Memory Lane: Introduction of Handsets in Nigeria and My First Experience


Walking back in memory lane in the era of the arrival of mobile phones in Nigeria, and I found out there are lots of memories to share. This story concerns me and it is part of my life in general though you may find yourself in the same shoes as mine if you reside in Nigeria and you are older than 20. The history of mobile phones in Nigeria started 15 years ago during the reign of Nigeria Ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, I was a young chap (still i am) who lived in one of the remote area in Ibadan at the time. Internet seems to be an alien network at that time as such doesn't exist, the only in distant communication service provided back then are landlines which were offered NITEL Telecom. Only wealthy people and companies can afford it and it is not not fully meant for the general public .

The rumors of mobile phone first began in late 1999 and started to spread till early year 2000, I was in my first year in high school when the first GSM mobile network carrier arrived to Nigeria which was ECONET (now Airtel). Despite the arrival, it took some time before the news began to spread but it wasn’t long before the first land-shake when MTN joined the queue, this sparked things up. I can't find words to describe how it was like for men at that time seeing someone holding a bulky plastic with buttons and talking to long distance friends over the air with no wires and strings attached. We are not that local, but revolution always brings surprises. My dad was a business man and since I was a child I'd noticed he likes anything technological, you may be working in a computer building and still not have any interest in computer, but he has that passion for advance things.

Motorola Timeport P7389
In 2001, my dad bought his first GSM phone, a Motorola (after doing long research I later found out it was called Timeport™ P7389) with antenna (picture above). The handset as far as I could remember costs him #35,000 NGN which equates to roughly #100,000 NGN ($500 USD) now and that is the price for the phone only. SIM card price back then was so expensive that you'll first have to buy the phone and leave it in the drawer for weeks to work for the money to buy SIM card and activate the line. MTN SIM card price was within #22,000 - #30,000 and their subscription plan and charges were terrific. if you have a phone back then your value will automatically increase in the community.

My first experience with mobile phone first started when I was in year two (or JSS 2), my brother friend whose name I won't mention got his first GSM phone, the Nokia 5110.

Nokia 5110
It was a legendary handset in the Nigeria history, it was widely used because it was so strong, lasting and can survive heavy fall without damaging. The phone was in vogue till 2005 (still exist till 2007 for phone booth operators) before its time end up. It was the first time in my life holding a GSM phone, I navigate around and the first thing I remembered doing was playing its pre-loaded game (Snake). Since then I moved closer to this young man and I love to play with his handset, though you couldn't put it in your pocket because it can pull the trouser off your waist with its heaviness, you just have to hold it in hand everywhere you go and that's why the name HANDSET was popularly used back then.

I bought my first mobile phone in 2007 and that was Samsung C100, very slim and its 7-LED lights notification is attractive enough to convince you that you've bought a good product. Samsung were known to be attractive, the company lured most of its users then with this flashy colorful light placed at the front above the display. During night time you'll see people knowingly turn this light on just to prove they are in town (funny).

Samsung C100

Samsung C100 was a good phone to me back then until it started acting funny, taking 20 minutes to pick up network signals and randomly losing signal every minute, a disease well known for its kind. It was such a complicated thing that I found myself having to stand on high ground just to make calls (don't laugh), but things went smoothly later. I can't count the number of phones I’ve used till date but here are few list, Sagem MY X-5, Sagem MY X-7, Nokia 3310, Motorola C170, Sony Ericsson T610, Nokia N70, Nokia 5330 Xpress Music, Nokia 2700c, Nokia 2760, Nokia 6220, HTC G2, HTC Incredible Droid 2, and others I can't remember. The list goes on.

What brings this topic? I was searching for a copy of book titled "Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmole" that I bought years nearly three years back and I was forced to searched deep in my wardrobe when I saw my dad first used handset, the Motorola Timeport and my old Sagem MY X5. It brings lots of memories, though the Sagem still works.

Nigeria has grown rapidly in mobile industry sector since then and is recorded as one of the "fastest growing GSM markets in Africa" according to NCC.

"The rotation of earth on its axis is but a little movement when compares with the revolution of lives within it". - Caleb Olayiwola
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