Telecom Operators Creating New Employment in Nigeria

by Obi Akwani, MGV Editor

New Job Creations from Telecom Growth in Nigeria
(Source: Nigerian Communications Commission)
December 00 March 04
Direct Employment 5000
Indirect Employment 400,000
Licensing Revenue US$1.1B
Direct Foreign & Domestic Private Investment >US$4B
Connected fixed lines 450,000 888,854
Connected Mobile Lines None 3.8M
Sector Contribution to GDP N/A 1-3%

Outside the MTN Headquarters in Maitama, Abuja.

The fastest growing employer of labor in Nigeria today is the telecom industry — specifically the wireless telephone sector that provides services to individual customers using the Global System for Mobile (GSM) Communication.

Deregulation of the Nigerian telecommunications sector began in 1992 with the establishment of the Nigerian Communications Commission by Decree 75 during the military regime of Ibrahim Babangida. Deregulation attracted new operators from within and outside the country. Between 2001 and mid-2002 the NCC had licensed four digital mobile operators, MTN, Econet, Nitel and Globacom.

The presence of these new operators has resulted in a phenomenally rapid growth of a sector previously dominated by a single national telephone service provider – Nitel. The new operators have injected much needed competition and provided new employment opportunities into a previously lackluster and under-performing sector.

A Globacom Phone Booth

An MTN Phone Booth

When Nitel was the singular provider, services were limited to a few individual and corporate subscribers and the industry was virtually at a standstill. Nigeria was unable to move apace with the global explosion in Internet and other information technology (IT) applications. Thus in a country with an estimated 140 million people, the national telephone directory (7th and latest edition 2003?), listing every Nitel fixed line subscriber in every city and town in the country, consists of a single volume containing 1548 pages – less than half of the New York City or Toronto Mega-city directories. By the end of 1985 there were only about 200,000 analogue phone lines operated by Nitel.

Spin-off Business: A busy scene of entrepreneurs outside the MTN Abuja Headquarters

However, with President Olusegun Obasanjo’s policy of active deregulation since 1999, Nigeria has been on a ramp up to become fully plugged in to the global IT phenomenon. Figures from the national telecom regulator, NCC, show an average of 517,000 new fixed lines added annually, since 2001, to the national network. The growth is even more phenomenal in the mobile sector. Here the average annual addition to the national telephone grid is 2 million new lines.

As a result, the total phone density (fixed and mobile lines) in the country has jumped from 1 line to 440 persons in 1985 to 1 line for every 263 persons in 1997 and 1 to 18 in 2004.

This growth is having an equally profound impact on the job and employment market. Though so far no proper assessment has been made of the volume and impact of new jobs creation due to this growth in the Nigerian telecommunications sector, all are agreed that both have been high and far-reaching. The NCC CEO, Mr. Ernest Ndukwe gave an estimate in March 2004 of 5000 new jobs directly created out of the telecom phenomenon. The spin-offs in new businesses – dealerships, retail outlets for GSM handsets and accessories, and one-man phone boot operations – have admittedly been very healthy for the employment market. In the same March estimate, Ndukwe puts the indirect employment spin-off at 400,000 new jobs.

Many young Nigerians who would otherwise have remained unemployed are finding steady employment as phone boot operators and charge card dealers. Some of the charge card dealers have joined the horde of newspaper vendors and itinerant hawkers of different consumer goods who ply their trade on Nigerian streets soliciting the custom of passing motorists at intersections and stoplights in major cities.

In Abuja, the national capital, both the sidewalk phone boot operators and charge card dealers are facing a new challenge from the city’s environmental pollution squads. The city environment watchdogs regard these young independent entrepreneurs – with their makeshift phone boots at various street corners and daring dashing through traffic – as nuisances. Frequent raids by the watchdogs add a new element of difficulty in the lives of these entrepreneurs. is committed to presenting diverse points of view. However, the viewpoint expressed in this article is the opinion of the author and is not necessarily the viewpoint of the owners or employees at IMD.