NIGERIA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net OBSTACLES TO ACCESS Internet access in Nigeria has grown exponentially in recent years, particularly after the introduction of mobile-phone data services and Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) services.
There were about 100,000 users in 1999,3 but the figure grew to 11 million in 2008,4 and reached almost 44 million in 2010.5 This large jump in access is due to an increase in mobile-phone usage and data services over this period, private sector and government investment in technology, and increased competition between FWA providers.
Nevertheless, the penetration rate is only 30 percent of the Nigerian population, and access is greater in urban areas than in rural regions. Cost is a key barrier to access for many Nigerians, as the price for internet use ranges from US$1 per hour in cybercafes to an average of US$7 per megabyte of data on Global System for Mobile (GSM) networks. FWA service costs an average of US$80 per month. By comparison, the new minimum wage announced by the government in July 2010 is US$120 per month.6 Literacy remains an obstacle as well, as 28 percent of the population is illiterate, particularly in English, the main language used by Nigerian online news outlets and blogs.According to a May 2009 survey of internet users, most Nigerians access the internet from cybercafes or their workplace, while only 17 percent do so from home. Among these users, a large percentage is well educated, with 41 percent holding secondary school degrees and 32 percent holding bachelor’s degrees.8 In recent years, frequent power cuts have become an impediment to internet access, with many users reportedly using private generators to stay online during outages. A number of cybercafes have closed due to difficulties paying for such expensive backup power generation in addition to internet service. The loss of cybercafes has been somewhat offset by the rise of mobile internet usage and affordable packages offered by FWA service providers. Although many providers use the word “broadband” in their promotional materials, in practice there is limited broadband service available in Nigeria, with some estimates placing the number of broadband subscribers as of December 2009 at only 67,800. Ibid.
“Nigeria Internet Users Tops 11 Million, Penetration Now 7.8%,” Web Trends Nigeria (blog), October 8, 2009, http://webtrendsng.com/blog/nigeria-internet-users-tops-11-million-penetration-now-7-8/.
Internet World Stats, “Internet Usage Statistics for Africa,” http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats1.htm#africa, accessed August 27, 2010.
Funmi Komolafe, “The Road to a New National Minimum Wage,” Vanguard, July 22, 2010, http://www.vanguardngr.com/2010/07/the-road-to-a-new-national-minimum-wage/.
United Nations Children’s Fund, “At a Glance: Nigeria—Statistics,” March 2, 2010, http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/nigeria_statistics.html.
‘Gbenga Sesan, “Digital Lifestyle of Connected Nigerians: Advance Report,” Paradigm Initiative Nigeria, March 2010, http://www.pinigeria.org/download/dlcnadvance.pdf.
Internet World Stats, “Africa: Nigeria,” http://www.internetworldstats.com/africa.htm#ng, accessed August 27, 2010.
NIGERIA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net The number of mobile-phone subscribers has increased dramatically over the past decade, from almost no users in 2000 to over 83 million in 2010.10 Mobile internet penetration has also increased, reportedly reaching 7.3 million users by 2008.11 While users with any smart phone can access the internet on their mobile devices, specific handsets such as Nokia’s C3 and Research in Motion’s Blackberry provide bundled data services to mobile subscribers. The number of BlackBerry users appears to be growing, particularly among young Nigerians, though the cost of the service, whose efficiency is limited, remains $20 per month. According to credible sources in the industry, there were approximately 86,BlackBerry subscribers with the service providers MTN, Zain, and Etisalat as of July 2010.Until recently, most businesses requiring high bandwidth—such as internet-service providers (ISPs), banks, and telecommunications companies—relied on satellite links and the SAT-3 undersea cable for their international internet connection. When the SAT-3 cable encountered problems in July 2009,13 as much as 70 percent of the country’s internet traffic was cut off.14 In March 2007, the government established the Nigerian Internet Exchange Point as a means of connecting ISPs to one another; as of mid-2010, it had 22 members15.
