No More Goldmine

Empty cyber café
Empty cyber café

Cyber café business in Nigeria is now on reverse gear due principally to a number of intervening factors

|  By Vincent Nzemeke  |  May 13, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

FIVE years ago, owning a cyber café was a money-spinning venture that attracted lots of people. On many streets in the Lagos metropolis, there were at least two or more cyber cafés where people could use internet services to check mails and stay in touch with friends and families on social media sites. But today, the story is different. The cyber café business which was once considered a goldmine is slowly but surely going into extinction. Many of the ubiquitous cyber cafés on Lagos streets have either been closed down or converted to other use. The few ones existing run skeletal services and record less patronage with every passing day.

Tunji Ayegbayo used to own cyber café in Iyana Ipaja until October last year. He said he was forced to close down the business when it was no longer yielding the desired profit. “I was one of the early investors in cyber café business and I can tell you that it used to be very rewarding. But the case is different now and the profit has dropped. I had to close my own cyber café in October last year when the cost of running the place became more than the profit I was making.”

Like Ayegbayo,  James Nwaiwu used to work as a manager in a popular cyber café in Ikeja. He was thrown out of work in February this year when his employer told him and other employees that he was ‘downsizing’ because the café business was no longer profitable. Nwaiwu said the downsizing strategy was a decoy employed by his former boss to hide the financial challenges of the business. “We were having problems before he came up with that downsizing strategy. He owed salaries for almost three months and it was hard to raise money because the business was going down.”

Nwaiwu, who now runs his own business centre, corroborated Ayegbayo’s claim that cyber café business in Nigeria is on the decline and many more café’s are shutting down. “This business used to be very prosperous. We used to have lots of customers from various places and those of us who were there used to work on shifts. Some people will work during the day and others will work at night. But now things have changed. People no longer come to the cyber café and the profit is not much again.”

Some of the few people who still use a cyber cafe
Some of the few people who still use a cyber cafe

Although Ayegbayo and Nwaiwu adduced various reasons for the decline of the cyber café business, they both agreed that the proliferation of personal computers and internet penetration by mobile phone network providers have made cyber café almost redundant.

Ayegbayo said: “Why will anyone come to a cyber café when you can do everything on your computer or phone? Café business started dying the moment mobile phone companies in Nigeria started offering internet services. Although it is still a bit expensive, people prefer to do things on their laptops from the comfort of their homes.”

Despite the low patronage, shrinking profits and many other challenges facing the business, a few cyber café owners are trudging on in the business. Some of them have added book-binding, photography and other ventures to remain in business. Seun Shittu, a cyber café owner in Agege, told Realnews that he developed ingenious ways of making money when it became obvious that cyber café could no longer sustain him.

“The profit in cyber café business had reduced drastically and that has forced many people to shut down. When I noticed that people were no longer coming, I started taking passport photographs and bought a photocopying machine to help myself. I also sell CD’s sometimes and that has really helped me.”

For the customers, convenience and internet speed and the risk of being arrested by law enforcement agents are some of the reasons they no longer patronize cyber cafes.

Rita Etim, said she prefers to do all her internet business on her laptop rather than going to a cyber café where the systems are sometimes slow.

“Since I have a laptop and an internet modem, I prefer to do everything on my computer. It is faster and cheaper for me that way.”

John Ibe, a banker, said he stopped going to cyber cafes when he was almost arrested by some policemen who stormed the place in search of some internet fraudsters. He said: “I was almost arrested by some policemen in a cyber café. They were there to arrest some internet fraudsters and when they didn’t see them, they wanted to arrest those of us there. It took the intervention of the café owner to save us. Since then, I prefer to do things on my own computer.”

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