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Every month, Nigeria’s telecoms regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) releases the latest figures around the country’s telecoms subscribers and internet users. While the various telecoms operators experience ups and downs in subsequent months, one parameter is consistently on the increase – total number of active mobile internet users – which adds millions of new users every month.
It wasn’t like this in times past until some things happened apart from the advent of the global system for mobile communication (GSM). It is rather sad to note that these critical developments, positive and negative, are not well celebrated nor recognized for the roles they played in building an internet ecosystem from a point where nobody wanted it, to its current state in which everyone (almost everyone) in the country now desires to be online.
Here are five of such milestone developments.
The history of internet in Nigeria is incomplete without recognizing the immense roles that cybercafés played. Internet came to Nigeria before GSM, which meant that anyone that desired internet connection back then had to go to cybercafés – even most of the popular and successful tech guys in Nigeria, especially those that are above 25 years, probably registered their first email address at a cybercafé.
Furthermore, the decision of foreign countries including the United States, to compel individuals that were interested in participating in the visa lottery and recruitment services, to register online pushed many individuals who ordinarily wouldn’t have had anything to do online back then to troop en masse to the various cybercafés that were charging an average of one dollar for one hour of internet access.
Yahoo – mail, messenger, boys
The story of Yahoo in Nigeria is similar to that of Nokia considering the fact that they are the ‘first love’ of Nigerians. Everyone wanted Yahoo email addresses back then. And as a matter of fact, many Nigerians thought Yahoo was the only company that was offering emailing services and this was why everyone went for Yahoo initially, until Google came with Gmail and the attention and interest gradually shifted away from Yahoo.
Yahoo Messenger was another big deal in the history of internet adoption in Nigeria. It wasn’t surprising to see people that visited cybercafés back then spending hours on Yahoo messenger – especially the chat rooms where they could chat with loved ones abroad – since international calls were outrageously expensive back then, and meet cool new people in the chat rooms – new people that were willing to talk sex and other stuff.
More young Nigerians were fascinated with the fact that they could talk to total strangers, especially those of opposite sex and who reside thousands of miles away from them. Some of such dialogues even went as far as creating travel opportunities and love relationships – in addition to several material gains. The relate ease with which the foreign chat mates could be duped led to the era of online fraudsters referred to as Yahoo boys.
Some of them work on fulltime while others work on part-time basis but what they do is similar – they lurk around chat rooms in search of who to tell fake sensitive stories and would give stuff in return – stuff like electronic gadgets, cars, money and several others. Many youth developed interest in this new way of making money spreading like wildfire across the country’s academic institutions, especially those in the southwest part of the country. One of such schools is the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology where Yahoo Boys recently celebrated the death of the man that was notorious for snitching on the Yahoo Boys to security operatives.
Google and Wikipedia
Not all Nigerian internet users went online because they wanted to meet someone that would be sending money to them. Some of the upright ones in schools got to know the internet through the wonder-working powers of search engines such as Google. They know that Google knows everything and has answers to every question. Therefore, whenever they got difficult assignments, they knew they could take the questions to Google for answers.
Over time, they also discovered that the perfect answers could be gotten on Wikipedia. This also endeared Nigerians who are students to the internet and grew so popular to the extent that some teachers and lecturers started to reject Wikipedia as a referenced information source. This didn’t stop thee students from using them anyways.
Internet cheats, Opera Mini
When mobile internet capabilities finally became available in Nigeria, the costs were initially outrageous, such that many Nigerians kept their devices’ internet connection off. But this became a challenge to the highly inquisitive citizens who went all the way in search of how to browse for free.
So many tweaks were discovered and shared – some lasted for months while some only lasted few hours before the networks blocked the loopholes the cheats were capitalizing on. There were several chat groups and WAP sites where Nigerians could get the ‘latest cheats’ for free; it also became an international syndicate considering the fact that tech guys from India, Pakistan and elsewhere were giving Nigerians the latest tweaks that they were using in their respective countries that Nigerian telcos wouldn’t have been aware of and interestingly, most of those cheats only worked with Opera Mini browser.
It is therefore not surprising to note that Opera Mini has more users in Nigeria than elsewhere on the continent.
The subject of free internet also became a moral dilemma as religious Nigerians debated whether the use of internet cheats and tweaks was a sin – but it didn’t stop the youth from getting the latest codes after Sunday school, just before the praise and worship session.
Social media – Hi5, MySpace, Facebook
The desire to connect with friends, enemies, families, relatives, and people living in other countries especially USA and the United Kingdom, played crucial roles in encouraging more Nigerians to go online. The success of social media in Nigeria is an attestation to the fact that citizens didn’t just want to read emails on Yahoo, search for answers on Google or get tweaks to access the net to read articles on Wikipedia, no. Instead, back then, they also desired to say something – they wanted their voices to be heard.
They wanted to tell someone they care about them; they wanted to hear it from some also. They wanted to take pictures and share them with others, they wanted everyone to know they were happy, have the best family, and they ate breakfast. Even now, they still do and that is where Facebook will continue to be popular until something more social is launched.
Hi5 had its high moments in Nigeria, so did MySpace. Facebook and Twitter are getting the attention of Nigerians and are the reasons why many citizens want to go online. But as time goes on, they will desire to do more than just liking pictures, posting updates and watching videos. And looking back at the history of internet in Nigeria, it appears that the average internet user did not change, is not changing and will not change – he only demands more and will continue to do so till the end of time.