Several telecommunications companies have also migrated to private fiber-optic cable projects, such as Glo-1 and MainOne. The latter cable went live on July 1, 2010, and now provides connectivity for the ISPs MTN, Etisalat, and Starcomms,16 though the reduced cost of a cable rather than a satellite connection has yet to be passed on to consumers. Despite media reports in 2009 that the Glo-1 cable had been connected, 17 as of late-2010 it was still not operational.
The video-sharing website YouTube, the social-networking site Facebook, the microblogging application Twitter, and various international blog-hosting services are freely available and among the most popular websites in the country. As of December 2010, there Nigerian Communications Commission, “Subscriber Data,” http://www.ncc.gov.ng/subscriberdata.htm, accessed December 27, 2010.
“Mobile Internet Usage Soars in Nigeria,” ITNewsAfrica.com, December 4, 2008, http://www.itnewsafrica.com/p=1906.
Interviews with employees of MTN, Zain, and Etisalat who requested anonymity, August 2010. Globacom figures were not available at the time of writing.
Efem Nkanga, James Emejo, and Chinwe Ochu, “Nigeria: Damage to SAT-3 Cable Cripples Banks, Internet Services,” This Day, July 29, 2009, available at http://allafrica.com/stories/200907290153.html.
“Damage to SAT-3 Cable Disrupts Internet Services in Nigeria,” Afrique en Ligne, July 29, 2009, http://www.afriquejet.com/news/africa-news/damage-to-sat-3-cable-disrupts-internet-services-in-nigeria2009072932548.html.
Internet Exchange Point of Nigeria, “Our Members,” http://www.nixp.net/index.phpoption=com_content&view=article&id=13&Itemid=13, accessed December 29,2010.
Sean Buckley, “Main One Cable Rakes in Three Carrier Customers,” Fierce Telecom, July 22, 2010, http://www.fiercetelecom.com/story/main-one-cable-rakes-three-carrier-customers/2010-07-22.
Rebecca Heacock, “Nigeria: New Submarine Internet Cable Lands in Lagos,” Global Voices, September 7, 2009, http://globalvoicesonline.org/2009/09/07/nigeria-new-submarine-internet-cable-lands-in-lagos; Prince Osuagwu, “Glo Submarine Cable Lands in Lagos,” Vanguard, September 6, 2009, http://www.vanguardngr.com/2009/09/06/glo-1submarine-cable-lands-in-lagos.
NIGERIA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net were reportedly 2.1 million Facebook users.18 According to Alexa, a website rating company, the 10 most popular websites in Nigeria as of mid-2010 were Yahoo!, Facebook, Google.com, Google.com.ng, Blogger.com, Live.com, YouTube, Wikipedia, Nairaland (a Nigerian online discussion forum), and Twitter.19 Three other Nigerian websites—Punch newspaper at number 13, GTBank at number 18, and Vanguard newspaper at number 20— were cited in the top 20. The growing demand for advanced web applications has sparked multiple local clones of internationally known services.
The information and communication technology (ICT) market in Nigeria has expanded significantly over the past decade. The number of ISPs has risen from 18 in to 151 licensed and active providers as of mid-2010,20 as well as 14 active FWA providers,and four GSM mobile-phone operators that also provide internet access to their subscribers.22 A recent study that analyzed data from 2,069 internet users across Nigeria found the leading service providers to be Globacom, MTN, Starcomms, Zain, and Multilinks.23 Globacom, MTN, and Zain are GSM service providers, while Starcomms and Multilinks are FWA service providers. All of the above companies are privately owned. The only government-owned firm in the market, NITEL, is not particularly competitive. It has remained on the government’s privatization list for several years following multiple attempts to sell it. In February 2009, Transcorp, a local conglomerate with strong ties to the government, relinquished its 51 percent stake, which it had acquired in 2006.24 In February 2010, New Generation Telecoms, a consortium that includes China Unicom, won a controversial bid to purchase the company.25 Responding to allegations of corruption surrounding the purchase, the president initiated an investigation, and as of mid-2010 the transaction had yet to be concluded. Internet services are governed by the Nigerian Telecommunications Act, which vests regulatory responsibilities in the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). All ISPs must obtain a license from the NCC to operate, but there have been no reports of any ISP Facebakers, “Facebook Statistics Nigeria,” http://www.facebakers.com/countries-with-facebook/NG/, accessed December 29, 2010.
