Emma Okonji and Ojo Maduekwe write on the dexterity of technicians at Lagos computer villages in solving mobile phone and computer problems as well as the volume of transactions that are carried out in the markets daily
A lot of sales and repairs in computers, computer accessories and mobile phones are going on concurrently in the computer villages in Ikeja and Saka Tinubu Street on Victoria Island, Lagos, but what most Nigerians seem not to understand about the markets, is the ingenuity of the technicians and traders in transacting businesses in the computer village markets. The unique skills that stand them out have helped put Nigeria on the world map as the Ikeja Computer Village is recognised globally as the largest concentration of computers and mobile phones market in West Africa.
Their contributions to economic development are immense, yet neither the traders, nor the market is recognised by government, a situation that compelled the traders and artisans to do things their own ways, without proper guide, based on their limited resources.
Volume of trades are tuned out on a daily basis and a good number of repairs are done in both markets on daily basis, and so much money is being generated by the traders and artisans, yet the markets have remained unorganised since their inceptions, in the areas of structures, development, security, basic amenities, like electricity and water, among others.
History of the Computer Village Markets
Narrating the history and prospects of the Ikeja Computer Village, which is located in a community called Otigba in Ikeja, the Executive Secretary of Computer and Allied Products Dealers Association of Nigeria (CAPDAN), Mr. John Oboro, which is the association controlling the market, told THISDAY that the Ikeja computer village was originally a residential area with few offices owned by Lawyers and Accountants. The market, he said, migrated from Ogunlana Drive in Surulere, Lagos in the early 90s, and since then, had witnessed tremendous growth to become the largest concentration of Information Technology (IT) products in West Africa.
For Computer Village in Saka Tinubu, the Chairman of the Association of GSM Dealers of the market, Mr. Kevin Orjiani, who doubles as the Chief Executive Officer of Cinifect Technologies Nigeria Limited, told THISDAY how the market started in Saka Tinubu.
Orjiani who is a graduate of Urban and Regional Planning from Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka in Anambra State, said he started the business with another friend who is also a university graduate, and a few others, some years after his graduation in 1997.
"At the time we started, we were only two graduates and a few people who were looking for something to do to earn a living. Before we knew it, our number increased to 200. We used to hang out on the street and MTEL used to occupy the building where we now have for our shops. At that time the Police was harassing us, which made us to come together to register our union in 2004," Orjiani said.
He added: "We later discovered that amongst our members, some were graduates of law. With the union and the lawyers among us, we were able to confront the police, and then over a period of time, when they discovered we knew our rights, they left us alone."
He said the current market place was formerly occupied by MTEL, and that the market moved and took over the place, after MTEL vacated the place in 2007.
Display of Technical Skills
At the Ikeja Computer Village, there are schooled and unschooled technicians, as well as trained engineers who have over the years, shown their ingenuity in mobile phone repairs. Some specialises in hardware aspect of mobile phones, while another set specialises in the software aspect. The noticeable difference between the technicians is that the schooled technicians appear more sophisticated in handling repairs. They make use of the computers in detecting faults and proffering solutions to such faults, and they are mainly found in organised shops like Slot Systems, IT World, Microsystems, among other big names in the market. The unschooled technicians, which are mainly found under the canopies along the streets of the market, appear unorganised, and do not use computers, but rely on handheld tools alone to perform the magic in phone repairs.
Head of hardware engineers at the technical department of Slot Systems in the Ikeja Computer Village, Mr. Ndubuisi Nwuke, spoke to THISDAY on his skills in effecting all kinds of repairs on mobile phones.
Nwuke, who is a trained engineer and who specialised in hardware repairs of mobile phones, said he focused on the repairs of hardware components of mobile phones, which ranges, from dead phone parts that cause distortions in the functionality of mobile phones, to issues with key pads, ear piece, integrated circuits, screen, touch pads, and rust that is mainly caused by water contact.
