5 massive moments in Nigeria’s Internet adoption
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Photo Credit: karelnoppe/ Shutterstock

The number of active mobile Internet users in Nigeria is growing at a rapid pace. But it wasn’t always like this. Here’s an in-depth look at the factors that caused the Internet to flourish in this West African country.


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.

But it never used to be like this in Nigeria. 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 is online. Here are five of such milestone developments.

1. Cybercafes

The history of Internet in Nigeria is incomplete without recognizing the immense roles that cybercafes played. Internet came to Nigeria before GSM, which meant that anyone that desired Internet connection back then had to go to cybercafes. 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 cybercafe.

Furthermore, the decision of foreign countries including the U.S., to compel individuals that were interested in participating in the visa lottery and recruitment services, to register online brought many individuals to the various cybercafes that were charging an average of one dollar for one hour for Internet access.

2. Yahoo

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. But that was only until Google released 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 cybercafes 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.

Many young Nigerians were fascinated with the fact that they could talk to total strangers thousands of miles away from them. Some of these chats even went as far as creating travel opportunities and relationships. The relative ease with which people could be duped online led to the era of fraudsters referred to as Yahoo Boys.

Some of them worked on full time while others worked on part-time basis but what they do is similar. Yahoo Boys lurked around chat rooms in search people to tell fake sensitive stories and would give stuff in return – stuff like electronic gadgets, cars and money. Many Nigerians developed an interest in this new way of making money. This became particularly popular in the country’s academic institutions, especially those in the southwest part of the country. One such school 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.

3. Google and Wikipedia

Not all Nigerian Internet users went online because they wanted to meet someone that would send them money. Some got to know the Internet through the wonder-working powers of search engines such as Google. They knew that using Google it would be possible to find the answer to almost any question. Nigerian students quickly learned whenever they got difficult assignments, they knew they could turn to Google for answers.

Over time, they also discovered Wikipedia. This quickly became such an invaluable source for students that some teachers and lecturers started to reject Wikipedia as a  source. However, this didn’t stop students from using it anyway.

4. 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 didn’t last long and Nigerians soon started looking for ways 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.

This quickly became an international syndicate with techies from India, Pakistan and elsewhere giving Nigerians the latest tweaks that they were using in their respective countries. Most of the time Nigerian telcos weren’t aware of these loopholes. 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.

5. Social media – Hi5, MySpace, Facebook

The desire to connect with friends, families, relatives, and people living in other countries especially the U.S. and the United Kingdom, played a crucial role in encouraging more Nigerians to get online. The success of social media in Nigeria can not only be linked 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. Instead many Nigerians also wanted a platform that would let their voice 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 user did not change, is not changing and will not change – he only demands more and will continue to do as technology continues to advance.

This post was originally published on Memeburn.

Featured Image Credit: karelnoppe/ Shutterstock

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Paul Adepoju

About Paul Adepoju

Paul Adepoju is a media entrepreneur, published author and award-winning Nigeria-based freelance journalist. He speaks regularly at major African technology events including NigeriaCom and Nigeria eHealth Forum.

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