Internet Culture

Pornography could help drive Nigeria’s Internet penetration deeper

April 26, 2018 · 11 min read
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At the 2017 edition of the eNigeria Conference, a representative of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) reportedly said Nigeria spends $2 billion (₦868 billion) annually on importing hardware and software.

Of this figure, he said software imports cost $1 billion and decried a lack of made in Nigeria ICT products.

It is unclear how NITDA arrived at this figure, but if it is anywhere near the truth then it is grossly underestimated as there is no way to measure the average citizen’s import software spend. But this does not take away from the fact that at some point, most software users have had to pay for one software or the other and they are mostly not Nigerian-made.

Considering Nigeria’s increased technological and software capacity over the years, why are software imports still a thing?

The origin of this question is a long story but a lack of digital products for Nigerians can be attributed to a small market which is ironic because of the country’s ever-increasing population.

Customer acquisition and retention still remain one of the biggest problems faced by Nigerian Internet businesses and startups. As shocking as it is, this is because there are not enough Nigerians on the Internet.

Nigeria still has a crippling Internet penetration problem

By Q4 2017, the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) said there were 93 million Nigerians on the Internet. This was a seemingly impressive increase from 91.2 million in August of the same year. And by February 2018, this number had reportedly shot up to 100.9 million.

Going by the World Bank’s estimated population from a 2016 census, there are 186 million people in Nigeria. So 100.9 million means that only 54% of Nigerians are online and this number will mean Nigeria has one of the highest Internet penetrations in Africa; a very debatable claim considering realities.

But there is a high probability these numbers are incorrect.

It is impossible that Nigeria’s population has remained at 186 million since 2016. The World Bank projected Nigeria’s population increase at 2.6% per annum. This means from 2016 at 2.6%, there are supposed to be around 197 million people in Nigeria by now.

The Internet user numbers are most likely wrong too.

The NCC conducts Internet user counts by collecting Monthly Internet Subscribers’ Data; the number of devices and SIM cards subscribing monthly. There is a reason this method is marred by double counting and inflation of numbers.

Multi-SIM ownership is on the rise in Nigeria and a study has fingered poor Quality of Service (QoS) — and resultant bad Internet connectivity — as likely causes.  The average Nigerian owns about 3 SIM cards in search of best fit, and most have been used to subscribe to the Internet at one point or another.

Going by this method, I automatically count as 3 Nigerians supposedly on the Internet. Dividing the NCC’s 100.9 million connectivity figure by 3 will give a seemingly more accurate guesstimated figure; 34 million Nigerians on the Internet.*

If there are more likely 197 million people in Nigeria and only 34 million are online, this puts Nigeria’s Internet penetration more accurately at around 17%.

After nearly 23 years of Internet in Nigeria, this dismal figure is a bad sign. It also shows that most conscious and unconscious measures over the years to drive Internet penetration in Nigeria have failed miserably.

According to the 2018 Economic Outlook (pdf) of the African Development Bank (AfDB),152 million Nigerians live on less than $2 a day. For the average Nigerian, cost has always been a huge deterrent to getting on the Internet, but things have progressively gotten better over the years.

According to Jumia Nigeria’s Mobile Report, the costs of smartphones in Nigeria went down from $200 in 2014 to $100 in 2017.

Price range of smartphones

The e-commerce giant is predicting a further dip in these prices in 2018.

Mobile internet was not always a thing, and data used to be very expensive too until recent years and Vsat subscriptions cost as much as ₦1.2 million annually; only cybercafes, banks, big organisations, and very rich people had Internet in Nigeria at the time.

Now with an almost free SIM card and ₦100 credit, the Internet has literally become a decentralised playground. Generally, Internet costs in Nigeria have gone down and a recent study has shown it is now one of the cheapest in Africa.

This has still left trust and motivation as the biggest inhibitors to Internet penetration in Nigeria. And these two are bigger problems.

By the 31st December 2017, 6 of the biggest companies in the world by market capitalisation were and still are tech companies. And a lot more are scattered all through the ranks.

This is proof that technology has become one of the biggest enablers of the 21st century and is not going anywhere soon.

With tech startups, innovations and global participation, Nigeria is not left out of this vibe and has the biggest edge because of numbers. According to the 2017 edition of the United Nation’s World Population Prospects (pdf), by 2030, Nigeria’s population is expected to be at 264 million.

But with a population that is not commensurate with Internet penetration growth, who are we building for? Internet businesses in Nigeria are already feeling the brunt and burn of a large inaccessible market.

There have been a lot of measures put in place to increase Internet penetration in Nigeria; most of them are still in place. But the percentage increase over the years has shown that these measures are ineffectual. Let’s try another solution; examine pornography as a saviour of the Internet in Nigeria.

