Tommy Ibukunle, a The 21-year-old entrepreneur started her clothing and accessories business in Lagos, Nigeria two months ago. He uses WhatsApp to advertise his products and process orders from customers, typically receiving 20 orders per day. But on October 5, when WhatsApp was shut down for eight hours worldwide (along with other Facebook platforms), its business took a big hit. “I just started my brand, and I use WhatsApp for business because it’s easy. But when I couldn’t access it, I started to worry because I put new items in my status and sent a few to my customers,” says Ibukunle. “I ended the day with five orders, and wondered where I would start if WhatsApp was off, because all my customers are here.”
Although the Facebook disruption was inconvenient for many users in the United States and Europe, its impact was felt much more severely in other regions of the world, where the company and its platforms are absolutely influential. In Nigeria, WhatsApp is the main means of communication with families at home and abroad, and it is also used for business. More than 5 percent of Nigeria’s million social media users use the platform. It may be convenient for everyone to be on the same platform, but the confusion shows that Nigeria’s reliance on the app can be disastrous – and it’s time to look at options.
When WhatsApp went In Nigeria, panic spread, rumors spread that the service would never return. “I sent a message to my daughter, and didn’t deliver it. I thought it was a network problem until my nephew told me it wasn’t,” said Peters, a Nekchinian living in Umuahiya. “When I get worried, because WhatsApp is our main means of communication. What if something happens and he wants to call me? Or do I need help with something important?” Worse, Peters has heard that WhatsApp will be completely removed. “I believed it,” she says. The belief that the instant messaging app will never return makes many worried, uncertain about what to do – and how they will communicate – if the rumor becomes a reality.
Other family members away from them shared the same fears. “My grandmother is old and sick,” said Chiamaka Eze, who came from Nigeria but lives in Benin. “And as his favorite grandson, he occasionally makes video calls to me when my parents or staff aren’t around to help him take his drugs. Wrong medication because he was home alone.”
Such confusions not only cut off communication, but also put people at risk, as many important services are provided through platforms. For example, WhatsApp Mentally Avari Nigeria hosts a 24-hour hotline for those seeking advice or emergency help. Last year, Bail The magazine reported that more than 10,000 people have spoken to Manny since 2016.
And when it comes to business, WhatsApp is the preferred platform over Instagram and Facebook Marketplace. WhatsApp supports business profiles and virtual catalogs that allow customers to find information on the products or services they are interested in. It has become popular with entrepreneurs because customers trust the platform, since “they see items in real time as we add them to our status. There is also a kind of intimacy when communicating within a private home,” said Orji Ike, a fashion designer. But the benefits of WhatsApp for Business are suspended – and entrepreneurs who rely on it suffer – once the service is down.
Atsu Davo, CEO And the founder of Bitsika, a payment app that helps people send money to different countries, says that a company controlling WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook is a ticking time bomb for them that relies almost exclusively on this service. “If we want to think about the real solution of the future,” he said, “such a situation creates a good case for decentralization.”
WhatsApp is successful because there are a lot of people in it, but there are other options. For those living in Nigeria, the options in the WhatsApp messaging app include Telegram or Signal. These apps have privacy features that are not available on WhatsApp and have an open source API. Homeground apps like Softlock Messenger are also available. SoftTalk provides a service for making international calls directly from the app and comes with a shopping feature.
The confusion has shown that Nigerians need to move to other apps, but for this to happen, there must be interesting alternatives that meet the standards of what Nigerians use. Investors should fund local apps and those that have not yet been developed – this type of investment will ensure that other options are available and communication is still possible the next time this happens.
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