How many internet users do we actually have in Nigeria?

David Kezi, a Nigerian Internet User

Today, it looks like the NCC sent a press release to major online outlets regarding the number of internet users in Nigeria. But people are raising eyebrows.

It is no news that data gathering in Nigeria is quite difficult to accomplish (see: 1 — business, 2 — health and 3 — forest industries etc) due in part to the poor state of infrastructure here. Coupled with the differing methodology for data gathering across the world. This usually leads to a noticeable discrepancy in data results as many of them are mere estimates. So, it is hard to find a single source of truth.

The Nigerian Communications Commission (popularly referred to by her acronym, NCC), the independent regulatory authority for the telecommunications industry in Nigeria said the number of internet users in Nigeria is 91,565,010. One would expect the NCC to be the single source of truth (which I think it is) since all operators need license from her to operate. However, I am unsure as to whether these operators simply send reports (on subscribers and others) to the commission or they (the NCC) can see it from their ‘back-end’. Whatever it is, we know it is only what the operators want to reveal that can be seen. But, let’s assume the operators are acting in good faith.

Unlike Odunayo (Twitter user cited above), I think NCC’s numbers are quite accurate as the internet world stats (IWS), an online aggregation from different sources puts the Nigerian internet users number for March 2017 at 93,591,174 compared to a population of 191,835,936 (a penetration rate of 48.8%).

The NCC’s numbers are gotten from an addition of the GSM and CDMA only. The CDMA users are a mere 0.03% meaning over 99% of the internet users reportedly come from the GSM operators (MTN, Glo, Airtel and 9Mobile — formerly, Etisalat).

However, I am wondering where the figure for internet users who subscribed through other ISPs (Internet Service Providers) are? E.g wireless/fixed wired services like Smile, Ntel etc. Perhaps, an addition of that number would bring it closer to the estimated 93,591,174 by the IWS.

While the number of internet users is growing, I expect that there might be a correlation in number of smartphone users (see Google’s 2016 consumer barometer filtered for NG — where, 62% of internet users corresponded with the 67% of smartphone users). Also, assuming that an increase in internet usage is being fuelled by an uptake of smartphones (as a connection point). Already, budget smartphones (e.g from Transsion Group — makers of iTel, Infinix and Tecno) make it quite affordable for people to jump on the smartphone train. I say smartphone adoption growth might have some correlation and not desktop because the mobile penetration in Nigeria is by far larger than that of desktop (E.g 67% vs 19% of people who use smartphones versus desktop respectively).

In conclusion, it is pertinent to note the following definition of terms for effective judgement calls.

  1. A user is not necessarily an owner. I might be using my brother’s phone to access the web.
  2. A connection to the internet is different from a unique mobile user. MTN estimated that the average Nigerian has about 1.76 SIMs (Subscriber Identity Modules). Hence, that there are 100 mobile connections to the internet doesn’t mean there are 100 unique mobile users. There could as well be only 57 unique users.

For instance, in 2016 Jumia, an e-commerce platform reported a whooping 97.2 million internet users in Nigeria in her third whitepaper on Nigeria Mobile Trends. Given the above explanation, I believe this might have been over-estimated. Perhaps, due to a poor definition of terms. In the same year, We are Social was cited by Twinpine, a mobile advertising network in her Nigeria Mobile Trend report that there are 74.7 million unique mobile users (out of an est. 184.6 m population) in Nigeria.

Hence, I submit that there are actually about 92m internet users (given a population of 192 m) in Nigeria as at July, 2017.

When this view changes (as a result of more information), I’ll do well to let you know.

Jumia’s third white paper on Nigeria Mobile Trends