Giant steps in telecoms but bottlenecks still remain.

Author:Ankomah, Baffour
Position:African Business Special Focus: Telecoms in Nigeria

The face of Nigerian telecoms has changed dramatically in recent years making cable satellite television available even to the ordinary man. But as Baffour Ankomah reports, Nitel, the parastatal telecoms company is still struggling with telephone congestion and other problems.

Foxboro Stadium, Boston, USA. One minute and 40 seconds stand between Nigeria and a famous victory over Italy, and a quarter-final berth in the 1994 World Cup. Lagos has come to a standstill, all eyes glued to thousands of TV screens - thanks to pictures coming via cable satellite television.

The seconds are ticking away. Mussi, the Italian right back, picks up the ball and opens the Nigerian defence with a surging run. He passes to Robert Baggio and the next second the ball is at the back of the Nigerian net. Italy have equalised. Lagos sinks to its knees.

Ten years ago only a few super-rich Nigerians would have watched this dramatic end of Nigeria's heroic World Cup campaign live on TV. Today, thanks to a vast improvement in global telecommunications making the world an even smaller village, millions of Nigerians watched their gallant Super Eagles do battle with the elite teams of the world live in their living rooms. Nigeria is now basking in cable satellite TV. And Lagos, the erstwhile nerve centre of the country, is fast becoming a city of huge satellite dishes.

But with a population of 88 million people (some say 100 million), Nigeria is still an untapped communications market. Even with the recent (by Nigerian standards) quantum jump in the provision of facilities, Nigeria's current telecoms strength is still below satisfactory.

There are only 0.24 telephone lines per 100 inhabitants in Nigeria compared with 9.70 lines per 100 inhabitants in South Africa. The world average is 19 lines per 100 inhabitants. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) target is one line per 100 people.

With Nigeria still way behind with only 0.24 lines per 100 people, the country has a lot to do to catch up with the rest of the world. In the modern information-driven world, where a nation's competitiveness hinges on its ability to access and exchange information, Nigeria cannot afford to mark time while others fly past it.

Last year, as part of a restructuring effort, the Federal Government proposed to cancel the monopoly of the state-owned Nigerian Telecommunications (NITEL) which was incorporated in 1984 as a limited liability company.

For all practical purposes, Nitel has...

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