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Nigerian web first-timers long to be 'part of the world'

By Komla Dumor
BBC News, Nigeria

The world has become smaller. The connections established by e-mail and websites have significantly shortened the distances between people. We can live in London and shop in Johannesburg; we can be based in Brussels and run a business out of Mumbai.

Nicholas Madaki gets connected for the first time
Trying to get connected was a frustrating experience for Nicholas. Photo: Thomas Amter

The internet has become a constant and inescapable part of our lives. But what would life be like without e-mail, Facebook, or Skype?

It's hard to remember a time when we didn't have any of these - unless, of course, you are among those who never had it.

Welcome to Gitata, a small village in Nassarwara state in northern Nigeria. It is about two hours' drive from the shiny capital Abuja and is not remote in terms of physical accessibilty. But, in many other respects, Gitata is disconnected. It's not connected to the national electricity grid and has no running water or even a single tarred road.

The people are mainly traders and farmers.

Strolling through the village's small market, I spoke to people - young and old. I asked them whether they knew what the internet was.

"I hear it's something people use to talk to each other," one shopkeeper told me.

An elderly man described it as "something that young people play with."

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One woman saw it as something that "connects people with wires."

But when I asked people whether they had access to the internet, the answer was almost always no.

I later discovered that the nearest internet-connected computer was 35km away in the town of Keffi.

My mission in Gitata was to observe and learn. I wanted to find out what impact internet connection would have on the lives of people here. What would they do with it, for example, and would it change people's understanding of themselves and the rest of the world.

Enter Nicholas Madaki, a farmer, and Moses Maisauri, a teacher. These two young men were chosen after a meeting of the village elders to represent Gitata in our social experiment.

In January, I handed over two internet-enabled mobile phones to them. I returned a few weeks later to find out how they had progressed.

The results have been an eye-opener. Both Nicholas and Moses had to overcome the challenge of getting used to the technology: setting up a mobile e-mail account, establishing the basic connections to the service provider etc - challenges that mobile users everywhere experience.

Getting connected for the first time

But the barriers to information access are higher in Gitata. With no connection to the power grid, Nicholas and Moses had to pay a local barber who owned a generator a small fee to charge the phone. The fully charged phone would work for a day or so until it needed recharging.

The next barrier was getting a signal. The connection to the mobile service provider was irregular weak. It was no surprise then that access to the web required hours of patience.

Then there was the issue of cost. Our post-paid mobile phone needed regular recharging. The basic daily recharge required was about 500 naira, or just over US$3 a day.

But, with patience and determination Moses and Nicholas were online.

So what was the browsing experience like?

Problems of access

Nicholas complained about the frustration of getting access to the internet, but having done that, he said the experience was fascinating.

"I am seeing so many things I didn't know about. I have seen pictures from other countries," he said.

"I saw the White House internet site and I was able to send an e-mail for the first time. I was even able to read news about things happening in Nigeria and other parts of the world."

An enthusiastic Moses told me about visiting a number of health websites and learning about disease prevention. With a smile on his face he said: "In fact I feel like I am part of the rest of the world when I am on the internet."

But the joys of the internet age are clearly overshadowed by the problems of access.

Teacher Moses Maisauri gets connected
Teacher Moses Maisauri visited a number of sites on disease prevention. Photo Thomas Amter

"How can a poor man like me pay three dollars every day for recharge?" he asked. "I have to buy basic things for my family. Even though I like the internet, the government must find a way to make it affordable for people like me."

It's a thought that was echoed by Moses as we listened to the family in South Korea speak of how disconnected they felt when their internet connection was switched off.

As part of the SuperPower season, the BBC asked two families in central Seoul to live without the web for one week.

"They are very lucky. I feel so sad that we cannot have internet all the time. We want to be part of the world but the gap between us and the rest of the world is very big," he said.

The gap Moses speaks of is not just the connection gap - which divides the world into internet haves and have nots - but the economic gaps which raises the barriers in developing countries.

Nigeria is one of the better connected African countries. Hundreds of thousands in this West African powerhouse regularly access the internet.

The online community in cities like Lagos are as savvy and sophisticated as any in the world. But the minute you leave the urban centres, the stories of Moses and Nicholas are commonplace. But the desire to be part of the online world has not been dampened by the difficulties.

I asked Moses if, in light of the costs and the frustrations, he could survive without internet access. His response reminds me of the old adage "drink deep or taste not".

"I can survive without the internet but I cannot live without it. Now that I know what it can do for me and for people in Gitata, I will always want to have this kind of access. If I don't have it, life will be empty - there will always be something missing."

