COVID-19: MORE NIGERIANS TO BENEFIT FROM STAY SAFE FREE SMS THAN DATA
As part of a broader support package to help curtail the spread of the global coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria, MTN Nigeria has announced a Stay Safe Offer which comprises 300 free SMS per month to all its subscribers, to ensure that they can communicate with their loved ones.
The company on its Twitter page sent out a creative announcing the giveaway with the following message: “We understand how important it is to keep in touch with loved ones during this period. Now you can with FREE 300 SMS to all networks.”
Spread across an entire month, the free stay safe SMS package allows MTN’s over 70 million subscribers across the country to send 10 SMS daily for 30 days to all networks. With the cost of an SMS pegged at N4, this is estimated to cost MTN billions of naira to execute.
While there have been commendations by Nigerians, some have been critical of the support package, preferring instead that the company gives out free data. They argue that SMS is outdated and that more Nigerians rarely send SMS these days since there are various messaging and social media apps preinstalled with text features. These are not only relative, but unverified arguments and appear to contradict available facts and statistics.
However, concerned by the criticism, MTN has clarified its reason for the free stay safe SMS. In a press release detailing its interventions so far during the crisis, the company said the free SMS was to ensure its subscribers, “most importantly those in the most vulnerable situations”, can continue to communicate with and support their loved ones and friends.
One of the most important measures to fight the coronavirus pandemic and protect oneself in this present digital era of unrestricted flow of information, is the ability to access reliable and validated information about the nature of the virus from authorised channels.
With the number of smartphone users in Nigeria pegged at roughly 25 and 40 million, this means that the dissemination of reliable information via social media to curtail the spread of the pandemic, would be restricted to those with smartphones; a number that will shrink if we take into consideration the number of people that own more than one smartphone.
The widespread of the Covid-19 pandemic has brought great fear, misinformation and a lot of fake news. Even for a lot of city dwellers, the ownership of smartphones, and access to the internet means that they are more susceptible to being misinformed.
Statistics show that roughly 20 percent of MTN subscribers own a smartphone. This means that the remaining 80 percent of MTN’s 70 million plus subscribers, the majority of who live in semi-urban and rural communities, do not own a smartphone. That is over 40 million people.
For this category of subscribers, the most effective way to disseminate the right kind of health information as authorised by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the Federal Ministry of Health, is through the use of Short Message Services (SMS). Also, being the most vulnerable, there is no better way to do this than to make it free, and available to all subscribers.