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.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    @ Myk
    So, from Zimbabwe, you know more about the telecoms market in Nigeria than all those who speak from the experience of living in Nigeria???

    All we are asking for is fact-based journalism. Yes, there are shortcomings in the Nigerian telecoms industry. But it is no where as bad as Sola has stated here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    I agree with Sola. Shame on all those who say he is wrong for you are denying the truth and therefore blocking yourselves from the opportunity's of change and growth. I am a Zimbabwean national and we experienced the same problem a few years ago. but at the moment, we have no problems with our service providers and are enjoying instant call connections coupled with latest 3G mobile internet speeds

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Thanks Solar:

    Your writing should be a warning signal in our new Republic of South Sudan. Taking advantage of lack of regulations, telecommunication thugs have rushed into the new country to open telecom companies and Universities. Recently a competent minister closed down 21 Universities most of them operating in homes and markets. I hope telecommunication is given more attention too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    My friend in Scotland, UK has to position his handset at a rather awkward co-ordinate in his student apartment to get good signal reception. Also, I have tried reaching him on COUNTLESS occasions with no success..big thanks to his network service provider. Imagine this happening in the glorified UK........

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    I honestly believe that you have no interest in the system neither do I, but we should not collectively pounce on someone who is only doing his job. We may not agree with his presentation of facts but that is democracy. Freedom of speech, you know, is a guarantie that we are in Democracy.
    If I have hurt your feelings, I am sorry. God bless you!

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    My sister traveled to the U.S.A three weeks ago and I was bewildered when she told me that having a good telephone service reception is a challenge in the area they live. Shola though am not out to defend what our telecom providers are rendering to us but I want to say that it seems the whole world is fast driving towards moniterism against professionalism

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    I honestly do not have any form of interest in the Nigerian communication system. I am just a young Nigerian who believe in the future of my country. I have no other country! We cry about things that are wrong in Nigeria, Sola’s journalism is one of them. Now, can you answer my questions?

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Sorry...this is easy, lazy, headed no-where, journalism. No more than just another cheap shot...and way off-target, too.

    I'm a long-term Nigeria (European) ex-pat. OK...the system is a more than a little dodgy...but the service I get here still beats to a pulp anything I could get in SA five years ago. Nothing is perfect her but thing's get better day-by-day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    @Dozned & Co:
    Only peope with an inavowable vested interest in the organized communication system inefficiency would raise the hue and cry for Sola's apology. I am not one of them! Are you?

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.


    Do you agree that Sola needs to apologise to us all for fabricating a lie ("called party pays for received calls in Nigeria" among others...) and misleading the general public & his employers BBC?

    Do you agree that BBC being a responsible employer should also render an apology on this and in the light of previous lies by Sola, consider his future in BBC? Journalism is about Integrity!

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    @Just_saying & Co
    You are very clever at trying to divert people's attention from the main problem. We are concerned over the inefficiencies of the communication system in Nigeria. Please read Prince Osuagwu's report. Penalty over poor quality of service by the Nigerian Communication Commission. Leave Sola alone!

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Sola Odunfa has greatly exaggerated the GSM problem in Nigeria. Having 2 phones on diiferent networks allow you to take advantage of lower intra- network rates. This is a careless article.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Dear Sola,
    Will you be apologising for fabricating a lie ("called party pays for received calls in Nigeria" among others...) and misleading the general public including your employers?

    Dear BBC,
    Would you acknowledge that genuine information seeking public have been misled & apologise? Will Sola continue to have the opportunity to deceive you and your reading audience? Please act on this. Thanks

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    @ Afrodyke, pls answer the following...

    Sola says called party pays for calls in Nigeria. True or false?

    He uses revenues of telecoms firms as proof of rip off. Yet failed to talk about profits which will show how much they spend. True or false?

    He suggests that poor call quality forces Nigerians to have 1+ phone. Yet he ignores cheaper on-net tariffs, business need as reasons. True or false?

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Do I need a mirrow to examine what I am holding in my palm? No! Therefore I don't need other commentators approval to confirm what I know to be true. Experience alone in many domains will suffice!
    Only in a law court would I be required to produce evidence for or against. In this case, we are reacting to a given situation in different ways following one's personal experience.


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