Jeff Amechi Agbodo, Onitsha
Onitsha Phone Market, along New Market Road, near Main Market Onitsha, Anambra State, is a popular place. It is known all over the South-East and South-South zones for the sale of old and new phones and accessories. It is also popular as a hub for phone repairs.
The market, houses four plazas, Emeka Offor Plaza, Emordi Plaza, Ejison Mobile Plaza and Our Lords Plaza. The most popular place for phones and phone repairs among the plazas is the Emeka Offor Plaza. But these days, there are concerns in the entire market about the activities of touts.
When the reporter visited the market, it was discovered that touts numbering over 50 were on the roads from Bida Road and Bright Street junction to Nortage Street, waiting for customers. They always position themselves along the road in a way that customers who visit the plazas must meet them before entering the plaza.
The Onitsha Phone Market, in recent times, had been known for its negativity in dealing with the customers who visit the market to buy phones. The place is also known to be notorious for trading in stolen phones and the swapping of good phones with bad ones by suspected touts and hoodlums who besiege the place on daily basis.
Others who gather at the place daily are those called ‘Oso Affia Boys.’ These young men don’t have shops but depend on those who have shops and goods to survive. They attract customers to the shops and get some money from the traders based on the number of customers brought to particular shop owners.
There have been many cases of stolen phones in some of the plazas. An incident happened last month where policemen from Central Police Station, Onitsha came to arresta phone seller who sold a stolen phone to a customer and the phone was traced to him. The incident degenerated to a fracas, and shots were fired by the police, and a bullet hit one of the security men at Lords Own Plaza.
It was gathered that some of the touts in some of the plazas engage in nefarious activities, including buying and selling stolen phones and swapping phones brought to be repaired with fake or bad ones. It was learnt that some customers who visit the market to buy phones end up leaving with fake or faulty phones. Those who succeeded in getting their preferred phones are, on many occasions, forced to part with outrageous amounts.
A customer, Miss Choma Nwamba, lamented that her phone was changed when she went to the market to get another screen for the device.
“When I got to the area, one boy rushed to me and asked me what I wanted. I told him that my phone screen cracked and showed him the phone. He took me to someone who he said was the best person who repairs phones. The young man told me that it would cost me N7,000 to buy and get the screen fixed. I agreed.
“So, as I was waiting for him to fix my phone because there were other people that came before me, the same young man that brought me came back to the shop. The repairer gave him my phone and told him to go get a screen that would be used to replace the cracked one. The boy went away with my phone and after some time he came back, I didn’t know that he had gone to swap my phone with another phone. So after some time, the repairer said he had fixed it and gave me the phone. The phone looked alike because it was the same make. I paid him and went home. It was the following day that I opened the phone to check the battery and noticed that the phone was not my phone.
“When I went back there, I didn’t see the boy and I met another person in the phone repairer’s shop who told me that the young boy was not around. I waited for hours and went home. I came back the next to no avail. I reported the matter to the manager of the plaza who intervened and invited the person in the shop but could not resolve it because the main person was not seen. This thing lingered for two weeks or more. I decided not to go back there again and I later dropped the phone when it started giving me problems and I was forced to buy another one,” Nwamba stated.
A Chief Security Officer in Emeka Offor Plaza, Prince Toochukwu Nsofor said the activities of the touts had been a major problem in the plaza which posed a threat to the phone dealers in the area.
He said efforts made to sack them from the roads could not yield any result. He said the police, and the government task force, ‘Ocha Brigade’ were contacted and had raided the area, arresting some of the touts. But he said the suspects were released the following day.
“Here in our plaza, we have everything in place – security, peace and conflict committee who checkmate the activities of the traders and customers in the plaza. Most of the insinuations about Emeka Offor is false. Due to the popularity of the plaza, people don’t know that other plazas exist in this area.
“Many people believe that all these places where phone and accessories are being sold are all Emeka Offor Plaza and that is why if there is any crime and nefarious activities within this area it will be said that they happened at Emeka Offor Plaza. These touts along the street will collect somebody’s phone, the person will say that it was collected at Emeka Offor Plaza even when the touts did not enter the place.
“We have challenges here. We have reported the touts to the Police Area Command, Onitsha and the police had made some arrests. But they were not charged to court, and the next day you will see them on the road again doing the same thing. Nobody can swap phones being repaired in Emeka Offor. We are not into crime here.
Last month, in another plaza, the police shot somebody, and some people said it happened in Emeka Offor Plaza.
“If a customer brings a phone here and it happens to be fake or stolen and the person reports to our office, we will sanction the trader who sold the phone if it is established. We are calling on the security agents and the state governor to come to our aid and sack the touts on the roads who have been giving us a bad name and a bad image.”
A manager with Ejison Mobile World Plaza, Mrs Chinelo Anosike, advised the customers who visit the place to buy phone to always know the type of phones they want to buy and should go straight to the shops to buy them than to fall into the hands of touts on the roads.
“We have measures to ensure that people are not short-changed in our plaza. Those who sell phones that are of not the quality meant for the price would be made to refund the money to the customers or give back the quality phone to the customer. In this plaza, if any dealer or trader buys a stolen phone and we find out, we would invite the police to arrest the person.
“The cause of ‘Oso Affia Boys’ is unemployment, those who don’t have shops, and there is nothing we can do about it. But we have been trying our best to checkmate their activities here. Most of them in our plaza are genuine. We make sure that we give them identification cards and they must be attached to a particular shop and we hold the owner of the shop responsible for anything committed by the boy.
“So, our plaza is the most organised plaza around here. We are appealing to government to provide jobs for the youths, it will reduce the touting in this area because they must survive, one way or the other” Mrs Anosike stated.
An assistant manager at Emordi Plaza Mr Ernest Ugwunne said the touts were the major threats to the traders in the plaza. He said they had arrested some of the touts and handed them over to the police in the past.
“These boys introduced criminality into ‘Oso Affia.’ They steal phones, do all manner of things. At the end, it will fall back on the traders. They are giving the plaza a bad name. We want them to leave the roads so that customers can come in on their own to buy what they want to buy.
“We are appealing to security agents and government to come to our aid to rid this place of the touts. Most times when we arrest them and hand them over to the police, the next day you will see them on the roads again,” Ugwunne said.