Computer Village located in Ikeja, Lagos is arguably the biggest market for computers and allied tech products in Nigeria and the West African sub region.
Every day, huge sums of money exchange hands between buyers and sellers of phones, laptop computers and several other tech devices in the market.
Computer Village has also proven to be one of the biggest employers of labour in Nigeria where thousands of youth struggle to eke out a living by repairing phones, laptops and other consumer tech products. However, like most markets in Lagos, Computer Village is always overcrowded.
Another merchant, Ndubuisi, who sells so-called “London-used” mobile phones for over six years now, explained his past experience of December periods in the business: “December months in 2013, 2014 and 2015, the market used to be a period of very high sales. Many people will come and buy phones, and many will come to change their phones to higher models or different brand. But this year, it is the worst I have seen so far.”
Although I have been to Computer Village on several occasions but on this particular visit ahead of the last yuletide celebrations, I went on a fact finding mission to discover how the present state of the economy was affecting sales in the market, especially at yuletide season.
To my greatest surprise, despite several complaints by some people on the present state of the Nigerian economy, the most of the people I met at the Computer Village did not depict the popular complaint of “no money in circulation” and the market also maintained the regular feature of being overcrowded and congested.
As soon as I alighted from the car at the Computer Village entrance gate at Otigba Street, I got welcomed by a group of hustlers who started competed for my attention, many of them stationed under umbrella stands.
These guys sell high tech smartphones like iPhones, HTC, Samsungs among others at some ridiculous prices. One of the guys offered to sell me a Samsung Galaxy S4 at N12, 000, a phone that normally cost about N80, 000. Could this be a fake Samsung or a stolen phone? Why is he so desperate to get rid of it?, I silently asked myself.
An intriguing part of my experience in this big tech market that is the sounds of music from all directions. Many of the big shops set up sound systems playing music ( a mix of Nigerian hip hop, Afro beat and Xmas jingles) to entertain passersby, buyers and even sellers. While this forms part of the Christmas celebration season, the music was also a strategy to attract buyers to their stores.
My experience with some of the mobile phone retailers informed me that a vast majority of the crowd at the market are neither there to buy computer gadget nor mobile phone. Some of the crowds have either come to fix their faulty computer sets or mobile phones. So many others are only there to make enquiries on the latest tech gadgets and their prices.
Moving forward I met with a gentleman that identified himself simply as Mr. Tony, a mobile phone seller in one of the big retail stores in the market. He agreed to speak with me and explained that the state of the economy has affected buying and selling of mobile phones especially during the festive period.
Mr. Tony said the exchange rate has led to sharp increase in price of mobile phones, which has has led to low patronage from customers.
“Increase in dollar rate has really affected us. Everything we buy, we buy it in dollar,” said Mr. Tony. “And as we buy these products at very high cost, a customer will come and expect to get the phones at cheaper price. But because of the dollar rate, when customers come to the market, they find out that the prices of the phones are far above their budget. And this has really affected sales.”
Mr. Tony said over the past few months, the prices of these phones have been increasing weekly. As a result, most customers are always surprised by the new prices when they come to the market. “And this festive period now, everywhere is dry. You can see round the store, there are only a few people here, unlike the previous Decembers when this place used to be very full with people.”
While comparing the sales of December 2015 to that of last year, he said that “last year (2015), phones were cheaper. By this time last year, people were trooping in, changing their phones and buying new ones. But now, because the price is high due to the high exchange rate of dollar, only a few people can be seen around.”
Mr. Tony revealed that before the increase in exchange rate of dollar, they sell up to about 100 units of phones per day. But now, they hardly sell up to 40 units per day. This is a drop in sale of about 60%.
Another merchant, Ndubuisi, who sells so-called “London-used” mobile phones for over six years now, explained his past experience of December periods in the business: “December months in 2013, 2014 and 2015, the market used to be a period of very high sales. Many people will come and buy phones, and many will come to change their phones to higher models or different brand. But this year, it is the worst I have seen so far.
According to him, “the sales now are very poor. This is because many people don’t have money. People are not buying phones now. Anybody you call to come and buy phone will tell you that he is hungry; he has not seen money for feeding, talk more of money for buying phones. By this time last year and last two years, on the average I sell about 10 phones a day. But now, I can’t even get one person to buy a phone.”
In my survey at the market, I met a lady who said she came all the way from Abuja just to fix her faulty Samsung Galaxy 6. The lady, who gave her name as Gloria, said she came to fix her phone and was told she would have to pay N85, 000 to get it fixed.
According to her, all efforts to get the phone fixed in Abuja proved abortive as most phone technicians in the nation’s capital city told her that the only place she can get her smartphone fixed is Computer Village in Ikeja.
Gloria’s experience relates to a statement by Mr. Apara Kehinde Ige, National President of Association of Mobile Communication Device Technicians of Nigeria (AMCODET), stating that mobile phone technicians record over N40 billion monthly transactions from the nation’s mobile economy.
Apara told Technology Times in an interview some months ago that AMCODET members nationwide are making huge revenue from fixing mobile phones and allied devices.
While many people see Computer Village as a market for only computers, mobile phones and other consumer tech devices, I got to see so many merchants who sell other items such as clothes, shoes, bags, wrist watches, eye glasses, pocket wallets and many other items. It also seemed like the food sellers have almost all the regular Nigerian meals at their food stands.
A middle-aged man I met at a store told me that he changes his and his wife’s phone every December. But last year, he may not be able to get another phone either for himself or for his wife because he does not have enough money for that. He said he has begun to consider getting another gift with the little he has instead, saying the phones are too expensive for his budget in 2016.
One thing I took note of in the market is that despite the massive crowd, business activities are carried out in a peaceful manner. The market is packed filled with buyers and sellers from various ethnic group of the country as well as those from neighboring countries.
The hawkers selling their accessories (earpiece, memory cards and the likes), the technicians sitting by their umbrella stands, and many others engaged in one activity or the other go about their business peacefully.
While trying to understand how this peaceful environment is achieved at the market, I discovered that there is a joint task force of security personnel patrolling all over the market environment. There is a Police station in the market that serves as deterrents to those who would want to cause chaos in the market.
An incident summarised the security situation of Computer Village. While I was coming out of one of the stores I visited, I saw a mob storming a young man, accusing him of stealing from one of the passersby in the market. This caused a little tension for many of the passersby. The police however quickly calmed the situation by taking over the case and taking the accused young man to the market Police Station to further investigate the matter.
Overall, my experience in Computer Village last December led me to conclude that there is a very sharp drop in buying and selling of consumer technology product, especially mobile phones during the festive period. Unlike other December festive periods in the past, the mobile phone business is so far not recording the kind of sales retailers expected to see in year 2016.
No doubt, the economic challenge the country is currently facing is a big factor that led to this poor performance in mobile phone sales. The high cost of dollar exchange rate to naira is another, as this has made many of the devices more expensive than it used to be in previous times.