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Communications and Information Technology in Nigeria  (Reviewed, 29th Dec 2001) Tell your friends about this page! Email it to them.

Communication infrastructure is important, in fact, with electricity, they play undeniably crucial roles in economic development. A basic infrastructure. Luckily, it has also been with us in Nigeria for over 100 years. To be precise, telecommunications started in Nigeria in 1886. Good, you may say, but on a faulty foundation. And this is because the colonial administration then was only interested in promoting administration functions than the socio-economic development of the country. Therefore the administration saw the external connection by public telegraph services linking Lagos by sub-marine cable along the West Coast of Africa to Ghana, Sierra Leone, Gambia and on to England as a more prominent project. Consequently, the total number of telephone lines in Nigeria as at independence in 1960 was only 18,724 and this is for a population estimated at about 40 million. Meaning a tele-density of 0.4 telephone per 1,000 people.

"With the deregulation of the communications industry, 108 approval for licences have so far been given out for Internet services. Of this number, 48 companies have paid for their licences. It is hoped that with democracy and the window of opportunity now open to investors in the Nigeria economy, more and more companies will invest in the Nigerian telecommunication industry"

Nigerian Telecommunications PLC, NITEL, to be privatised this yearThe telephone network then consisted of 121 exchanges out of which 116 were manual types and only five were automatic exchanges. And to correct these anomalies, there have been a number of development plans for expansion and modernisation of the telecommunications networks and services since independence. These developmental plans can be categorised into three with the first being a period between independence and 1985. During this period the management of the telecommunication industry was left entirely in the hands of two government agencies. The department of post and Telecommunication (P&T), which was in charge of the internal network and the Nigerian External Telecommunication (Net) Limited, Net was responsible for the external telecommunication services. However, telecommunications development within this period was marked by a lot of shortcomings. There was indeed a remarkable difference between planned targets and their realisation.

For instance, the installed switching capacity at the end of 1985 was about 200,000 line. And this was against the planned target about 460,000 line. Consequently, telephone density and penetration remained poor as it translated to one phone line per 440 inhabitants as against the target of one telephone to 100 inhabitant recommended by the International Telecom Union (ITU) for countries performing at five per cent growth rate.

Government in a bid to correct these defects, in January 1985 broke the postal and Telecommunications department into two. With the postal part of the former union being merged with Net limited to form the Nigerian Telecommunications limited, NITEL. The new body was to harmonise the planning and co-ordination for the internal and external telecommunication services., rationalise investments in telecommunications development as well as provide easy access, efficient and affordable services. However, 16 years on, NITEL has failed even in this task. Presently, Nigeria has only 700,000 installed capacity out of which only 400,000 lines are connected. Consequently, it is agreed that Nigeria still lag behind when compared with even less endowed African countries not to talk of the advanced countries. And one of the ways of catching up with the rest of the world is to deregulate the industry. This is what government did in 1992, when by the Decree, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) was created. The main objective of the NCC was to promote fair competition and an efficient market conduct among all players in the industry.

Global Communications VillageSince the inauguration of the NCC in July 1993, it has set out guidelines for private sector participation in the industry. It has also issued licences to a number of companies for various telecommunications undertakings. However, NITEL has remained the only basic provider for domestic and international service. And this has had serious effects on the industry in terms of its gross inefficiency, high cost and lack of universal access. For instance, there is only one mobile cellular telephony network provided by the Nigeria Mobile Telecommunication Limited (M-Tel).

This cellular mobile network covers three areas of the country with a total capacity of 22,500 lines and are fully loaded. This is compounded by the fact that there is only one mobile switching centre (MSC) in each of the three areas. In the same vein, there are a total of 152 routes with 312 repeater stations spread across the country.

The main trunk routes have been digitalised and operate in the 140 to 155 mbls configuration. Government has also promised the digitalisation of others in the planned south Atlantic Telecommunication/ West African submarine Cable (SAT3/WASC) project. The project is planned to link Africa with Europe and Asia and it is to be financed by a consortium of International telecommunication operators in Africa, Europe and Asia.

On the provision of Internet Services, the Nigerian government has also made efforts with an initial capacity of 5,500 points starting with Lagos as the main point of presence (POP) with 3,000 ports. However, this can only be interpreted to show that less than five per cent of Nigerians have access to the Internet. According to a report from the United Nations, the total Internet connectivity in Africa is about 50,000 people and more than 80 per cent of this number is in South Africa. Only 9,000 of this figure are Nigerians. However with the deregulation of the telecommunications industry, 108 approval for licences have so far been given out. Of this number, 48 companies have paid for their licences.

It is hoped that with democracy and the window of opportunity now open to investors in the Nigeria economy, more and more companies will invest in the Nigerian telecommunications industry.

See also: Nigerian Communications Commission

PLEASE NOTE: MTN and ECONET Wireless Nigeria have since started connecting customers to their GSM Networks. They hope to have connected at least 100,000 each by end of December 2001.

Picture: Nigerian Telecommunications PLC, NITEL, 51% Federal Government stake was sold to Investors International Limited, IIL, early this month.

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