A shocking truth

Before hissing in ‘dismissive disgust’, data says the consumption of pornography is a predominant phenomenon in Nigeria.

In 2013, a Google Trends comparison showed Nigeria ranked among the highest in search of hardcore pornographic materials.  Things have not changed much since then.

An analysis of web traffic analytics company Alexa in 2017 showed porn sites were among the top 300 for Nigeria and they still are.

Suggested read: 13 amazing things the Alexa traffic ranking can teach you about Nigerians

Out of the over 200 million functional websites in the world, if pornography websites are in the top 300 for Nigerians, then there are more closet porn addicts than we care to admit.

Even the academic conservatives are not exempt from this craze. In November 2017, vice chancellor of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University in Awka, Anambra State, Prof. Joseph Ahaneku reportedly said 40 percent of the university staff watch pornography on their work computers.

Nigerians really love pornography and apparently consume it in large quantities.

Why porn?

Out of all the other alternative methods already existing, why pornography?

When the world still viewed the Internet as an oddity, pornographers were already selling content and making money.

They probably will never teach you about Danni Ashe in business school, but the erotic model and pornographer can be considered as one of the early pioneers of global e-commerce. Launched in 1995, her adult content e-commerce website got 1 million hits in the first week and was one of the busiest on the web for the next two weeks. It was turning $8 million in profit annually and was estimated to be worth $21 million by 2001.

In his book, “The Erotic Engine; How Pornography has Powered Mass Communication, from Gutenberg to Google.”, Patchen Barss discussed how pornography drove adoption of different nascent technologies.  The Video Cassette Recorder (VCR) picked up because viewers did not want to be seen leaving x-rated cinemas.

Even till date, from AR to VR and others, pornography and adult content still drives technological adoption.

Two of the world’s biggest adult entertainment providers Playboy and Penthouse Magazine recently joined the cryptocurrency frenzy. They both will support the Vice Industry Token (VIT); an exclusive coin for the adult industry trying to revolutionise adult content by paying content creators and viewers.

As much as this new relationship seems mutually beneficial, evidential precedents have shown cryptocurrency will receive a larger — and much needed — boost.

Nigeria is not completely immune to this trend.

Oluyomi** is a 27-year old foreman in a concrete block industry based in Lagos State Nigeria. He is a hard-working, peace abiding citizen of Nigeria who hopes to further his education one day and get a better-paying job.

Oluyomi is addicted to pornography and does not hide his love for it. He, in fact, has an informal group of enthusiasts that share his passion. He shares his passion with me with zest.

One day in late 2013 or early 2014, — he is not sure exactly –, things took a different turn when a member of this group showed Oluyomi how to stream free pornography from the Internet and that was the end of pirated ₦500 pornography DVDs for him.

After using a smartphone for 2 years and some months, Oluyomi bought his first data plan; a 2GB mobile Internet subscription to stream porn.

Selfishness and personal conviction have always been two of man’s greatest motivations. Like Oluyomi, can pornography truly drive Internet adoption for the average Nigerian?

The three pawns (not greater) lesser  than porn

Selfish motivation is the biggest reason pornography has been able to accelerate the adoption of nascent technology. As motivation reduces the perceived stress of any activity, piggybacking off pornography to an increased user base has been easy for new technologies.

Gbenga Sesan is a  Nigerian social entrepreneur, ICT advocate, and Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN) who agrees to a certain extent, but with some important reservations.

Even though it is one of the biggest unplanned attractions on the Internet, pornography alone cannot serve as a motivation, but it may drive Internet penetration to a large extent.  When the morality question is removed, for Internet access, pornnography is still a bait motivator like sports and gossip, but motivation is not enough. Need, priority, and cost still remain some of the biggest hindrances to Nigeria’s Internet [penetration] and that even if pornography fixes the issue of motivation for Internet access in Nigeria, priority and cost still remain.

Need, priority, and cost are what he called the three pawns.

Gbenga Sesan, Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative

He argues that more effort be directed to meeting people’s needs with the Internet and they won’t have any problems getting online.

Every day, new solutions pop up on the Internet that meets the need of the everyday Nigerian.

Most of these services are innovative and effective alternatives to existing problems, but awareness of these great services is still limited to the number of people online.

Gbenga gave an example of providing solutions for a student who needs to prepare for an exam with the Internet. But tons of these solutions already exist; the students and their parents just don’t know.

Piggybank, LifeBank, and Aella Credit are more examples of largely unknown but innovative practical solutions to Nigerian problems.

These three pawns are easy pushovers; motivation is still a big(ger) problem.

The other face of the same coin

There has always been a nascent pornography industry in Nigeria by Nigerians.

But with the rise of the Internet, this industry is already shaping up to be a billion naira industry; reach is instantaneous and massive resulting in mind-boggling numbers.

