Today I went to one of the cell phone companies office in Nigeria to sign up for their internet service. Most people connect to the internet with either their mobile phone or by buying a modem and SIM card from a cell phone company. When I arrived at the office the security guard told me that the office was not open on Saturday. I am not sure why but I was surprised that a customer service office would not be open on Saturday to help people who work during the week.
After a brief conversation with the guard he asked me what I needed and I told him I wanted to sign up for internet service. He then gave me a brochure and showed me his plastic bag full of modems. It turns out that you can buy the modem and SIM card from the guard, so I did. I asked him for a receipt and he said that he could not give me one. This is when the red flags and bells and whistles usually go off in your head, but I continued. He then told me that I had to have the SIM card registered before I could use it ( registration is a normal process of collecting personal information supposedly to reduce crime). I said fine and left.
After walking outside the gate to my car I passed a minivan full of 11 phone company employees. As it turns out these people were on their way to do a promotion some where. The guard then caught me and told me that they could activate my SIM card. So, I stood next to the front passenger window while some guy entered my personal information, including my right and left thumb and index finger fingerprints and my picture into his laptop. A few minutes later my SIM card was registered.
While this process seems very unusual to me and probably most in the west it is common here. Life can be very informal here and business transaction can happen any where as a matter of convenience. Street vendors sell just about anything that can be carried. You can buy pajamas, shoe racks, games, rat traps and poison, fruit, vegetables, meat and toothbrushes among other things.
Since Nigeria is also famous for scams I couldn’t help but wonder if I had somehow been taken in this process, but I brought the modem home, put the SIM card in and connected to the internet so it seemed to have work. Granted some where in Nigeria my name, face and fingerprints are on another list but that is life here. This is now the third SIM card I have registered in Nigeria so that information is now on three databases.