Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta of NCC, We Want UNIQUE Mobile Subscribers in Nigeria

Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta of NCC, We Want UNIQUE Mobile Subscribers in Nigeria

According to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), there are about 93 million mobile internet subscribers in Nigeria. Facebook records about 20 million users in Nigeria, and those users are largely unique by the nature of Facebook business.  Uber, despite spending huge amount of money and advertising across Nigeria, has 267,000 active riders in Nigeria. Last year, a report from the biggest investor in Konga showed that the ecommerce operator has less than 200,000 active customers.

So, the number NCC is putting out is totally uncorrelated with what companies are seeing. That is not NCC problem. Yes, NCC number is correct but what it is reporting has limited value. I have struggled to make sense of its numbers because it does not provide deeper insights when you work for clients. I want to know the unique numbers when all the subscribers from the networks are concatenated or combined, with duplication/triplication removed.

One way I have gone around its reporting is to use MTN as my basis (it has the largest subscriber base, around 58 million) and then add 10 million extra users. (Note that some users have multiple MTN numbers, so my estimate could be off.) With that, I have about 68 million unique mobile subscribers in Nigeria [See update below]. But that is my estimate. I want the real number so that we can have a good idea on what is happening in the ecosystem.

This is what I expect from NCC: begin to report the total number of UNIQUE users across the networks, for voice and mobile internet. In other words, besides what it does now which has been the tradition, it needs to use the biometrics to come up with the number of unique users. I have SIM cards from two of the networks. At the end of this exercise, NCC should see me as one unique user. This is an important market data that even the National Bureau of Statistics should strive to provide.

The Bank Verification Number (BVN) custodian publishes the number of unique bank accounts just as it also provides the total number of bank accounts in Nigeria. The unique number gives us a clear picture of the number of people with bank accounts despite all the duplications/triplications. The unique bank account per person has been the core of the CBN policy on financial inclusion. Looking at the number of total bank accounts and not the unique account per person, you may miss the mark. The total number of unique Nigerian bank customers is less than 30 million. But we have more than 70 million bank accounts. That shows why the unique number is important.

Yes, I do agree that populating all the data from the networks and sorting them to come up with unique subscriber number will be hard. Sure, it will be hard, and that is why it needs to be done. What we have now is the easy one, but it fails the test of value. We need unique numbers and Prof Umar Garba Danbatta can help here.

Comment from LinkedIn Users

My use of 58 million for MTN may not even be ideal since that 58 million covers the whole subscriber base (data and voice). Some pros in the game actually would prefer we use 32.5 million which is MTN’s total internet (data) subscriber number. That data number is more relevant to this piece for MTN. I do agree with them.

Yea, distinction is the ~50M range is MTN overall total, 32.5M is internet (data) service only. Your reference article is pointing to the internet (data) numbers, which is the service type we care about in the context of this article. NCC publishes both total subs and internet data subs in different headings under their Industry Statistics.

Now if MTN has 32.5 million, it means the unique subscriber base for mobile will not be as much as I had estimated. You may be looking at 45 million: ” This is a good question. If we use GSMA surveys of SIM per sub ratio, it suggests about 50% of NCC number would be unique subs”. That quote is from the same pro who provided further insights on this via LinkedIn.


1. Advance your career with Tekedia Mini-MBA (Sept 13 – Dec 6, 2021): 140 global faculty, online, self-paced, $140 (or N50,000 naira). Click and register here.

2. Click to join Tekedia Capital Syndicate and own a piece of Africa’s finest startups with a minimum of $10,000 investment.

Share this post

2 thoughts on “Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta of NCC, We Want UNIQUE Mobile Subscribers in Nigeria

  1. NCC is lazy and it won’t do it. Why would it? Because it has different ramifications!

    1 – it removes the glory from the dubious numbers being touted all over the place. You know Nigerians love big empty things
    2 – It proves once and for all that Nigeria may not have up to 100M people in population

    I recently did an analysis where I calculated population of Nigeria to be around 98M factoring number of SIM, population breakdown by age brackets, multi-sim ownership analytics, etc.

    However, if NCC wants to do this, it can be done and it’s not that difficult. In fact, following up like what banking did, let phone owners all have a unique Phone Subscriber ID which they must link to their phones and hold their biometrics.

    Case closed.

    NB: By the way, NCC boys can feed on some extras just to do the project. Warri no dey carry last.


Post Comment