Your Phone’s ‘Real Owners’ Are Roaming Lagos Streets

File Photo

Daniel Ojukwu & Ayo Oladiran

Living in Lagos is often described as a premium sport with high risks and relative security considering the rate of kidnappings, banditry, acts of terror and other challenges across Nigeria.

A private security firm, PR24 Nigeria Limited, had on may 19, listed risk levels of all the states in the country, with 14 states rated high-risk while three were listed as being extreme. Lagos was the only state listed as ‘elevated’, with a warning to “exercise increased level of caution.”

The big ‘caution’ sign hanging over the center of excellence may not be unconnected to prevalent thefts that occur on streets and highways in the thick of traffic gridlocks.

With over 20 million people commuting daily in Nigeria’s smallest state with a landmass of 1,171.28 square kilometers (452.23 square miles), rush hour means cramped up market places, bus parks, roads and other public spaces, opening the doors to a booming market for pickpockets who have thrived in their numbers.

On August 26, an online platform published details of a confessed pickpocket suspect who had stolen over 240 mobile phones from Lagos commuters during his various pickpocketing escapades here.

Upon interrogation, he explained his modus-operandi had been passed on to him by a colleague in the trade. He had carefully positioned himself in a packed commuter bus to rid his victim of their phone as he usually does, but luck ran out on him this time.

With over 240 phones stolen, there had to be a ready market for these goods, with willing buyers who had no care for who truly owned them.

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– A Growing Market For ‘Real Owners’ –

Back in secondary school, if any of one’s items got stolen, those within earshot of one’s lamentations would be quick to posit that the ‘real owners’ had come for them, and you were merely a custodian of the item for the individual. It was a coping mechanism to help get used to the unending thefts.

In 2016, Vanguard published a story of how police arrested a 42-year-old man, Kazeem Bamidele, accused of being a major buyer of stolen phones in the state.

A dependable police source said that the suspect was the second vice chairman of the National Union of Road and Transport Workers’ (NURTW), Ajegunle Unit.

“The suspect has over 52 boys in Lagos State who steal and sell “clean phones” to him.

“He confessed to have bought over 4,256 mobile phones from robbers, pickpockets and one-chance gangs operating in the state,” the source said.

– Criminals Leave Long Trail Of Victims In Their Wake –

With the growing trend in the state, iBrandTV spoke with some victims of phone snatching and pocket-picking to share their experiences.

Chinaza Ume, a tech-enthusiast, was recording an incident when she was approached and chastised, after which she complied, only for her to move a little further and have two men chase her, calling her a thief and snatching her phone from her bag before dashing off to a ghetto in Mushin area of the state.

“I went back into the ghetto and walked up to the guy and told him to bring my phone, he told me that he cannot give me back my phone that it has been stolen.

“Later, one of the guys in the area that I knew came and asked them to give me back my phone,” she said.

Later the same year, a newer phone was stolen on her way to school when two knife-wielding guys grabbed it while speeding off on a bike.

When cost estimation was done, she had spent N88,000 on devices in 2019, losing N50,000 of it to theft, and then having to replace her phone again in early 2020. Meanwhile, a study estimates the average lifespan of a phone to be around 2.5 years.

Mr. Babalola told iBrandTV that his phone which was snatched on his way to Idi-Oro, was used to take a loan of N230,000 which he is still struggling to pay back.

He deduced that the transaction happened within 12 hours after the incident as he blocked his Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card 12 hours after.

“The transaction happened within 12 hours because it was the next day that I locked the sim, so they did the transaction around 12am,” he said.

Peter’s phone was collected from him at a bus park in Yaba because he was wearing a red shirt and was asked to unlock his phone for robbers to confirm that he was not a cult member.

“The took my phone and escorted me to the main road telling me to buy them incantation water(gin) and kola nut across the road for me to collect my phone back.

“I crossed to buy it but when I turned back, I didn’t see them again, and this same incident happened to a friend of mine at the same Yaba market,” he explained.

– What It Costs Lagosians –

Lagosians earn either side of N323,000 on average. A study by Salary Explorer revealed that of Lagos’ over 20 million populace, around 50% earn below this average.

With phones costing between N20,000 and N900,000, more Lagosians face the daily risk of spending around 1/3rd of their salaries on changing devices that should last for a little under three years.

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