According to him, phones could develop several problems, which could be hardware or software challenge. "What we do when customers bring phones to us for repairs, is to first ask the owner some basic questions about the functionality of the phone, before we diagnose it to find out the actual problem. We fix phones within few minutes of diagnoses, and make them ready for use again, depending on the fault," Nwuke told THISDAY.
According to him, most times, when phones dropped into water, it affects the entire integrated circuits, "and what we do is to carryout general servicing, but in most cases, when the phone memory fails, what we do is to flash the memory, and what it means is that we reset and reactivate the phone memory, to make it start functioning again."
The phone memory can also be affected by virus, and when this happens, the virus begins to corrupt most of the applications and the phone memory is affected. In this case, what we do is to flash the memory, by wiping out all information in the phone memory and reset it to function normally again, he said.
"When a phone falls into water, the first thing that must be done is to remove the battery and allow the phone to dry, before giving it to an engineer for servicing, to avoid future rust of some of the components that had come in contact with water. This is because, when some parts begin to rust, it affects the functionality of that component of the phone, which eventually affects the phone itself," according to Nwuke.
"Again if a phone falls from a certain height, it could have shock effect on the phone memory, or even crack the phone screen. What we do in this case is to flash the memory, and change the screen, and there is virtually no kind of repairs that we cannot carry out on mobile phones."
Although he claims that hardware repairs were more difficult than software repairs in mobile phones, Mr. Ola Adeniyi, who is a software engineer in the Ikeja Computer Village, said the job was highly skilled. According to Adeniyi, most phone problems could either be software problem or hardware problem. He listed the software problems to include corrupt application, through virus attack; faulty programming of the software application; among others.
"What we do is to use our internet-enabled computer to either download free software application from the internet and use it to re-programme the phone, or we buy software application, upload it into our computer and use it re-programme the phone," Adeniyi told THISDAY.
Just like the mobile phone repairs, the computer repairs could either be on software or hardware components.
Mr. Jude Okafor, a hardware computer technician at the Ikeja Computer Village, told THISDAY he had been in the business of effecting repairs on personal computers (PCs), laptop computers and iPads for several years. According to him, apart from repairs, "we can also clone computers by assembling various parts together in less than 30 minutes.
Street Technicians and Trained Engineers
In the Ikeja computer village, there is a lot of technicians, who either by instinct or local training, found themselves carrying out repairs on mobile phones and computers, just as there are schooled technicians and trained engineers. Ndubuisi Nwuke is one of the trained engineers who practice his profession in the market.
He had a technical background and after his technical education in Nigeria in 1999, he travelled to Cote d'Ivoire through self-sponsorship, where he trained in Mobile Engineering. After his training, he worked in Cote d' Ivoire for about two years before returning to Nigeria in 2001, and that was the same year that mobile phones were introduced in Nigeria, through the launch of GSM.
Since then, he has been handling mobile phone repairs, before joining the technical department of Slot Systems in Computer Village, and he sees himself as a trained engineer.
Leonard Audu is a 2011 graduate of Business Administration from Lagos State Polytechnic. Before going to the Polytechnic, he trained as a mobile phone technician and started practising in Ikeja Computer Village, where he repairs phones for people under the canopy on the market street. According to him, he sponsored himself at the Polytechnic through his earnings from phone repairs at the market. He sees himself as technician.
Nwuke however considers street technicians as quacks, whom he said, work on the basis of trial and error methods and end up either effecting good repairs or make additional damages in the cause of carrying out repairs.
"I do not advise people to patronise street technicians because they are quacks, and they bring bad names to the business, especially when they fail to effect repairs," Nwuke said.
Volume of Sales
The prospect of Computer Village, based on the volume of sales, is so enormous that it is unquantifiable, according to Oboro, the CAPDAN Executive Secretary. "Ikeja Computer Village is generating high volume of sales on daily basis. If you go to the sea ports and cargo terminals of airports, you will find the volume of computer products and accessories that are brought into the country every day," he said.
He further said that trade volumes in the Ikeja Computer Village runs into several millions of Naira every month, insisting that if the traders get government support, the government would generate a lot of money from the market.
