*How Nigerian artisans milk clients
By Vincent Kalu
Akani Akiniyi, a civil servant in one of the federal ministries in Lagos, had a heated argument with Nuredeen Alao, a block moulder recently over alleged shady deals. Akiniyi had hired Nuredeen to mould six inches blocks for him for his proposed house at Okoafo, a fast developing area in Lagos State. They had agreed to mould 45 units of six -inches blocks per bag of cement.
For a time, there was quality assurance in the delivery of the job, as Akiniyi was on hand at the project site to supervise the work.
However, Akiniyi thought that the block-moulder was doing well and was honest enough to continue without his being around. He ordered 80 bags of cement which should mould 3,600 units of blocks.
When he came to inspect the progress of work two weeks after, he was pleased that Nuredeen had kept faith by finishing the work at recorded time.
However, he felt short-changed and became infuriated when he tried to lift one of the blocks, and it broke into pieces. He tried with another, and few others and it was the same result. He needed no one to tell him that Nureeden had not moulded the blocks to specification.
It was when the enraged prospective landlord threatened Nurudeen with police action and neighbours were attracted to the scene that the truth was revealed. He confessed to have used only 50 bags to produce about 3,600 blocks, diverting the remaining 30 towards his own proposed house.
Akani’s experience depicts how Nigerian artisans rip off their customers.
The endemic corruption in the Nigerian system, the collapse of societal values, as well as, the penchant to get rich very quickly find a meeting point in the Nigerian artisans.
Whether as bricklayer, block-moulder, tile layer; plumber; mechanic, electrician, phone technician or vulcaniser, these artisans in their dealings with customers always apply the rule of the cave, which is, “any animal that does not devour another deprives itself much fat,” So, in the course of their duties, they devise various tricks of cutting corners or duping their unsuspecting clients.
Professional ethics thrown to dogs
Some of these tricks involve communicating through body language and signs. One of these is whereby a spare part dealer with foreknowledge of an agreed price between him and an artisan corroborates what the latter may have given a customer, if the customer chooses to accompany the artisan to buy a required spare part in the market. In the end, the artisan gets a piece of the pie.
Those involved in this practice say that it is the Nigerian factor that drives them to do it, as people do not believe you even when you tell them the truth.
Some people justify their actions, saying they are not the only ones who cheat, and that they are merely having their own cut of what everyone in the country, including civil servants, unleashes on others.
“It is a cycle we are all involved in, they get from government and we get from them, no one should blame the other. They blame us because they see us uneducated, people at the lower rung of the ladder”.
If mechanics perceive that their client is a learner, or new to a particular brand of car in use, that customer is at their mercy. Sometimes, in order to pad their bills, they tell the customer that non-defective parts need to be replaced, while they recommend replacement of other parts of the vehicle that can easily be repaired.
Some workshops are notorious for pilfering spares or other valuables kept by vehicle owners in such vehicles brought for repairs or service. Performance parts are removed from the engines and batteries, jacks and wheel spanners disappear.
It is the same story at construction sites, where hired hands engage in round-tripping with building materials, if not properly guarded.
One of the duplicitous ploys artisans use in hoodwinking and ripping off their customers is to create fear of using fake, or adulterated products while providing services. Hence, they often tell the customers to go for the ‘original’, which, of course, they would claim is costlier.
Invariably, however, they end up still buying the inferior material, thereby creaming off the extra funds, as the so-called ‘original’ may be unavailable in the market.
Motorists, especially private car owners on long distance journey, perhaps suffer the worst nightmare in the hands of these artisans.
Jolly Ekea would not forget one experience he had last year in a hurry. He had left Lagos for Abia State with his family on December 23, in his Mercedes Benz 230 C. Around Okitipupa, the car developed mechanical problem and he managed to push it to a roadside mechanic workshop at Ore, that claimed to specialise in repairing the vehicle brand.
As it were, the engine of the car was brought down as the mechanic listed the parts that needed to be replaced and their prices. Jolly could not follow him to town to buy the parts since he was not familiar with the area. Besides, he did not want to leave his wife and their three young children alone.
After a long period, the mechanic called him on phone to inform him that he underestimated the cost of the parts and asked him if he should come back with the money or buy for him to pay the parts dealer the balance later.
A frustrated Jolly asked him to buy. By the time the parts were coupled, it was already late, and the stranded family had to look for a hotel to lodge.
When he got home the following day and called another mechanic to have a look at the car, he was shocked to be told that no part of the vehicle was changed and that the fault with the car was minor. His mechanic added to his agony when he pointed out to him that, had he little knowledge about the engine compartment, he could have driven the car home, because the car was still strong and being Benz, it would have made the journey.
In another circumstance, Prince Emjay took his 2009 EOD Honda to wash the engine and for wheel alignment, but discovered the brakes had developed faults. The mechanic told him that he could change the original Honda brakes for N15,000.He agreed to have it changed, but, barely five weeks later, he started hearing a ‘troubling’ noise from the brake points. He then went to his regular mechanic in Abuja. He was told that what he bought as original were very substandard brakes.
Like mechanics, like phone set repairers
Mrs. Ann Obi’s Nokia Lumiar phone had developed a fault. She took the phone to a repairer at Computer Village, Ikeja. The fault was rectified and it was repaired. She got home and charged the phone fully, but after just two calls, the battery packed up. She charged it again, but the same battery hardly lasted beyond 30 minutes. She later realised that the phone repairer had changed the original battery of the phone for a fake one.
Angels in the fair of devils?
However, a mechanic in Iba area of Lagos identified simply as Adebayo, told Saturday Sun it would be wrong to generalize and categorise all artisans as bad eggs. He extricated and described himself as one of the professionals with their integrity intact. The problem, he explained was Nigerians. “They want to teach you your work, even when they don’t understand any of such things they tend to dictate to you what they don’t know. When a person who is not in that field wants to tell you that he knows it all, what do you do? You cut his flesh and feed him. By that we can show him machine part that is perfect, and tell him it is already condemned. Some of them will take the part to the market to buy, and come back with the same part. After fixing the new one, the mechanic flings the other one aside signifying that it wasn’t useful, but later, he returns it to the sellers and make another money.
“Any customer that is loyal and doesn’t ask too much questions and who sticks to one mechanic for his vehicle hardly complains, as the mechanic would see him as a friend and member of the same family and would tell him the truth about his vehicle,” Adebayo explained.
A public affairs commentator, Mr. Ralph Nwosu, said the sharp practices were simply a reflection of a corruption infested society. He, however, cautioned against a blanket condemnation on the Nigerian artisans, noting there were still some honest ones among them.
He said Nigerians should be blamed to an extent for being negligent or showing little interest in such areas of activities, outside their own routine jobs or business. He advised: “We all need to be paying more attention to the antics of our artisans, as property and lives are involved”.
He also called for genuine relationship with artisans so that they will never have the mind to rip people off.