How many internet users do we really have in Nigeria?

Let’s talk about the number of internet users in Nigeria.

Depending on who you ask, you will find different numbers branded all over the internet.

The body in the best possible position to give the exact figures is the NCC. They put the number at close to 97 million  as at June 2016. This is the number most people quote in their presentations and talks, interestingly this only covers GSM connections.

The popular online statistics website, Internetworldstats puts it at 92.7 million, the ITU says it’s 79 million and the CIA (I wonder why they are tracking ;-)) gives the lowest estimates I have seen in a while – 66 million, even that I think is over inflated.

The guys at Wearesocial were so confused that they decided to quote all four sources in their annual digital report just for balance.

Now, these numbers are pretty high and can be very misleading, investors and business people see these numbers and instantly believe Nigeria is a goldmine and without much-ado, they pack their bags, stuff their pockets with green backs, book a flight and head off to Nigeria to start an online business to reach these almost 100 million active internet users.

What usually starts with so much excitements  and positivity always tends to end the same way after just 6 months. The most popular question you then begin to hear from these frustrated entrepreneurs becomes “Where the F*** are these 100 million online Nigerians?”

I write to try to address the F***ing question :-), At least I intend to try.

Why am I qualified to attempt to answer this question when even the NCC has not tried to address this? Well because I am smart and I am not a bureaucracy. NCC’s figures are actually correct when you are interested in device count. When you need to run a campaign or sell a product and need to know how many people you can possibly reach, it’s totally off!!!

I have 10 yeas experience in Technology with the last 5 in a senior position as Head of Digital for one of the largest marketing communications agencies in West Africa. I run loads of campaigns for some of the biggest brands in the world and I get to encounter this challenge on a too constant basis, everyone wants to know where these 100 million Nigerians online are. I am obsessed with startups, while I don’t actively participate in the startup pace in Nigeria, I have a couple of startups I am bootstrapping (reason why am always broke ;-)) and try to stay updated with both local and global changes happening in the space. I know enough about tech startups to write a few books.

Ok, here is the answer for those of you who don’t have the time to read the rest of this very long post. WE DO NOT HAVE 100 million Nigerians online, they just don’t exist. If you plan is to sell your product to 100 Nigerians online in 2016 or 2017, best forget it.

I will be working with the NCC number since it’s supposed to be the most authoritative. When NCC says there are 97 million active internet users in Nigeria they refer to devices and not unique users.

NCC is able to track connections only at switch level and as such can track device ids and phone numbers. Any unique phone number is detected as a unique user but this is sooooooo wrong as many Nigerians have at least 3 lines, there is practically no way to track unique numbers using the current method. I personally have 5 lines with only two active, the other 3 come online from time to time. What this means is that the NCC counts me as 5 users. With the sim registration process that is now mandatory to activate a sim card in Nigeria one would have thought they would be able to use that data to address the duplications to arrive at actual uniques. Dual sim phones are practically the norm in Nigeria and with just two phones(which is also a norm in Nigeria) a user could have four different lines. I have friends who carry 3 phones and all are dual sim devices. While the method adopted by NCC works for more developed markets because in those markets, there is absolutely no reason to have multiple devices, the same is not the case in Nigeria.

Let’s assume an average Nigerian user has 3 lines ( a conservative estimate)  let’s divide that 97 million from NCC by 3 and see what we get. We are now at about 32 million Nigerians which is lower than all the numbers usually quoted. I just did a quick survey of 8 friends who are close to me right now  and most have 4, one has 5, none have one 🙂 . Imagine if we divided the 97 million by 4, then we would have 24 million users.

Let’s dig a bit deeper into the Nigerian digital space and see if this number makes more sense, to do this I will use data from different top online destinations in Nigeria to make my case. assuming we did have 93 million users online, they would be spending their time ONLINE right? Let’s see.

If we had close to 100 internet users in Nigeria then the following situations don’t make any sense.

Facebook is the number social network in Nigeria with 16 million active users and it’s driven 100% by mobile connection. With Facebook Lite and Internet.org, one would assume that a large chunks of Nigerians online are on Facebook but only 16 million are. That number is too far off from the 97 million but closer to my 32 million number..

Eskimi is a top mobile network here in Nigeria which caters more to the guys in the lower social economic class. It claims to have over 9 million Nigerians on the platform every month. I almost don’t know anybody on Eskimi but then it is supposed to cater for a unique market.

Nairaland, probably one of the top home grown online destinations in the country has never had more than 9 million unique visitors on the website and tends to average around the 7 million mark a month, bear in mind that a lot of the traffic on Nairaland also comes from Nigerians in diaspora. I personally doubt there is any local website that gets more traffic than Nairaland in Nigeria so I will use them as my benchmark. Despite being so popular, the site has only 1.6 million registered users lower than Eskimi or any of the top social networks.

Nairaland Traffic Statistics

Nairaland Traffic Statistics

Another shocking data that reached me recently is the one below which shows Nigeria’s top E-commerce site, Konga as only having 184,000 active users. That’s pretty low if you ask me, I would have thought they had at least a million users. The number last year was 210,000 active users so they are well on their way to exceed that number for 2016 if by half year they have almost reached the 200,000 active users mark. Jumia on the other hand also published figures that leads one to assume they get 80,000 users on a regular day.

Ope Adeoye of Interswitch was once quoted to have said “There are 200,000 active cards in Nigeria, as opposed to 97 million internet users.” . That makes a lot of sense as Nigerians typically prefer to pay on delivery. So if you are offering an online service in Nigeria and are your business model does not support an option for buyers to pay on delivery, you have effectively limited your potential market size to 200,000… I digress 🙂

Konga nigeria Valuation Statistics

The list goes on, Twitter which is a fast growing mobile social network in Nigeria has less than 3 million active users.

Blackberry, one time instant messaging powerhouse in Nigeria currently only has 4 million active users.

Except for Facebook, no platform is seeing 10 million active users in a month in Nigeria, the other two that come close is Eskimi and Nairaland. Linda Ikeji probably hits high numbers but can’t really quote any figures here.

These all leads me to conclude that we have the same set of Nigerian users all over the place. The same people you see on Linda Ikeji, are on Nairaland, Naija, Eskimi, Facebook, Pulse, Naij and on Martins.com.ng 😉 All the top platforms are simply just seeing the very same users.(So much for your targeting efforts)

We don’t have close to 100 million Nigerians online, it more between the 24 million and 32 million mark and you can quote me on that. If my number isn’t accurate trust me it’s more accurate that what the official sources quote.

From a planning point of view you are best advised to use my number of 32 million so you don’t end up getting frustrated.

Let me through a spanner into that 32 million users number; 30% of that number represents smartphone users and the rest are feature phone users. I will let you ponder on that and end my post here.

Let’s try to have a robust discussion in the comment. How many users do you think we actually have online in Nigeria?

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