If you have never been to the Lagos (Ikeja) Computer Village, what you are perhaps missing is a chaotic world of ICT gurus, a community of both computer and phone accessories and etcetera. If you have never been to the Computer Village, what you may be missing are fraudsters and tricksters, dubious traders whose businesses in the market are shady; hungry, angry Nigerians who are ready to turn one naira to one million within a wink of an eye. Again, if you are a first-timer at the market, especially in the beehive vivacity of the day, look very carefully at the people you see around. You will notice aberrant faces looking like the leftovers of a hunger's feast. Some of these people are victims of the day-to-day dishonest trading dominating the heart of the market.
Discretion, they say, is the better part of valour, but Doicy, a Benin-based-man and first-timer in Lagos, was not discreet enough when he patronised the Computer Village at Ikeja; he was simply shown how to shine his eyes next time.
It was in 2017, Doicy (as he preferred to be called) was on a visit to her cousin in Lagos. The young man, who had never been to Lagos, must have heard about the market called Computer Village, which is said to be rich of computer accessories, both new and fairly-used phones, and has numerous men with computer and phone-repair wizardry. The newcomer was not aware that as it is easy to get fantastic ICT accessories in the Computer Village, so it is to be defrauded. He told this reporter how he was duped in the market.
He had had an iPhone 6 and wanted to replace it with an iPhone 7. Having being briefed by his cousin on how to go about it in the market, he joyfully headed to the place but returned home with a sad tale to tell.
"When I went to the market, I saw a guy with the exact phone I was looking for. He wishpered to me to come and because I loved the phone already, I accepted. When he gave me the phone, I went through all the functions and concluded in my mind that everything was working perfectly," he said.
"He asked me to bring my phone (the iPhone 6) so as to check if it was working perfectly. I gave him and we started negotiating the price; he said I should come over to 'his shop' so as to leave the road. As we were heading over to the shop, I just discovered that I couldn't find him again — he disappeared, suddenly."
Doicy was left with no choice other than to return home, embittered. When he got home, he told his cousin the hellish experience he had at the computer village and, instantly, his cousin called her aunty, who is a police officer in the market.
"The policewoman ordered her boys to accompany me down to the Computer Village to look for the guy. When we got there, we couldn’t find him and, we proceeded to the shop he was trying to take me to," Doicy said. "On getting there, the real owner of the shop said he didn't know anyone I described to him. Worst still, I did not know his name, too. I believe I was easily duped just because it was my first time in Lagos and in the market."
But, was Doicy a victim of thievery only because he was a first-timer at the Computer Village? No!
So many Nigerians across the country have painfully been duped; they have experienced some form of loss of money to fraudsters and thus have bitterly criticised the fraudulent business activities in the market. There is a massive illegal street hawking of phones and computer accessories by unregistered traders and retailers who hawk on the streets of the market without any definite shop; some of them just have bogus display units rather than a proper store.
So much profit is made from reselling stolen phones by criminal phone dealers and their accomplices at the Computer Village. For example, in 2017, the Lagos State Special Task Force on the Environment and Other related Offences apprehended some robbers who operated around the Oshodi area. They confessed that on several occasions, they had dispossessed passers-by of their phones and other valuables, and that the majority of their loot were sold at the Computer Village and other markets in Mushin and Obalende.
An Undercover Mission
Who on earth can know the colour of a killed chicken in the soup if not an insider? Isn't it a thief that can tell perfectly how to catch a co-thief? For three straight hustling and bustling days, inside the babbling noisy market, my colleague and I combed the market, first, disguising as a student researcher, second as ardent customers of the market — all to get firsthand details of how customers are defrauded in the market and how improbity outmaneuvers the trading activities therein.
It was midday already, my colleague and I had trekked and footed places in the market before we met Olumide Ayoola, who, like a teacher would teach his student, gave a chapter-by-chapter how-to of defrauding customers in the Computer Village. While he played the role of an erudite of computer-village-fraud, we became his students and wrote meticulously as he spoke.
"When you get to the market, you will meet people hawking on the streets with phones in their hands; if you see the phone you like and feel like buying, they will give you the original phone — the phone you really want to buy and allow you to operate it well. They might even show you the accessories and manual and when you are convinced that the phone is working perfectly, the negotiation of the price will commence immediately," he explained, scrupulously.
"You guys will agree to pay some certain amount of money. And, after you might have agreed on payment, they will tell you that they need or want to package it for you. Immediately they take the phone, they will give you another phone entirely, though it will be the same colour and look alike. After getting home and you open it, you will see that it is not working or that it is only ‘fufu’ they have given you."
He rounded off his 'how-to' by stating what the notorious traders are capable of doing even when one later realises that one has been defrauded.
"Of course you will be furious and when you get back to the exact place the phone was sold to you, you may get them and they will ask if you weren't the one who checked the phone yourself.
"And, they have ‘arrangee’ [fake] policemen who will come to shout at you just to intimidate and initiate that fear in you. If you are the type that is not brave, you will begin to beg them instead. All you will want to do at that time is to get rid of their trouble."
Another black tall man who claimed he was once into the business but is now a phone repairer told us another version. "I will tell you but don't mention my name anywhere," he said in Yoruba.
"This is the logic. They'll hold the original item, let's say a phone. They'll negotiate with the intending buyer using the original product. They know what they want to do. The fake product will be in their pocket. After negotiating with the intending buyer, they'll quickly change the original with the fake while the buyer is counting money.
"They are good at doing that without the buyer noticing. They'll then raise alarm about the arrival of the police. When that happens, one wouldn't even be able to check what one has bought. Then, they'll run away."
Earlier, we had visited the police station located in the heart of the market to find out how often aggrieved victims come to lodge complaints at the station. But the fair, round senior police officer we met was as tacit as possible, aswering us mainly with monosyllabic clauses. He said swiftly that he had just been posted to the market's police station and thus, he had no idea of the recurring menaces in the market. Not even his name could he tell us; he then directed us to the Chairman of the market and 'honourably' excused us.
A two-time visitation to the Chairman's office was futile; messages were sent and calls made, but he refused to respond.
More Unpleasant Stories About The Market
What happened to Doicy in the market is a similitude of Anabel Issabella's experience. But unlike Doicy, she was very conversant with Lagos and its environs. Issabella had been to the Computer Village on several occasions but her knowledge of the market's nooks and crannies could not prevent her from being victim of a dubious phone trader.
To Isabella, patronising the men on the streets might be very dangerous, thus she decided not to buy from any of those boys who carry about and offer phones for sale, typically advertising on streets. She wanted one of those traders displaying their phones on show glasses in their own shops, preferably a woman. Those women, she thought, would not be as dubious as men could be. But she was wrong for, what she saw was different from what she thought. How it happened, she said, was still very fresh in her memory.
"Because I thought I was safer to buy from a woman than a man, I met this woman whom I told the type of phone I wanted to buy — a ‘London used’ Samsung phone. She offered it to me and after we’d bargained about the price, I gave her N25,000. But when I took the phone home, I realized that the camera and other stuffs were not working."
When Anabel went back to the woman to complain, she denied any wrongdoing. Therefore, she decided to create a scene that would taunt her.
"I was chasing away all her customers, telling them that this woman sells bad phones. I taunted her so well that she started ranting and calling me names," she said. "We took the matter to the police station and luckily for me, a woman was the DPO and she asked both of us to tell her what really happened.
"After the DPO heard from both of us, she ordered the woman to give me a good phone, adding that I should have been in school but she, the phone seller, had prevented me. So, the woman agreed to give me the money, which she did the following day."
Curiosity That Kills The Cat...
Curiosity that kills the cat pushed this reporter and his colleague out to the market again; this time, not just to discreetly unveil the how-to of defrauding customers, but to practically face the fraudsters and tricksters, disguising as customers.
As we stepped in, countless eyes welcomed us. While some carousing advertisers were deejaying a series of music at one side, many other traders were drawing passers-by to what they were selling.
We minded our business but set our eyes carefully on other people's businesses in the market.There and then, a man suspected to be one of the unregistered traders dragged us aggressively to buy his phone, Samsung Galaxy S6. "Come, make I give you this one," he said, as if he would give the phone for free. We played along, as if we were really going to buy; we started haggling on the price. "That phone wey you dey see, I just buy am last month, just wan sell am make I use the money for something," said the man. As he spoke, his mouth stank of acrobatic schnapp, his lower teeth also cola-nut coloured.
While we haggled, he signalled to a man beside him to move closer and handed over to him a replica of the same Samsung Galaxy S6; I observed, while the other confrere chacked the functions of the phone. He insisted we paid N25,000 for a N100,000-worth phone.
As of the time of writing this story, the price of Samsung Galaxy S6, when checked on several online electronics market platforms, showed that purchasing such an expensive phone for N25,000 may be tantamount to buying trouble with one's money. On Jumia, Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge-64GB-White Pearl (the exact phone the man wanted to sell for N25,000) went for N105,000. On Konga, another renowned online electronics market, Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge-64GB-Black was sold for N195,000, while its 32GB went for N98,000. Further checks on OLX.com.ng, an online market website for fairly used electronics, revealed that the price of the same phone is not less than 50,000 Naira (at the cheapest price).
Meanwhile, the phone hawker wanted us to purchase a spic-and-span looking Samsung Galaxy S6 for just N25,000 and wanted us to believe we would be safe to buy such phone. When all sorts of magnanimity were observed in his trading mannerism, we scorned him and left the spot. But we never evacuated the scene of the scenario without picturing the face of the aggressive seller.
Fast-forward few more minutes, we ran into trouble in the market with one of the street hawkers of phones. Tall, pale-looking with scars on his face, he hissed to draw our attention to himself. "Come, which kind phone you wan buy?" said the man, his palm-kernel eyes were dominating and intimidating. He looked left and right; front and back, vigilantly, as if somebody could come his way at anytime.
No sooner than we began haggling with him that we felt insecure with his smooth talk. He told us to be smart and watchful of policemen. While the other reporter negotiated with him, I stood a bit aloof to discreetly take his picture like I did the other time. But unfortunately, I had hardly taken the picture when the man, with a harmful look voiced out. "What are you trying to do?" he shouted. "Na so una dey do. You wan kon take my photo put for newspaper. God go punish you."
Forcefully, he hijacked my phone and checked the picture records; though, he couldn't find his picture, he saw that of one of his accomplices which was taken earlier. He raised the alarm; and suddenly, the said man whose picture appeared on my phone showed up. "I no know say you be mad man. E no go better for you. Wetin I do you? Me wey I dey hustle on my own. Shebi if you no wan buy phone, you go waka go! God go punish you," he lamented.
For over two hours, we we were there. While we maintained that we meant no harm with the pictures taken, they insisted we must pay for what we had done. "I no go leave this phone if you no pay 10k," he said as he held my phone firmly, holding me to ransom. More and more by-passers crowded around us. The atmosphere was tense. They threatened to drag us to the nearest police station, but when they saw the arrant courage we had to go to the police station, they changed their minds, insisting we must pay.
At a point, the partners in crime had a brief whispering meeting. The meeting, we understood, was to plot how to run away with the phone. At once, all of them shouted on my co-reporter and many people rounded him up as if he was a thief. The other man with my phone picked up a horsey race, but I ran after him, quickly. When I saw he was a bit far from me, I pulled off my left leg's shoe and stoned him. He fell. Then, I shouted on him as they did to my colleague, too. Sooner, the other abbetors came around and, with a calm voice, they insisted we would not go scot-free; we must pay the price for what we did. Then negotiations began.
This time, they were successful in dragging us to a deserted area in the market and terrorised us, immensely. They insisted we either paid them or went home without the phone. We were forced to transfer the total sum of N8,000 to two account numbers. They deleted the pictures on the phone and asked us to find our way. Meanwhile, the pictures they deleted still exist on the deleted records of the phone!