It is now in my constitution to remind Nigerians of that bad old time when telephone made them suffer.
Back then, Nigerians always queued up at NITEL offices and booths waiting for “ringing tone”!
It was like waiting for Godot because the telephone hardly ever came alive.
Good old David Mark even told Nigerians who cared to listen that “the telephone is not meant for every Tom, Dick and Harry”.
It used to cost as much as N200,000 of good money of those days to get connected to a haphazard telephone line.
Even so, you had to wait well-well to hear the “ringing tone”, as it was then called.
Now Iya Maria who sells akara and moin-moin at Jankara has four working telephones.
Today is indeed different.
Every Okafor, Musibau, Galadima or Isangedighi has a mobile phone.
The month of August is indeed an august month in the strategic sphere of Nigerian telecommunications.
It was in August 2001 that the telephone revolution was launched in Nigeria.
The Global System for Mobile (GSM) communications came into effect in Nigeria through an unprecedented auction two years into the civil regime of then President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Dr. Ernest Ndukwe, the Executive Vice-Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), was the ace in-charge.
The auction which was globally adjudged as transparent netted for the Nigerian government a colossal $1 billion because each of the winners paid $285 million for a spectrum licence.
The winners were Econet Wireless (now Airtel), MTN, MTel and CIL.
The CIL consortium would later lose its bid for failing to meet the payment deadline. The company came back two years later as Globacom, equally winning the Second National Operator licence.
August this year therefore marks the 18th anniversary of the landmark achievement.
It needs to be recalled that the first mobile phones that appeared in the world commercially in the 1980s were analogue.
Digital mobile phones became a common feature of telephone services in the 1990s in much of the world with Nigeria lagging way behind.
The military regime of Gen. Sani Abacha had spuriously licensed about 17 operators before the demise of the dictator in 1998.
With the coming of civil rule in 1999 under Obasanjo, the process was opened up under the watch of Ndukwe’s NCC.
At about the auction time in August 2001, Nigeria had less than 500,000 active telephone lines but by June 2008, seven years after the inaugural, there were about 55 million active subscribers which translated to about the population of South Africa, Ghana and Sierra Leone put together then.
The phenomenal growth can better be appreciated with the recall that by 1998, the total number of connected phones on the entire African continent was 14 million lines.
South Africa then led the charge, followed by the North African countries, with Nigeria not having up to the half-million mark.
The four GSM operators, namely MTN, Bharti Airtel (formerly Econet Wireless, Zain etc), Glo and Etisalat are upping the ante in providing multiform services.
Econet ( Airtel) kicked it all off; MTN claims pride of place as the most subscribed network, while Glo has the distinction of starting per-second billing.
Etisalat, has remarkably gained considerable market share while ntel has thus far operated in fits and starts.
According to Dr. Ndukwe, the igniter of the revolution, “Though we didn’t envisage what happened in terms of its magnitude but it was obvious to everybody there was going to be a major demand by the Nigerian people.”
The tele-density of Nigeria at Independence in 1960 stood at about 0.5 telephone lines per 1,000 people.
In short, the country could only then crow of 18,724 telephone lines.
Nigeria hit the 100 million mark in 2011, putting Nigeria’s tele-density then at about 65 percent of the population.
There are well over $20 billion private sector investments in the nation’s telecom industry today.
The underside is that even as the service providers are making staggering profits, the subscribers more often than not end up being shortchanged through inefficiency, poor quality service, outrageous billings, call dropping, dubious promotions, poor voice quality, unexplained deductions etc.
Experts argue that Nigeria needs more than 100,000 base stations for quality mobile telephony, yet the telecoms operators have only built about 20,000 base stations.
The service providers and NCC engaged in registering the Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) cards of existing subscribers to stem the high tide of kidnapping, armed robbery and terrorism that had been aided by the GSM.
This has thus far not solved much, with MTN earning a huge fine for registration infractions.
The GSM firms need to do more in their social responsibility services in the country given the tons of money they make.
A good half of the subscribers use the Internet, thereby boosting Internet connectivity.
Social networks such as Facebook and Twitter are now everyday aspects of Nigerian life, thanks to the GSM revolution.
Virtually all the mobile networks in Nigeria are competing to have the largest market share in the connectivity services.
The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has published that Nigerian Internet users have surpassed Egypt, Morocco, South Africa and Kenya as the largest Internet market in Africa.
In reality, about 50 percent of all Internet traffic from Africa comes from Nigeria.
Within 18 years of GSM, access to computers increased by well over 1000 per cent.
The Yahoo-Yahoo boys are a major minus, but that is not in my constitution here.
The GSM revolution in Nigeria is indeed worthy of celebration.