Nigeria made remarkable progress in its information and communications technology (ICT) sector in 2011 which saw the heightened use of ICTs during the April 2011 general elections and the establishment, the same year, of the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology. This is the verdict of a report of freedom on the net in 2012 released by Freedom House, a not-for-profit organisation based in New York.
The report stated that media in Nigeria has been comparatively free from restrictions and that Nigerian authorities do not carry out any filtering of content. It noted that though access to information technology is still limited for many Nigerians, the number of internet users nearly quadrupled between 2008 and 2011 while legislative initiatives introduced in the National Assembly in 2007, which threatened to impinge upon the relative freedom and privacy enjoyed by online journalists died with the sixth National Assembly which expired in 2011.
The report noted that “Internet access in Nigeria has grown exponentially in recent years, particularly after the introduction of mobile phone data services and Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) services.” It said there were about 100,000 internet users in 1999, but added that the figure grew exponentially to 11 million in 2008 and reached 46 million in 2011 due to an increase in mobile phone usage and data services. Quoting figures released by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the said internet penetration stood at 28.4 percent in 2011.
It added that increased competition has decreased the cost of access for many Nigerians while cybercafés have seen sharp decline in patronage due to increasing mobile internet usage made possible by decreasing costs of data plans.
Again, quoting official data from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) the report said the number of mobile phone subscribers has increased dramatically from almost no users in 2000 to over 100 million as of May 2012.It added that the latest ITU data shows over 95 million mobile phone subscriptions in 2011, amounting to a mobile phone penetration rate of 58.6 percent.
The Freedom House report stated further that the ICT market in Nigeria has expanded significantly with the number of licensed ISPs rising from 18 in 2000 to 136 in 2011 in addition to 11 active Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) providers and four Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) mobile phone operators that also provide internet access to their subscribers.
The report said Nigeria’s four GSM companies had a total of 84 million subscribers between them as at June 2011 while the only government-owned NITEL which would have been the fifth is now inactive.
Freedom House said there have been no reports of the Nigerian government engaging in any form of internet filtering adding that the complex nature of Nigeria’s internet framework makes it difficult to carry out systematic filtering or censorship. It said though some Internet Services Providers (ISPs) have been known to block access when users infringe on laws by downloading copyrighted content, this, it noted, has often been done to manage network traffic rather than protect intellectual property.
Freedom House reports that the April 2011 general elections saw heavy use of social media in discussions concerning the elections, campaigns, and citizen participation. It cited a youth-led-group, Enough is Enough (EiE) Nigeria, which launched the Register-Select-Vote-Protect (RSVP) project that relied heavily on the use of social media to mobilize citizens for voter registration and for dissemination of information on competing candidates, actual voting drives, and election monitoring. It said EiE Nigeria also launched the mobile application, ReVoDa, which enabled citizens to monitor elections from their respective polling locations on their mobile phones.
Freedom House noted that Nigeria’s legal framework has not been revised to reflect the use of new media technologies which in turn has generally fostered an open environment for online activities. It added that much of the public accepts the need for some regulation of internet use in light of the unchecked cybercrime in the country and the costs it has imposed on Nigeria’s economy and global reputation.
The report said Nigerian security services do not appear to proactively monitor internet and mobile phone communications, though many online journalists suspect that they are being monitored by the state.
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