African viewpoint: Nigeria's dialling dilemmas

Nigerian fashion models, one holding up a mobile phone

In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, writer Sola Odunfa considers the difficulty of making a phone call in Nigeria.

If you must make a call to anybody's mobile phone in Nigeria, you need to be understanding and patient - it can be a very frustrating and annoying experience.

In the first place, it takes luck for the call to get through, and when both parties are connected, there is no guarantee that you will hear each other or that the line will not drop after a few seconds.

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Everyone who can afford it has a minimum of two mobile phones from different operators”

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A conversation which normally should not last two minutes may after several calls take 10 minutes and, believe me, both of you will pay for every second.

Being very practical people, Nigerians have devised a way, though expensive, to ease the problem.

Why wait for government regulators who are believed to be more interested in the huge after-profit taxes accruing from the networks than the satisfaction of subscribers?

So everyone who can afford it has a minimum of two mobile phones from different operators.

Some have as many as four. They use whichever is operational at any given time.

We, the ignorant majority, would have thought that the networks would be restricted to the number of subscribers they can serve efficiently at any given time but, no, the experts who have all the wisdom disagree.

The networks continue rolling out new lines, spreading frustration and dancing all the way to the bank daily.

Difficult environment?

Early this year, the Nigerian Communications Commission decided to listen to subscribers.

A man ride on a motor taxi past a giant advertisement bill board for Glo Nigeria, a Globacom company, in Lagos, Nigeria -Sunday 13 May 2012 Mobile phone operators in Nigeria are now offering internet services

It warned that it would soon begin to penalise networks it might find wanting.

The hammer fell in early May on the country's four leading operators - MTN, Glo, Airtel and Etisalat.

They were fined between $1m (£634,000) and $2m each for allegedly falling below quality standards in the months of March and April this year.

The penalties may appear stiff in monetary terms, but we are talking here of an industry which reins in billions of dollars annually.

Published reactions of officials of some of the companies so far do not offer promises to improve quality of service.

There are all excuses for bad performance: Bad roads, poor public electricity supply, local taxes and occasional sabotage.

Listening to them, one would conclude that the business environment in Nigeria was unbearably hostile, yet they keep expanding and they cart away more profits.

Rotting landlines
A woman on a mobile phone in Abuja, Nigeria Nigeria has the most mobile phone subscribers in Africa with more than 93 million

In the face of this poor quality of service, the leading networks in Nigeria have not only diversified, but are also paying more attention to internet services.

They are aggressively marketing high-brow smart phones for business solutions, leaving their millions of other subscribers to choke on their cheap phones.

As they have been unable to provide service on ordinary phones, I wonder how they can cope with phones which have gone "smart".

Other African countries need to keep an eye on the telecoms development in Nigeria so they do not fall prey to the sweet talk on new technology.

When Nigeria introduced the GSM (global system for mobile communication) network, it threw away its land-based system. Everything was now to be GSM.

The discredited national telecoms company was stripped down and advertised globally for sale; 10 years on, there are no buyers on the terms the government has laid.

The equipment is rotting away, yet the country needs the system.

Experts now say that no country can do without landlines because there is much one can do through them - like delivering broadband - that cannot be done by the mobile network.

I know nothing about the comparative technologies, but all I ask is that somebody gives me a real telephone that is a simple instrument which I can use to make and receive calls.

I'll find a computer when I need one.

If you would like to comment on Sola Odunfa's latest column, please use the form below.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Mr. Odunfa, you re correct in your analysis. I thought the cost of replacing the copper wires in our countries were the reasons for going wireless. I wish our leaders and people will be more PROactive than REactive. We are quick to disregard an system or infrastructure to chase after technology instead of finding ways to merge the old and the new. Maybe the problem is more greed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    Mr. Odunfa is very correct in his analysis. Like some of the commentators above had said- he over-exaggerated the scale of the telecoms companies inefficiency- is not true. He just painted the actual picture the way it looks. Where in the developed world would one person be carrying four different mobile phones when you are not a security man? We should call a spade a spade when it not a mattock!

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    I have lived in the UK for 39yrs, my opinion is that telecom services in the UK is NOT perfect but there is more accountability. In Nigeria, there are signs of improvement. We Nigerians must understand that we deserve better for the amount of money we spend on services. Land line is a necessity for many reasons. Whilst this article may not be accurate, it raises some important issues for debate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    I am in Benin City, Nigeria. The piece by this author completely blows the issue out of proportion. The mobile phone industry is not as bad as depicted here. I have read some of Sola's other piece, and i wonder why he usually blows things out of proportion. I use two mobile networks, MTN & Etisalat not because of call problems but because of extra promo one have (cheaper internet access)

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    This piece is not very accurate. Granted the current situation requires a lot of improvement. However two users don't pay for the same call. This statement is false, completely untrue. Only the initiator of a local call pays for it.


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