Nigeria is Mobile: A Book Review

Posted by CorinneRamey on Feb 29, 2008

The brightly-colored umbrellas of mobile phone vendors, selling top-up airtime and the use of mobile phones for calls, dot the landscape of urban and rural Nigeria. However, says a new book on mobile phones in Nigeria, cell phones haven't just visually changed the landscape of Africa's most populous country, but have transformed the country economically, socially, and democratically as well.

The book, Mobile Telephony: Leveraging Strengths and Opportunities for Socio-Economic Transformation in Nigeria, edited by Christiana Charles-Iyoha, contains chapters by various experts. "Mobile telephony presents the prospect for closing the access and development gap in Nigeria," writes Mary Uduma in the preface. Mobile penetration has increased in Nigeria at an astonishing rate; mobile phone subscribers are currently increasing at a rate of about 25% per year. According to a recent study, out of Nigeria's population of 140 million, 12.1 million own mobile phones and 64 million "are potential mobile phone users through mobile payphones at call centres." The increase in phones has led people to modify their ways of life -- mobile payments and mobile banking have changed the way people exchange money and buy goods and services, Nigerians have benefited from immediate access to information on everything from health issues to commodity prices, and various radio and television programs ask for feedback through SMS and call-in numbers. "Where would Nigeria's democracy be without mobile phones?" asks Joseph Adeyeye.

The increase in mobile phones has led to job creation as well, writes Adeyeye. According to a Nigerian Communications Commission, one million "indirect jobs" have been created by the mobile telephony sector in the past five years. "This figure indicates that mobile telephony could boost job creation and poverty alleviation if the conditions that would stimulate its spin-offs are introduced and nurtured in a consistent manner." About 10,000 "direct jobs," or people employed by the mobile phone operators in Nigeria, have been created by the industry.

One a small scale, the book tells the stories of individuals and communities whose lives have been transformed in various ways by mobile phones. Rural female market traders in the Obiaruku market use mobile phones to call their suppliers, access information such as commodity prices, and contact customers. In a survey of these traders, writes Wilson Chukwunedum Ochonogor, 95% of survey respondents said that telecommunication has had a significant impact on their business. Margaret Oji-Okoro writes of a palm-kernel buyer who has to make less trips to visit suppliers due to her mobile phone. Nigerians in some urban areas uses their mobile phones for security; recent calls to the local vigilante group have resulted in quite a few robbers being arrested within a short period of time. Other case studies tell of both women and men who have started their own businesses selling airtime, handsets or mobile phone accessories and have been largely successful in supporting their families and even being able to afford educational opportunities.

In one chapter, Jummai Umar writes how the phones have empowered poor women, changing the normal social order because richer villagers now go to the poorer phone vendors to make calls.

Some of the poorest women in the villages held in their hands instruments of global communication, thereby causing ripples in the highly stratified villages. Even a relatively rich person in the village had to walk up to a poor woman's home for a service needed. The phone services were being retailed in these villages almost exclusively by women, since it was the men who went to the cities for work or trade or even to foreign countries as migrant workers, while it was the women left behind in the villages who needed to contact their men traveling or residing outside.

Taken as a whole, the book seeks to answer the question of "how to further influence socio-economic growth through the maximization of opportunities provided by mobile telephony." Nigeria has clearly been changed in numerous ways by mobile phones, but how can the positive changes brought by mobile phones be made more pervasive and influence even more sectors of society? The book's various authors draw the same conclusion: that government aid and support is necessary to further growth.

Adeyeye writes,

But one thing that this report's narrative of real life experiences and experts opinions show is that neither stakeholders nor government are being asked to do anything new. In the last five years entrepreneurs have largely done things alone. Government and institutions are only being asked to provide support for further growth. The tragedy of the future would be if government allows them to slog on without doing anything to aid the process.

The authors offer a multitude of suggestions of ways the Nigerian government can best support the emerging mobile phone sector, including improving power supplies, changing telecom regulations, lowering tariffs on handsets, and providing funding for various mobile phone projects. "Encouraging the spread of mobile phones is the most sensible and effective response to the digital divide," they conclude.

Overall, Mobile Telephony provides a compelling portrait of a country that has been significantly altered by mobile phones. The book also contains quite a bit of data, and although often the sample sizes are quite small, much of the data provides an interesting view of how Nigerians of different backgrounds are using mobile phones, the problems they encounter in their use, and how they hope to use them in the future. At times the book felt like it was directed a bit too much at people or organizations that might be funding mobile phone projects, as problems or negative aspects of mobile phone usage were never discussed. While mobile phones have undoubtedly had a positive effect on Nigeria in general, there are bound to be negative side effects with the introduction of any new technology. As Abi Jagun, who wrote about the tendencies of mobile phones to increase gender imbalances in Zimbabwe, wrote on the MobileActive blog,

There is a small but growing number of research documenting this dual nature of mobile phones. The findings collectively to date highlight the importance of understanding the ways in which this technology affects society. However, more of such studies are ‘desperately’ needed, particular where mobiles are being held up as catalysts for reaching development objectives. Generalisations, based on the results of (often pilot) projects, which allude that observed benefits of using a mobile phone are neutrally and evenly distributed across the population can be harmful to (overall/other) development needs.

The book would have also benefited from a discussion of the sustainability of the Village Phone model -- something Katrin Verclas wrote about here -- and whether investments in shared-ownership phones are financially smart for Nigeria. However, the book is certainly worth reading by anyone interested in the effects of technology, and mobile phones in particular, on the developing world.



Mobile Telephony: Leveraging Strengths and Opportunities for soc


Christiana Charles-Iyoha's Book: Mobile Telephony: Leveraging Strengths and Opportunities for socio-Economic Transformation in Nigeria(ISBN: 9783741411 )  is availabe for ordering at the Nigeria's online bookstore:,Limited( The direct link to the book is :


hi Bob,

The book was published by the Center for Policy and Development. To get a copy, you can email Christiana Charles-Iyoha or Doris Gordon through these email addresses:,, and By the end of March there will be a PDF available on their website --


Who published the book?


Thanks very much for the review. Can you tell us who the publisher is? I couldn't find the book on amazon.

Bob Uva

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