In the early 2000s, my friends and I couldn’t wait till after school to head to the nearest cyber café, to surf the Web. We couldn’t afford to be left out of the “www” wave that had recently hit Nigeria.
Cyber cafés, with large dishes and tall masts, sprung up and blossomed in major Nigerian cities, and, for us, no distance was too far to satisfy our thirst for the ‘new’ world online. These cyber cafés, then the cream of Nigeria’s entrepreneurial world, created affiliated businesses and employment opportunities and met the longings of the average Nigerian youth.
But they also became the springboard for internet scamming with which Nigeria’s reputation became intrinsically linked. Spending several hours in a cyber café was later to be interpreted to mean one was a yahoo-yahoo, the name for Nigeria’s internet fraudsters who lure and defraud unsuspecting victims through spurious tales of love and fortune.
Today, almost a decade after their heyday, most cyber cafés have either closed shop or converted to other business interests. Only a negligible few—now shrunken—have weathered the storm. They lost relevance due to bad management, inefficient internet service providers, unreliable power supply, and, perhaps most important of all, mobile internet.
Browsing at a cyber café cost an average of 100 naira (then about $1) per hour for snail-pace connections. Sometimes just to check one’s email could take forever to open. Mobile internet changed that with faster connections at rates as low as 33 naira ($0.16) daily.
The mobile internet and Wi-fi might have made life easier but we have cyber cafés to thank for connecting young people like me to the rest of the world for the first time.