The telephone is what makes every Nigerian tick.
The Nigerian used to be defined by his car. That was when Nkem Nwankwo had to write the novel My Mercedes Is Bigger Than Yours.
Now electric cars have come into the mix anybody boasting about his big car should be cast aside as Ancient Man.
The real McCoy in the scheme of things today is the phone.
Time was when as Minister of Communications David Mark told anybody who cared to listen that the telephone was not meant for any Tom, Dick and Harry.
Back in those days, it used to cost a fortune to get connected to a haphazard telephone line.
Telephones only functioned in the major cities, and in the super homes of members of the idle rich class.
It sometimes took a whole day for what used to be called “ringing tone” to come alive. People stood on long queues for hours on end outside NITEL offices to make ordinary phone calls.
Then came August, 2001, and the telephone revolution was launched in Nigeria.
The Global System for Mobile (GSM) Communications was launched forth in Nigeria through an unprecedented auction, two years into the civil regime of then President Olusegun Obasanjo, by Dr. Ernest Ndukwe, the Executive Vice-Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).
The auction 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 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.
It needs to be recalled that the first mobile phones that appeared in the world commercially in the 1980s were analogue.
Musicians like Oliver de Coque used to serve as excited praise-singers of Nokia-to-Nokia goons and Nought-Nine-Nought (0-9-0) moguls.
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 upon 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.
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..
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.”
Now every Nneka, Yomi, Dauda, or Bassey can carry about a big phone. Some of these phones are even costlier than cars.
The shortest way to a beautiful girl’s heart is to buy her a phone, preferably the iPhone. The gift of a phone to the admired babe gets her very weak in the knees.
With a phone in hand, one does not need to have an office. All the businesses can be done with the phone, and mind you, I have not factored in the Yahoo-Yahoo Brigade.
The overwhelming presence of phones everywhere in Nigeria is indeed a mockery of the fact that 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.
Now Nigeria has hit the 100 million mark, putting Nigeria’s tele-density at about 65 percent of the population.
From Calabar to Maiduguri, and from Lagos to Sokoto, passing all through the byways of Agenebode, Mbaise, Ipetumodu etc the unanimous cry is: My telephone is bigger than yours!
Even the village palm wine tappers in the remotest zones take their phones along while climbing the tall palm trees to tap for good natural wine.
While on top of the palm tree the other day, one rugged tapper took a call from a doting concubine, his good friend’s wife.
Tapper the Lover was so thrilled by the call that he loosened his grip on the palm tree – and he fell!
The miracle is that as he was already nearer to heaven on top of the tree that he immediately fell into heaven instead of falling down on earth.
Yes, the best way to go to heaven is through the phone!