Alexa Web Information, “Top Sites in Nigeria,” http://www.alexa.com/topsites/countries/NG, accessed August 27, 2010.
Nigerian Communications Commission, “Internet Services,” http://www.ncc.gov.ng/Licensees/LicenseesInternet_Services.pdf, accessed December 31, 2010.
Nigerian Communications Commission, “Digital Mobile License,” http://www.ncc.gov.ng/list_of_licensees/Current/Digital_Mobile_License.pdf, accessed August 27, 2010.
Sesan, “Digital Lifestyle.” Transcorp, “NITEL Board Ratifies Appointment of Chairman: About NITEL,” September 24, 2008, http://www.transcorpnigeria.com/corporatecom/archives.phppage=fullstory&nid=60; Betrand Nwankwo and Juliet Alohan, “Nigeria: Transcorp Relinquishes 51 Percent Equity Share in Nitel/Mtel,” Leadership, February 26, 2009, available at http://allafrica.com/stories/200902260498.html.
Camillus Eboh, “New Generation Telecoms Acquires NITEL,” Reuters, February 16, 2010, available at http://234next.com/csp/cms/sites/Next/Home/5527697-146/new_generation_telecoms_acquires_nitel_.csp.
NIGERIA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net being denied a license or renewal of registration. However, new ISPs seeking to enter the market have faced challenges in their operations due to competition from larger ISPs and investor focus on the mobile sector. Although the NCC’s nine-member board is nominated by the government, the regulator’s decisions are viewed as relatively independent.
LIMITS ON CONTENT The Nigerian government has not been reported to engage in any form of internet filtering.27 According to a study by the OpenNet Initiative, several websites were inaccessible surrounding elections in 2007. However, the researchers concluded that the disruptions were due to technical problems, not government intervention.28 The complex nature of Nigeria’s internet framework as described above makes it difficult to carry out systematic filtering or censorship. Some ISPs have been known to block access when users infringe on laws by downloading copyrighted content, but this has been done to manage network traffic rather than protect intellectual property.
In June 2009, reports emerged that the Nigerian government planned to invest in sponsoring pro-government websites and blogs.29 In practice, it has not been possible to confirm whether the plan was implemented. Websites, blogs, and commentators are generally divided among anti-government, pro-government, and neutral leanings, and this has continued as online political discussions have increased in advance of polls scheduled for April 2011.
The country is home to a diverse blogosphere, with entertainment blogs drawing the most readers and a growing number of Nigerians blogging about their personal lives or social activism. Blogs have gradually emerged as an important platform for discussion and a source of reliable news for many users. Readers often leave comments on popular newsoriented blogs to express their frustration with societal ills. Although traditional media outlets often shy away from sensitive topics, such as late president Umaru Yar’Adua’s declining health, such topics are addressed freely online, with commentary ranging across blogs, Facebook, and Twitter. The Nigerian blogosphere includes both Nigerians living abroad and locally based writers. While many of the former are longtime bloggers, only in the past five years have Nigerian residents actively joined the blogosphere,30 with local OpenNet Initiative, “Country Profile: Nigeria,” October 1, 2009, http://opennet.net/research/profiles/nigeria.
OpenNet Initiative, “Internet Watch Report: The 2007 Presidential Elections in Nigeria,” November 2007, http://opennet.net/research/bulletins/014.
Global Voices, “Nigeria government launches attack against bloggers,”, June 25, 2009, http://advocacy.globalvoicesonline.org/2009/06/25/nigeria-government-launches-attack-against-bloggers/; Sahara Reporters, “Umaru Yar’adua Regime Launches $5 Million Online War,” June 16, 2009, http://www.saharareporters.com/newspage/umaru-yar%E2%80%99adua-regime-launches-5-million-online-war.
Remmy Nweke, “Nigeria: Blogging as a Trend in Nigeria,” Daily Champion, January 12, 2006, available at http://allafrica.com/stories/200601120144.html.