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Friday, 15 February, 2002, 12:29 GMT
Nigeria embraces new technology
Access to the internet available in cities
Urbans areas are becoming wired
Nigeria is embracing new technology with an explosion in the use of mobile phones providing communication previously undreamt of.

About a million people have mobile phones, but net use is lagging behind with only an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 Nigerians on the internet.

Nigeria is a relative latecomer to GSM networks, which have only been installed by the two mobile operators in the last six months.

People are used to getting information in an oral way

Andrew Scott, ITDG
As a consequence, mobile phone services have exploded.

While only 500,000 of Nigeria's 120 million people have a landline, mobile operators already have around a million customers, said Remi Olukoya, head of Nigeria's OK Computers.

"Given that it only started a few months ago that is a huge explosion. It has doubled in a few months," he said.

But services are very expensive, out of the reach of ordinary citizens.

Oral tradition

For the foreseeable future, the mobile phone will remain the technology most able to make a difference to peoples' lives, said Andrew Scott, of the Intermediate Technology Development Group, a non-government organisation which aims to find technology solutions for people in poverty.

"People are used to getting information in an oral way," he said

With a waiting list for landlines of months or even years, mobile phones will provide a lifeline for rural communities and one phone is likely to be shared among a whole community said Mr Scott.

A cheaper alternative is internet telephony which is becoming a driver for net access.

While only a tiny percentage of the country has net access, Nigeria does have the distinction of being one of just 11 African nations to have more than 20,000 subscribers.

South Africa has by far the highest proportion of surfers with Algeria, Egypt and Kenya also in the group.

By far the most popular way of accessing the net is via the vast number of cyber cafes that have sprung up in Nigeria's main towns and cities.

Home internet access is the preserve of the well off. The average cost of dial-up access is about 40 per month - expensive even by Western standards.

Dark side of net

In cyber cafes, by contrast, internet access is between 30p and 60p for an hour's session.

There are a lot of money-making scams going on the internet in Nigeria

Remi Olukoya
Like the West, e-mail and online chat are the most popular activities among internet users in Nigeria.

And while net-sophisticated countries like the US and the UK grapple with internet porn and other online criminal activities, there is also a dark side to the net in Nigeria.

"There are a lot of money-making scams going on the internet in Nigeria, so much so that internet cafes now monitor what is going on and eject people perpetrating scams," said Remi Olukoya.

Mr Olukoya has seen an explosion in the number of computer being bought. A branded PC will cost around $1,200 and a locally produced one around $600.

No rural net

Many businesses in Lagos and other major cities are having PCs installed and often rely on wireless technology.

Rural Nigeria
Rural areas have virtually no net access
Leo Ene is a computer engineer for Hyperia, one of Nigeria's ISPs. Based in Lagos, the firm has around 3,000 home users.

He explained why professional people are beginning to see the advantage of having net access at home.

"They get it for their kids so they can study and play games," he said.

Hyperia plans to expand to the cities of Abuja and Port Harcourt in the near future but for anyone living outside of urban areas there is little if no communication.

"The internet in the countryside is almost non-existent," he said.

Governments wary

Experts say Nigeria could learn from the experience of India, where the government has promoted information technology.

India is seen as an example of how a poor country has bridged the skills gap. It is now a leading exporter of software and many firms outsource work to Indian-based computer experts.

But some doubt whether governments in the developing world are ready to embrace the internet.

"It is not terribly high on governments' agendas and many are not bold enough to allow people to access more information because it is empowering and governments are wary of that," said Mr Scott.

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