Speaking on the area of job creation, Oboro said: "As at today, the village has provided direct and indirect jobs for Nigerians who earn their living from trading in the village. But because government is lackadaisical about the village, traders do whatever they feel pleases them in order to survive and majority of them are involved in sharp practices, just to cut corners in the name of survivability."
For Nwuke, the mobile phone engineer, they generate a lot of money from repairs. According to him, computer and mobile phone engineers in the technical departments of most phone dealers in Ikeja Computer Village make between N80, 000 and N100, 000 from a single shop on repairs alone on daily basis, and there are several of such big shops where repairs are carried out in the market, he said.
Experiences and Challenges
All kinds of phones are repaired in Ikeja Computer Village, and they come with various experiences and challenges on the part of technicians and engineers who carry out the repairs.
"According to Nwuke, "I repair all kinds of mobile phones, but do not repair those that are under warrantee. My team has been able to repair several phones with different faults and challenges and at the end, we put smiles on the faces of people who had been facing some challenges with their phones."
"Our greatest challenge in this business of phone repair is the difficulties faced in accessing some mobile phone parts in the market. Some of the parts are very difficult to get and it takes some time for imported parts to arrive the country. Again some of our working tools and equipment are expensive to purchase."
According to him, "We need fault-detecting machines to do our jobs well. As for me, I use my internet enabled computer in finding symptoms of faults and their solutions, but if we have the right equipment, we can use it to detect fault easily and the issue of trial and error method as used by most inexperienced technicians, will not arise. What I do, is to be on-net all the time, seeking for online solutions."
In order to create sanity in the market, the Lagos State Government, in conjunction with CAPDAN, instituted a taskforce and positioned a Police Post in the Ikeja Computer Village. The presence of taskforce brought a lot of sanity and dignity to the market as street hawking has greatly reduced, thus giving way to free movement of buyers who throng the market in their thousands on a daily basis. Before the taskforce was set up last year, the Ikeja Computer Village was a beehive of illicit trading, where miscreants sell pirated copies of software applications as well as fake phones and fake computers.
A senior officer at the Police Post, who spoke to THISDAY about the security of the market, said the taskforce had been able to bring sanity to the market, since it was deployed to the market last year.
He however said the Police still received few complaints, where some quack technicians claimed to have mastery in phone repairs, but ended up damaging people's phones in the process of repairing them. Other minor complaints, he said were issues with sales of fake handsets and cloned computers. "Some dealers sell used or cloned mobile phones and computers to unsuspecting customers, in the name of brand new phones and computers. When customers discover it after few days of usage, they try to return the item, but may end up having issues with the dealer who sometimes refused to change the item bought, or deny having any dealings with the customer," the Police officer said.
"In handling cases of this nature, what we do is to mediate between the buyer and seller, and between the customer and the phone technician and settle them amicably," he further said.
What Traders Need
Managing Director, Jos Communications Limited on Saka Tinubu, Mr. Jude Okocha, who doubles as the Assistant Public Relations Officer, Association of GSM Dealers of Nigeria, said he wanted government to encourage foreign phone companies to come to Nigeria and set up services and assembling centres. "BlackBerry does not have a service centre in Nigeria and that means customers cannot access the warranty feature in the phone package. Now we are the ones that bear the brunt when the customers' phones get damaged. The Nigerian market is large enough for BlackBerry to set up a plant in the country," he said.
Similarly, a mobile phone and phone accessory dealer, who gave his name as Mr. Chizoba, wanted government to woo foreign investors and offer them cheap labour in the country and enabling business environment, to enable them establish phone manufacturing plant in the country.
Besides, the Chairman Association of GSM Dealers said he wanted government to sponsor mobile dealers to China to learn how to couple and assemble mobile phones, if the government is serious about industrialising Nigeria.
Both the Association of GSM Dealers at Saka Tinubu and officials of CAPDAN in Ikeja Computer Village, wanted government to expand their market, by relocating them to a bigger space that will be conducive to attract more volume of business.