Zero to 70 Million: The Story of MTN Nigeria

Yusuf Omotayo

The Genesis

In January of 2001, the
Nigerian Communications Commission conducted the Nigerian GSM auction. MTN paid
$285m for one of four GSM licenses
On May 16, 2001, the first mobile call from the MTN
network in Nigeria was made making it also the first GSM call in the country.
The historic event would go on to define a revolution in Nigeria’s mobile
telephony sector.
In January 2003, the then president, Olusegun Obasanjo
commissioned the network’s digital microwave transmission backbone, the 3,400
Kilometre YhelloBahn.
Following its launch in August 2001, full commercial
operations began in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt. Since then, it has steadily
grown one village, one town, one city at a time reaching and connecting all

Connecting people
Since that first phone call was made, MTN has gone on to
provide the opportunity for millions of Nigerians to connect and foster better
relationships. Statistically, 20 million Nigerians live in areas where MTN is
the sole provider of communication. With 70 million active subscribers and 32.6
million active data subscribers, MTN is the largest provider of communication
services in Nigeria.
And there is a reason for this.
MTN has continued to prioritise penetration to people and
places in Nigeria many don’t even know exist. These people rely on its network
to connect with family and loved ones.


MTN is able to provide call and data service to millions
of Nigeria as a result of its rapid growth in infrastructure which in 20 years
has become the largest in Africa. The company has built 15,552 2G sites, 16,600
3G sites, 10,058 4G sites, 818 rural telephony sites and 30,011.6Km of Fiber
optics backbone.

This digital penetration is being accelerated annually.
Following the Nigerian government’s plan to increase broadband access from 45.09%
to 90% between 2020-2025, MTN announced that it plans to invest N640 billion in
the next three years to expand access.

Community Reach

Central to MTN’s
operation is the continuous project to reach more people. This reach however
has moved from providing communications access to directly touching lives. At
the moment, MTN has 47 project categories ranging from health to sport,
education, and many more.
The MTN Foundation began full operation in 2005 just a
few years after the company was established and it has become an integral and
recognisable part of its project.
The foundation is managed by an independent board and it
focuses on improving the quality of individual lives and the progress of
So far, the foundation has reached 850 active project
sites spread across 446 local government areas in all 36 states of the
federation and Abuja. This has reached 19 million Nigerians in 2,476
communities at a cost of N22.66 billion.
Through the ‘What Can We Do Together’ initiative, MTN
provided furniture to more than 200 schools; installed 50 bore holes and 40
transformers; upgraded 120 primary health care centres; and supported children
in 120 primary schools and orphanages.
Over 4,000 youths have been awarded scholarships while
2,000 participated in ICT and Business Skills training sessions. Ultimately, 40
emerging entrepreneurs have been awarded grants and equipment loans.

Public Sector Partnership MTN has partnered with
the public sector as an indirect way to reach out to the people. Through
government ministries and agencies, the company has carried out interventions
in the health education, drug, science and technology sectors, etc.
Some of the partnerships have been with the Federal
Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development,
the Federal and State Ministries of Health, the Federal Ministry of Education,
the Federal Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy, the Federal Ministry
of Youths & Sports Development, the State Ministries of Science & Technology,
the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), the National Universities
Commission • National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), the Nigeria Centre
for Disease Control, (NCDC), the National Primary Health Care Development
Agency (NPHCDA), the National Universities Commission and the United Nations
Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

COVID-19 Response

Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the telecoms company went straight into action activating a N25 billion intervention plan to mitigate the spread of the virus, provide relief materials, access to quality information and support for businesses.
N20.3 billion of the fund went to customers with over 4bn
free sms sent in 3 months. Also, there were over 1.7m free money transfers by
about 100,000 people using the MoMo Agent Network, over 3,000 TB free data used
to access zero-rated health websites, daily free access to Ayoba messaging app
and zero-rated access to educational websites for students and pupils
N500 million worth of PPE and medical supplies from MTN
Foundation went to frontline workers while there was also the provision of toll-free
lines (3 months) to support consultations for high-risk patients and on-call
doctors. MTN also provided a 350kva generator to the NCDC Abuja Isolation
The company donated N1 billion to the CACOVID fund and
N10 million to the Lekki Foodbank.
As part of its COVID-19 response, N500 million in
airtime, devices, data, and analytics were provided to 36 state governments and
FCT while N9.2 million worth of data and airtime was provided to the Lagos
State Government. N3.6 million in data was also provided to the Federal
Ministry Of Health.

With 4.7 million active
fintech users on the MTN platform, the company is the leading provider among
other networks. The introduction of its mobile money (Momo) has also boosted
financial penetration. Currently, there are 41.8 million active Momo users.
This has improved financial inclusion and expansion to a lot of Nigerians.

As part of its contribution to Nigeria’s financial
infrastructure, MTN provides network support to more than 50,000 POS and ATM
machines. This support enables the provision of banking services to more people.
MTN has enabled 4.3 billion rapid and expedited
transactions via USSD and this number is expected to rise as more Nigerians
embrace mobile banking.

Taxes and levies

Since it began operation in Nigeria, MTN has paid N2.29 trillion in
taxes and levies to the federal government of Nigeria. It has also provided
N2.81 trillion capital investment.

As part of its tax-compliance stance, the company
recently announced its plan to reconstruct the Enugu-Onitsha Expressway. This
was in response to the federal government’s call for an Infrastructure Tax
Credit Scheme.”

Truly Nigerian

The company has over
1,800 workforces across the country with 99 percent of them being Nigerians.
This has translated to the development of a global leadership pipeline with
Nigerians serving in managerial roles in other countries like Liberia, Guinea
Conakry, Cote d’Ivoire and Benin republic.


In 20 years. MTN has been
recognised as one of the best companies in Nigeria. As recently as 2020, the
company has been recognised as the Brand of the Year by marketing Edge, Most
Responsive Organisation to the Covid-19 crisis at the Nigeria Risks Award and
Employer of the year (platinum Category) by Investors in People Award. It was
also recognised by the Nigerian website as one of the 100
companies in the world that helped citizens get through the COVID pandemic.

20 Years and Beyond

In 20 years, MTN has
risen to become the biggest telecommunications company in Nigeria by market
share, subscribers, and reach. This is thanks to its focus on people and
centring their needs to provide access to communications.

It has also become one of the biggest investors in
people, infrastructure, and the economy. And in

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