With the advent of the coronavirus pandemic which occasioned over six weeks of near-total lockdown of Nigeria, the citizenry was forced to turn to mobile data as a means of coping with the outbreak and advancing their economic and social livelihoods behind closed doors.
Nigerians, like their peers in other parts of the world, adopted the concept of virtual meetings. Many, even with the gradual easing of the lockdowns, have resorted to working from home.
Many schools now reach their students through virtual classrooms.
People are forced to watch television and spend hours on their mobile devices working, playing, interacting and learning.
Many people have also made the transition from the use of paper money (with its high risk of transmitting the virus) to digital mobile transactions.
Nigeria’s mobile service providers are part of the economic sectors that have benefited hugely from the pandemic’s opportunities.
On the other hand, the mobile data users have not seen any reduction in their cost of data usage in spite of spending so much more to support the mobile data needs of all members of the family.
Unfortunately, while governments at federal and state levels parcelled out pandemic palliatives for the poorest and most vulnerable, mobile data users did not receive any such benefits in Nigeria. Service providers largely ignored the #CutDataPrices hashtag campaign launched in March to benefit users, many of whom were faced with the grim prospect of losing their means of livelihood due to the lockdowns.
Rather than offer genuine bonuses to reward their customers for the explosively increased volume of patronage, some service providers merely made eye-service offers and zapped data without any iota of accountability.
It is unkind and unacceptable to ambush and exploit citizens at their most vulnerable moments. Government exists to come in at such moments to ensure that the people are not unduly exploited. Instead of that, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, keeps promising that the cost of data will be cut to half of what it is in Nigeria today by 2025 when he will be long out of office.
We know that the various service providers face a lot of operational challenges due to high cost of tower maintenance, vandalism and the general consequences of operating in a poverty-endemic economy.
The Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy and the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, must prevail on service providers to be more generous to their customers to enable them cope with our pandemic realities.