Report coming in is that the BPE (Bureau for Public Enterprises) saddled with privatizing NITEL (Nigerian Telecommunications PLC) has cancelled the sale of NITEL because the ‘highest’ bidder has not been able to pay. I want to buy NITEL.
Yes, sell it to me, but before I tell you what I am prepared to pay, permit me to share with you what NITEL means to me and what nostalgic memories it evokes in me.
Before the advent of GSM mobile phones, NITEL was the only Sherrif in town. Its word was law and anybody who wanted a telephone had only NITEL, and so it was the boss. I remember the long queues to place a ‘trunk’ call (outside town). Where there were seats, you were seated along a long bench with other people you never met before in your life, brought together for the common purpose of needing to transmit a message – urgent messages on which sometimes lives depended. Then the operator would call your Tally number. “Please go to booth 5”. You went there and made your call. As the minute you paid for was ending you become frantic and signal to the operator to extend it… knowing at the same time you were going to pay through your nose.
But that was when there was an operator.
Usually, the queues were for public telephone booths. There you were standing in the sun and rain, waiting for your turn to make a call. Then your turn came but first you have to wait for the ‘dial tone’, without which you cannot dial the number. “Po, po, po….waiting….and then pooooooooooo”. That’s the dial tone! Quickly, dial…123456, and then “po, po, po”. The number is busy! What to do? Those behind you on the queue are getting impatient. You notice and so you must give way to another. You then have to rejoin the same queue, but this time at the back, behind 15 other people! The cycle resumes.
As this cannot continue like this forever, you decide to apply to NITEL to own your very own telephone in your home. Boy, are you in for an ordeal. Thus begins an extremely lengthly bureaucratic process, with so much bureaucracy as to put the most moribund government ministry to shame. You must pay extorsion fees at every angle, even for a messenger to transfer your files from one office to the other.
Let assume you are the lucky type who eventually get to the end of the hurdle. NITEL finally announces that your application to own a telephone has been approved. Wow, are you proud! They then announce the date they are to come to your house to install the telephone. When you thought your expenses were over, you are in for a shock.
Who did you think was going to provide the pole to extend the wire closer to your neighbourhood, eh? Of course you! Who is going to buy the cables? You, my friend. Now having dug yourself in thus far, it seems foolhardy to retreat, so begrudgingly you begin to pay the levies. Although they had earlier told you the cables were not available, when you produce the money for the NITEL men to go to the market to buy the cables, they produce the cables from their offices. So you actually were buying it from NITEL that was supposed to have provided it as part of earlier expenses you had made.
“Anyway sha, God dey”, you murmur to console yourself.
The day they come for the installation, it seems you have to get your wife to stay at home to cook for an entire contigent of loafers who have come to do you a big favor. You must keep them happy throughout the installation or else, who can say if they will change their minds and leave it half done.
When they finally finish, you have on your desk a brand new phone that competes with your car in expense, but alas it is a dead piece of junk – no tone! Not to worry, the NITEL men will switch it on, but for that you must pay some more. Oh well. You pay and behold, close to the end of the day, your phone begins to work.
It works when it does. You are the proud owner of a telephone and you no longer must stay on a queue to make a call.
One week later, the line goes dead.
By this time you already have ‘friends’ in NITEL. Friends who will watch your back and watch your line. They must be kept on a monthly retainer or else something might happen to your precious telephone line. It is only then you realize that because of the money you were paying, NITEL officials had unplugged another hapless customer to plug in your line. There was no space for two so Paul had to be robbed for Peter.
From that day until thy kingdom come, you must pay for a line watcher.
When the GSM mobile phones came, in a short time 65 million Nigerians own telephones, right to the Palm Wine tapper and the truck pusher. It is for us a necessity so much that the beggar by the road side still keeps aside some money to maintain her mobile phone.
And so must BPE have any difficulty selling off the behemoth called NITEL?
That is why I want to buy NITEL.
Having done so much for and to my life, I cannot just allow this glorious national institution to be sold to just about anybody.
My best offering for NITEL is Five Naira (N5). Take it or leave it. Or better still, bomb it to smithereens. It is not worth a kobo! Stop wasting our time.