The Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) in Nigeria lost 12.4 million internet subscriptions between December 2020 and April 2021 on the back of a recessive economy and a four-month ban on SIM registration.

Data released by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) found that the total number of internet subscribers in Nigeria declined to 141.4 million in April from 153.8 million it recorded in December 2020, and 144.5 million in March 2021. The 141 million subscription decline in April is the lowest the figures have seen since June 2020 and also means 3.1 million subscribers were lost between April and March.

Although Nigeria remains the country in Africa with the largest number of internet subscribers, the depreciation would no doubt have operators scratching their heads of what next to do. Minister of Communications and Digital, Isa Ali Pantami had in April lifted the ban on SIM registration while announcing the introduction of a revised national SIM policy. It would be recalled that the ban was placed in December to enable subscribers to link their National Identification Numbers (NIN) to their SIM cards. The NCC also instructed mobile operators to deactivate every SIM card not linked to NIN by December 30, 2020.

Experts said the ban was unnecessary as operators could have continued SIM card sales while at the same time devised a better strategy to mandate subscribers to link their SIMS with the NIN numbers. However, with the ban lifted, it is possible that subscribers who once had two SIMS but lost it may have decided to forgo the lost SIM after waiting to retrieve it for four months.

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A bigger problem is the weak spending power that has been exacerbated by the COVID- 19 induced recession. Many people have lost their jobs during the lockdown and have not been able to get another one after the federal government lifted the lockdown and opened up the economy. If anything, inflation has been on the rise, with food inflation crossing 22 percent to put Nigeria in the top ten countries with high inflation in the world.

Although data bundles have gotten cheaper in recent months as operators battle to keep subscribers buying data, the bigger challenge is that the income of many people is stretched by high food inflation and other basic necessities like clothing, shelter, transportation, and education which prices have also risen significantly in recent years.

According to the NCC data, MTN and Globacom were the biggest losers with 1.1 million and 1.09 million respectively. MTN now has 60.4 million internet subscribers in April compared to 61.5 million while Globacom’s subscribers dropped to 37.7 million from 38.8 million in the previous month. Interestingly, both were also the largest voice subscriber losers for the month of April. Both also saw their total subscribers drop to June 2020 levels.