BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Business  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
Business
E-Commerce
Economy
Market Data
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
Thursday, 11 July, 2002, 09:12 GMT 10:12 UK
Nigeria's digital revolution
Nigerians can surf the internet for $1 an hour

Nigeria's business sector is being revolutionised by computers, mobile phones and internet cafes, as BBC News Online discovers.

"I'm running late - the traffic is terrible on the Mainland Bridge."

Remi Oukoya, IT consultant and computer retailer and I are talking to each other on our mobile phones from opposite ends of Nigeria's vast sprawling commercial capital, Lagos.

Statistically it's been estimated that one mobile phone line generates $8,000 in new business

Olusegun Victor Adeniji, fund manager
We reschedule, to my relief. I was late too, caught up on a slow stretch of the Lagos Abeokuta Expressway, marinating in traffic fumes and the smell of fermenting sewage.

Business appointments used to be a question of turning up and waiting, wasting hours of valuable time. Mobile phones have accelerated the rate of productivity.

Not enough phones

It was only in August last year that licences were granted to two telecommunications giants, the South Africa MTN and multinational Econet, earning the government a hefty $1.1bn (0.7bn).

Torchi Okwa
Torchi Okwa gave up medicine for mobiles

The state-owned telecommunications organisation, NITEL, is on the brink of privatisation.

The Minister for Telecommunications Alhaji Mohammed Arzika has talked openly about bribery being the only way to get a telephone line.

Now the number of subscribers is fast catching up with the number of land-lines.

There are an estimated 450,000 phones lines in Nigeria, that amounts to something in the order of a paltry 0.04% of a phone per person.

So people are turning to mobiles instead - already there are at least 350,000 mobile phone users.

Mobiles boost business

Commercial lawyer, Segun Debayo Doherty, says this group is not confined to the formal sector of the economy.

"Even market women have mobile phones, which is fantastic. You're soon going to find practically everybody will have mobile phone."

Olusegun Victor Adeniji works in the formal sector, as director of a fund management company.

He believes mobile phones act as a catalyst for other businesses.

"There are huge cost implications," he said.

"Statistically it's been estimated that one mobile phone line generates $8,000 in new business and it's good for the economy."

More dealers

In Nigeria the marketing of mobile phones is fierce and flexible.

Nigeria is beginning to produce some of the best computer minds in the world

Pat Utomi, Lagos Business School

Hawkers have added top-up, 'pay-as-you-go' cards to their more familiar repertoire of batteries, sunglasses and packets of tissues.

You can buy a sim card - the microchip which acts as a memory and link to the network - on its own in a starter pack, or with a handset.

Torchi Okwa is one of a growing number of dealers.

She spent 7 years studying medicine. Hardly was she qualified than she was swept away by the digital tide

"When the mobile phone thing started I felt 'Well I like interacting with people, I like flashy things', I said 'OK let me look into that'."

Her biggest headache as a novice entrepreneur, was keeping track of her cash - accounting and auditing - that, and finding engineers who have successfully made the move from analogue to digital.

Computers a must

Dr. Okwa's office is a modest affair on Lagos Island, lino on the floor, wooden desks, but two spanking new computers have pride of place.

Almost every business person operating from an office with an electricity supply has a computer.

Remi Olukoya
Remi Olukoya went to the US to buy computers

Computers have penetrated a surprisingly large part of the commercial market.

Banks have photos of all their customers digitally stored, computerised tills in fast food chains are commonplace, radio advertisements are digitally mixed and internet cafes are dotted all over the islands of Lagos, where you can surf for as little as a dollar an hour.

In all this change the universities and technical college have played a very slight role.

Self-taught

When I eventually met up with Remi Olukoya he took me back to the early years of his career as an IT consultant.

Although he graduated in engineering, his IT skills were entirely self-taught.

He began making money by training fellow students, as well lecturers, on campus at the University of Ibadan.

He used the Wordstar 2000 programme on an Atari connected to an old black and white television.

Ten years ago he travelled to the United States to buy his first PCs with no contacts and no prior knowledge of the market.

"I went to the US to find partners to buy from. I picked up a directory, in the hotel I was staying. The companies giving me the best back-up I chose."

His next task was to raise more capital. This he did this by lending teachers and machines to local primary schools.

The best computer minds

Remi now owns one of the biggest dealerships in Lagos, with a contract to supply an entire network to NEPA, the Nigerian Electricity Power Authority. He is one of a new breed.

Pat Utomi, Director of the Lagos Business School, says Nigeria is beginning to produce some of the best computer minds in the world, even though some come from poor backgrounds with patchy schooling.

A number of his students have pursued highly successful careers in Silicon Valley.

"One of the great advantages of this technology is that you can leapfrog from one level to another," he says.

The roads maybe potholed, sewage a blight and the electricity may be unreliable, but Nigeria's digital infrastructure is growing apace, and a new breed of IT entrepreneurs are taking up strategic positions in the country's economy.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Torchi Okwa
"People walk in and you can interact with them at a level I like."
Remi Olukoya
"These computers we offered to schools."
See also:

10 Jul 02 | Africa
13 Jun 02 | Business
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Business stories are at the foot of the page.


 E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Business stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes