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By ADEBAYO OBAJEMU

For the undiscerning, the risk of buying cloned or counterfeit phones is ever present, and pretty much high. The menace of counterfeit phones and other devices may remain in Nigeria unless drastic actions are deployed by the Federal Government. Stakeholders urged the government to become more combative rather than being re-active in the fight against the menace in the country, which they claimed is robbing the economy significantly.

Already, the Mobile Manufacturers Forum (MMF), disclosed that the global economy loses about $6 billion yearly to substitute phones as a result of grey-market activities. About $3 billion is said to be lost yearly in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), where Nigeria is a leading telecoms market. It was gathered that 180 million counterfeit mobile phones are sold globally yearly and represent about 13 per cent of global sale, and eight per cent in the EU.

BusinessHallmark gathered that counterfeiting has increased by almost 50 per cent within three years of a major raid by the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), at the Computer Village, at Otigba, Ikeja, Lagos.

To curb Nigeria’s growing exposure to this menace; some stakeholders told BusinessHallmark that the economy should be made conducive and robust, especially with needed infrastructure put in place to facilitate rapid development. This, they claimed, would enable the people to have access to cheaper and more reliable mobile devices.

They were unanimous in their view that it won’t be out of place if foreign Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), which have sold over five million units in Nigeria, are urged to establish a plant in the country. Above all, it is crucial to have local Nigerian production of mobile devices if the country must be competitive. According to them, avenues that encourage the menace in the region must be blocked.

Many have averred that if some measures are not taken, Nigeria may remain a dumping ground for other nations’ products and services. Stakeholders said efforts must be made to block the usage of fake and cloned phones in the country through the use of technology.

While recommending what India did to curb the menace, the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Teletok Nigeria Limited, Pradeep Kumar, told this newspaper that the Indian government gave a three-month ultimatum that fake phone users should change it or have the SIM blocked. He said when the SIM is blocked, new SIMs are not issued.
Kumar, who recommended local assembly and manufacturing, said a major solution is to have the phones in the country registered. He linked three major challenges to fake phones, including causing health hazards to consumers; low maintenance cycle, and loss of huge revenues on the part of government.

According to him, if there is local assemblage, it will provide an avenue for the phones to be registered from source and through that process, activities of counterfeiters are checked.

From his own perspective, Sales Manager, Phones45, Hamid Babatunde, said Authorities are lukewarm in combating the menace, and challenged government and its agencies to find a lasting solution to the issue. According to him, government should by all means discover where these phones come from; know the centre for distribution and importation of such phones. He disclosed that so many cloned phones are sold at the Computer Village in broad day light, and on several online platforms with highest level of impunity.

In his own view, Mayowa Adekoya of Unotelos Limited, said besides the fact that revenues are lost through unpaid duties as a result of the activities of counterfeiters, there is also the SIM Box scenario, where operators come into Nigeria because of the arbitrage between the international and local calls.

“They bring in these devices that can take multiple SIMs, by so doing by-passing the interconnect path to deliver calls to operators. Hence, the operators and the country lose revenues. The devices they use are products of counterfeiting. Something drastic must be done as fast as possible.”

The Executive Vice Chairman, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Umar Danbatta, said counterfeiting is a global challenge that has elicited a common disquiet among stakeholders worldwide, especially in respect of the continued influx of counterfeit and illegal ICT devices in both developed and developing countries.

According to him, Nigeria is not in any way immune to this problem, saying the challenges posed by this menace are quite devastating, hindering the progress made so far in ICT usage and processes in terms of its economic, social, environmental, and security impacts on the country.

Danbatta said a Mobile Device Management System (MDMS), has been conceived. “The proposed MDMS will have the capacity to facilitate the mandatory registration of all SIM-based devices in Nigeria, block all stolen, counterfeit, illegal or otherwise substandard SIM-based devices from operators’ networks and interface with the Customs Service, Tax Authority, Security Agencies, Standards Organisations and other relevant agencies to ensure the full registration, payment of duties and taxes due on those devices and the protection of security and privacy of users in Nigeria.”

Yahaya Bukar, head of ports and borders at the Standard Organisation of Nigeria, SON, said most of the counterfeit devices come through the ports and borders, especially the Airport. He said by virtue of the enabling SON Act, Act 14 of 2015, it confers on the Customs more power and ability to place stiffer penalties on defaulters.
“We have established procedures for our processes to be able to check some of these substandard products that come in. We stopped cloning of Tecno phones worth N100 million in Kano recently. It is all about information sharing.

“The cloned phones and substandard phones are actually economic wastage products.

“It constitutes dumping, at the end of the day, it becomes useless to the community. Users can be exposed to high radiation, which can affect them. These are the challenges with such substandard products.

“For products coming into Nigeria at the ports and borders, they must be SONCAP certified. So any phone that doesn’t meet our requirement, we stop and confiscate them.

“SON is still restricted from the Ports. We are not in the Ports until we are invited by the Customs. At times NCS see SON as an enemy, so some things are blocked from us. We are saying that there should be more synergy between NCS, SON and other agencies of government including NCC to be able to fight this menace. Also there is need to share information, even from manufacturers and vendors if we must win this fight”.

Mr. Nnamdi Ezeigbo, the Managing Director of Slot Systems Ltd, one of the major dealers in GSM phones, computers and other electronic devices, disclosed that the cloning or faking of genuine products is in every sector of the economy, including drugs, electronics, clothing, and likewise in the phone business.

“As you may know, many Nigerians believe that the only way they can make money is by faking other people’s products, cutting corners and selling fake products. It is funny to know that some of these consumers do know that the reason why some of the products are cheaper than the original products is because they are not genuine.
But they still go on patronizing them. How then can an unsuspecting buyer differentiate the two?

“For them to know which one is original or fake, they should look at the shop they want to buy from. At least, it has to be genuine. Also, the name of the brand is another factor they must consider and find out if the phone comes with international code number, called IMEI number. If the IMEI number on the phone does not tally with the one on the pack, then they should know that it is not original.

“Another thing a buyer must look out for before buying any phone is to find out if that phone has a 12 months Pan-African warranty. What that means is that, if the phone has or develops a fault within the 12 months warranty period, the owner can return it to the seller for an exchange. With the influx of Chinese phones in Nigerian market, any phone that has 12 months warranty and IMEI, it means the quality of the phone can’t be in doubt.

“Colour is another factor people should consider when buying phone. This is because the colour of the screen will tell you if the phone is original or not. Some phones don’t display original colour when they are put on, while others do. The ringing tone is another factor. With ringing tone, it will be easy for you to identify fake phone from original phone. Polyphonic ringing tone is what we use in identifying genuine phones.”

Former Minister of Communication, Chief Adebayo Shittu early this year described the influx of substandard and fake mobile phones as a bad omen, and an economic sabotage for Nigeria, which requires urgent attention to reverse the trend.

Ahmed Ojikutu, former President of the Computer and Allied Products Dealers Association of Nigeria (CAPDAN) told this newspaper that the association is not relenting in its effort to rid the sector of undesirable elements who engage in cloning or faking of genuine products.

CAPDAN is the umbrella body comprising the Dealers, Vendors, Artisans, Technician and SMEs at the popular Lagos Computer Village market. He said that about 250 million fake ICT devices are sold yearly in Nigeria.

The figure actually makes up between 15 and 20 per cent of the worldwide mobile phone market despite the negative economic impact of the unpleasant trend on the producers of genuine products, and government licensed dealers that include brand devaluation.
Impeccable sources in the phone manufacturing business, told BusinessHallmark that counterfeiters might have taken over more than 10 per cent of the country’s market share, and boldly display the products at different areas like Computer Village, Ikeja, and other hinterlands.

Apart from these fake phones constituting some health hazards to consumers, they equally affect Quality of Service (QoS) delivery from network operators.

This was corroborated by the President, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Mr. Olusola Teniola, who said investigations revealed more than 20 mobile phone brands in the country are not NCC type-approved, and contribute significantly to the persistent poor QoS.

“The medicines involved in the survey included antibiotics, anti-malarial and anti-diabetics. A total of 5,790 samples of medicines were tested. “5,419 samples of medicines out of 5,790 (93.6 per cent) tested during the survey passed quality tests while 371 samples (6.4 per cent) failed.