A selection of your comments:

Internet is what i can't do without. Any day i don't browse, the net, i feel sick. The benefit from the internet are ernomously. Good spirited should help people in remote area like Gatita have access to the net

Ekopma,Edo state

This reporter's choice of place for this survey is very wrong. The village he visited is close to the Nigeria's capital Abuja. He should go far north or deep into the creeks down south. He ll be shocked to the marrow. Communities there rely only on radio. Some dont even know what a tv is. Even the radio they can only recieve signals of international radio stations such as the BBC.
Lawal, Jos, Nigeria

D internet is one of the most wonderful invention of our time and am loving it every minute. Thank GOD I CAN ACCESS IT ALL THE TIME WITH MY MOBILE PHONE
stella pepple, nigeria

The story of Moses and Nicholas are typical of most Nigerian hamlets - lack of connectivity, power and water supply. However, many of these villages can access signals, at least GPRS, from one out of the many service providers. The remedy is to obtain the SIM from a company whose signals can be accessed... This was the practice in my Village (Nyor-Gyungu) until signals from alternative providers became available. Power on the other hand is a national problem, even in Abuja where I work; nearly every household has at least one generator both in big cities as well as in many Nigerian villages. The major challenge is getting the villagers to embrace the internet. Connectivity is also an issue going at N500 per day or N10000 per month; at this rate, even the working class in the big cities still grumble.
Iortyange, Nyor-Gyungu/Makurdi, Nigeria

Even though your title was catchy, we know Nigerians, as your article states later, have access to Intenet. In most countires, the US included, there are areas that are lacking Internet access. Interesting study.

San Diego, CA USA

I browse most times with my BlackBerry. Many people in Nigeria do not know they can Use their phones to browse. I am happy Komla Dumor will soon start anchoring Africa Business Report.
David Ayuba, Abuja Nigeria

Thank you BBC for giving Moses and Nicholas the opportunity to access the internet. There is no doubt that technology has made the world a global village. No too long ago, my sister sent me a document from Nigeria and three days before the deadline, the document didn't arrive. I then instructed her to scan it and send it to me via e-mail, it arrived within minutes and I was able to print it out and send it via express mail. If not for Internent, there was no way I would have been able to meet the deadline. My friends in the field of medicine told me that they are able to keep up with the latest technologies and technics out there by visiting the websites of Harvard University, MIT, and other reputable schools and research institutions worldwide. It is time African governments wake up to reality and invest in technology. With the resources Nigeria has, a lot can be done to connect the rural populace with the outside world. I use the internent everyday for things like! paying bills, e-mail, news and information to mention but a few.

Omorodion Osula, Boston, USA

I can feel the joy when Moses said being on the internet made him feel 'part of the world'. I found the internet very liberating and often look back to long winded process of getting information via libraries mostly. I have a solar powered charger for my mobile, could this be an option for Gitata.
Veronica Stepien, Wokingham, Berkshire

Teacher Moses Maisauri visited a number of sites on disease prevention and he is a teacher; please think of the benefits Moses can impact and/or effect positively on his students the young minds; that is how to make a nation great......Free internet access for all like Moses must be the order of the day in Nigeria
Emmanuel Oritse Ben-Edigbe, Luton, England.

Hi I am a Nigerian studying in the UK, I know exactly how Moses feels, having being in his shoes for a while, but I was among the favoured few that could afford the $3 cost, which was extremely slow compared to what is considered normal here in the UK. so slow that it could take you five minutes just to open a yahoo page. Although things have improved considerably over the past years, there is still more to be done. I was just wondering what we could do to solve this problem facing Nigeria and many other countries. What can we do to reduce the cost, and improve the quality of internet service for Nigerians.
Eugene Otoakhia, Dunkirk, Nottingham, United Kingdom

What a wonderful story and great journalism. "In fact I feel like I am part of the rest of the world when I am on the internet." Moses sums it up perfectly. I hope that he and others like him can join us very soon. Access to the net shouldn't be a privilege, it should be a right, no, correction, it's a necessity. Our freedom of speech and access to information has become global and those that are the wrong side of the digital divide have been denied some of their human rights. I really hope that changes soon.
Gavin, Bucks

I was really fascinated by the effects of experiments carried out in most connected and least connected part of the world - Korea and Nigeria. And the results I think are quite clear - the access to Intenet should be a priority to many goverments and indeed it should be a human right to be able to use internet. Internet is infinite source of information that enable to answer every possible question one might have. And not only dumb ones like who made biggest fart or sometnih but education, health care, polotics, news from around the world. As the Moses said, Internet gives you feeling of being connected with the rest of the world. All in all, it is very fascinating, how Internet has changed our lives!
Anna, Leicester

The problem of Internet in Nigeria is not is very peculiar, I have a boss who reside in UK. He pays 30 pounds or $60 for a 700/700mbs Internet speed while here in Nigeria he pays $1150 for 128/128kb, this a corruption and extortion of the Nigeria Communication Commission. another problem is infrastructure and epileptic power supply this has discourage investment in communication by investors. we are lucky that internet has not being censored in this part of the world but as time goes on i see government trying to control the savvy blogers, youth and radicals who will voice out there opinion in social sites.
Olusegun Alege, Ilorin, Nigeria

It has been a wondaful experience having access to d interest.My day n life is neva complete wtout been on d net.I subscribe 2 a bundle package dat gives me access to d internet 4 30day 4 a #1000.It has helped me to connect globally n solv problem esp now that I'm doing my masters program in literature.It is not a LUXURY,it is a NECESSITY.
Ekanem Esin, Ibadan,Nigeria



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