The original popular pioneers, Maheeda and AfroCandy, both toyed with the Internet as a medium but not seriously enough. Maheeda still uses Instagram inconsistently and AfroCandy has run through 3 domain names — Afrocanetwork, Afronetube and Afrocandysnetwork — since 2015 till date and none is currently functional.

With amateur videos scattered all over the Internet, a lack of organisation is also a major detraction to the industry.

In all of this, Tobiloba Isaac Jolaoso, popularly known by his online moniker Kingtblakhoc across all major social media platforms, is literally the king of the Nigerian pornography new school.

Even though all his videos have him as the lead male performer and are less than professional, this Nigerian Hugh Hefner wannabe has leveraged social media and the Internet to help Nigerians better access a product they love.

The few times he has been yanked off Instagram and Snapchat, the CEO of HocHub and HocHookup returns stronger with followers in the hundreds of thousands in a few weeks.

HocHub is an online pornography vending machine with 43 original videos as at press time. The earliest of the videos was posted 11 months ago and regardless of its 1 hour and 2-minute length has garnered 3,914 views. And all these views are from paid members.

Membership on HocHub is not cheap; a 1-day unlimited access is ₦1,500, 1 week unlimited is ₦6,000, 2 weeks is ₦10,000, 1-month access costs ₦15,000, and a whole year plan is summed up to ₦100,000.

Subscription prices on HocHub

Intending users have to input their card details in a payment portal that is powered by VoguePay and go through the remaining ‘hurdles’ of confirming payment via WhatsApp.

VoguePay payments portal on HocHub

Firstly, these numbers are a sample prime indicator that this taboo is already a prime motivator for a whole lot of Nigerians and there are way more closet ‘Oluyomis’ than not.

Most importantly, the accrued number of paid subscribers on HocHub dispels 2 myths; Nigerians do not stream videos online with their data and are wary of putting payment details online.

With the right motivation, Nigerians will use the Internet to its optimal capacity.

The multiplier effect

In Oluyomi’s informal focus group, Charles* is an interstate truck driver and father of 3 who has also gotten onboard this modern means of consuming his pornography passion. Through a series of unintentional experimentations, he discovered it was cheaper to communicate via WhatsApp with his wife.

“I saw that every time I left the house, I spent more money getting airtime to talk to my family than when we communicated via WhatsApp texting and calls, and even though it is not always clear, we sometimes use video.”

Because of this cost effect discovery necessitated by Charles’ forbidden passion, his wife gets a monthly data plan. His eldest son got a new feature phone with Internet functionalities and a data plan.

This ripple effect is not a given, cannot be directly monitored or measured, but is a very probable and feasible pornography can motivate internet penetration on a basic level.

What’s the delay then?

In the diaspora, pornography is still a taboo of sorts and with Africa as an even more conservative society than most, the topic is more abhorred here. Religious and sociocultural factors are some of the reasons for this alienation of pornography in the African society.

It is instructive that in the course of writing this story, most of the potential interviewees did not want to comment on the issue. And the ones that reluctantly did refuse to be named. Even in all his open-mindedness, the real name of our main subject is not Oluyomi.

But away from questionable, personal, moral, and justifiable biases, pornography is indeed very dangerous. In any of its forms, it is a potentially addictive warped deviation from the true nature of sexual activities. Addiction to pornography and the resultant debilitating effects are its strongest actual downsides.

But this addiction is not unlike drugs, social media, and your smartphone; all these ‘vices’ trigger the same part of the brain associated with rewards.

There are different studies relating to addiction in pornography. Most have different angles and opinions, but they all agree in some way that addictions in general trigger and activate reward circuits in the brain that controls the ability to feel pleasure.

As a father, another reservation Gbenga has is child pornography.

“Considering the ease of access to the Internet, if pornography becomes mainstream, there will be no way to check pornography in and of children.”

And this is where attempts at regulating Internet pornography will generally curb underage consumption. Instead of proposing an outright ban like Nigeria’s immediate past National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki reportedly did in 2015, proactive measures can be put in place to regulate responsible use especially with and around children.

By 2020, there will be 38 billion devices on the Internet of things; watches, kitchens, fashion and every facet of our lives will be online. Without an effective Internet penetration, Nigeria will be playing catch-up when — and if — the singularity happens.

Pornography already exists and data has shown that whether it is viewed as a taboo or not, Nigerians are massive consumers of this forbidden fruit. If regulated, maybe it can finally be a lasting solution to the Internet penetration of which we speak. Whether porn or other pawns, the Nigerian Internet situation has to improve.

*At an over 84% mobile penetration rate, Nigeria is largely a mobile-first country so these figures are for mobile.

**All names in the article have been changed at request.

Victor Ekwealor

Victor Ekwealor


tech. media. startups. africa. vc | Twitter: @victor_ekwealor

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