Lagosians worry over rising mobile phone theft
There appears to be an upsurge in mobile phone theft in Nigeria, especially Androids and iPhones, in addition to rising importation of stolen phones into the country. Some of these stolen phones are allegedly sold as second- hand gadgets in the various markets, phone shops and ‘computer villages.’
These handsets are cheap and are easily disposed to available buyers, particularly, especially if they are sophisticated and modern, as users rely on such gadgets for their daily activities, including business, work, information and entertainment. Unfortunately, the rate of recovery is very low, for sundry reasons. Being handy in communication, sharing information, browsing and taking photographs, owners sometimes expose themselves and become easy prey to phone thieves, who prowl the streets and event centres, as well as worship and funeral ceremonies.
Perhaps, a more worrisome dimension is that some of the thieves are interested in the SIM cards than the phones. Using the SIM cards, they are able to hack into the owner’s personal and confidential information and banking details and ultimately, end up defrauding them. As Austin Ezeanya, a hardware engineer in Ikotun, Alimosho Local Council of Lagos State, explained that selling phones, be it stolen or not, is easy. He said sellers of stolen gadget always loiter around the entrances to the bustling markets, calling out to customers interested in buying mobile devices.
Ezeanya explained that many phone makers have provided feature services for locating and disabling stolen mobile devices, which basically involves downloading and configuring a location and security app or service. The apps are usually free on the phone’s app store.Phone owners, whose handsets had been stolen can activate proposed ‘kill switches’ remotely, a process that would trigger deletion of all personal data and disable all operations.
The remote data deletion process appears to have the advantage of reducing the chances of additional damage to the victim and also being more comprehensive and possibly more difficult to overcome. “When selling a mobile device, one would need to provide a receipt of purchase for the item on sale. But having no receipt is still not a problem, adding that the first consideration for the agent-buyers is how “clean” the phone is.
“Android phones are most sought-after by users of second-hand mobile devices, but most customers would ask for the iPhone 6. Some sell the iPhone 4 at N10, 000. A 16-gigabyte iPhone 5 is about N35, 000. The difference in the price between a new phone and a stolen or second-hand phone is huge,” he said.“The number of people venturing into the business of buying and reselling such phones is increasing daily, as those who come to us with second-hand phones are far more than those who buy brand new phones,” he added.
Interestingly, any surge in mobile phone ownership would naturally result in a corresponding surge in theft. It usually gets worse when people try to make status statement by showing off their phones, especially iPhone users. This could be tempting when it is a top-of the range model.
Adekunbi Kuye, recounting her ordeal and how her stolen phone was later retrieved, said: “In February, I was robbed in front if my office. Two guys pulled out a gun and threatened me. They made away with my hard drives and my phone, a Samsung J7 Pro, 2017 model. “A good friend, who is a private investigator, traced my phone, using my IMEI number. He got the call logs, pictures of the current user of my phone and his address. I went with a few policemen to arrest him. He was caught and taken to SARS office and my phone was retrieved.”
Ijeoma Emmanuel described her experience as unforgettable. “This happened in March last year. I was on my way home from Iyana-Oba. I was using an Infinix Hot Note brand, so the phone was in my pocket.
“Unknown to me, a guy was monitoring me, so immediately I entered the bus, the guy followed me and sat next to me. Then, he started removed the phone from my pocket. When he succeeded, he came down at the nearest bus stop.“I did not notice until I got to my bus stop. I felt so bad because I lost a lot of contacts and vital information. I have been observant since then.”
For Michael Chukwuka, losing his phones felt like losing someone dear, as he had sleepless nights when he lost his Microsoft Lumia Windows and an Infinix X phones. Adaobi Obodokwe said her phone was stolen right under her nose without any form of suspicion. “I was with my sister on my way to church in Ikoyi, near Falomo Roundabout. “A guy passed by. He looked like a mentally-deranged mad. I had an argument with my sister and so we didn’t observe his movement. Immediately he passed us, he saw the opportunity to rob us and he turned back and snatched my handbag, although I held it carelessly.
“The man quickly jumped on a motorcycle very close to him and they zoomed off. I guess it was planned, because the motorcyclist sped off immediately and I entered another motorcycle to chase them but couldn’t catch up. Idris Aina has had two experiences. “I lost my Sony Ericsson smartphone in a Keke Marwa (tricycle). I couldn’t track it, as the person, who picked it switched it off immediately.
“The second one happened in January and I realised I lost the Techno smartphone when I got to the office. I called it with my other line and the driver picked, promising to hand it over to me by evening, which he never did.”Buchi Okafor, based in Port Harcourt, also lost her phone in April this year, at a cousin’s wedding on Easter Monday, a Samsung Galaxy she newly bought and had not used for up to three weeks.
“At the wedding, I left my bag with my younger sister to get food for my baby. Before I came back with the food, my sister and my mother, a well-dressed man sitting close to my sister had left. I believe he stole the phone.“Devastation doesn’t describe how I felt,” she recalled.
For residents of Lawanson, in Surulere, being security conscious is no longer a call for caution but a way of life. They can no longer afford to keep losing their phones and other valuables to hoodlums.Adekunle Adeloju, an auto mechanic in Lawanson, Lagos, acknowledged that phone theft was a big problem in the axis, such that one could not openly receive calls with a good-looking Android phone without precaution.
“You have to keep looking right and left to make sure no one is coming behind or ahead to snatch the phone.“People who receive calls on the road with Android phones now use earpiece to avoid exposing the quality of their phones.
“Also, it is safer to use earpiece to avoid the phone being snatched by the ‘bad boys,” he said.Emeka Dike revealed that residents and traders in Lawanson have learnt to be careful with their phones and personal effects. It is only clueless about the antics of the thieves.
“The other day, I witnessed how two young men on a motorcycle snatched a phone from someone, who was trying to dial a number at Lawanson Bus Stop.“After snatching the phone, while they were still on the bike, they raised the phone and started waving it in the air. “The man, whose phone they snatched, just stood dazed, looking at them as they disappeared into thin air,” he recounted.
Mrs. Tope Adeniwura, a resident, said: “It is so bad that even in broad day light, these boys rob people of their phones at a gun point and nobody does anything about it. They walk around molesting people and the security agencies seem helpless.“The boys are jobless, as you see them hanging everywhere, smoking weeds, and waiting for the next opportunity to rob people of their belongings. They know those who don’t live within the area and any stranger, who looks properly dressed, becomes their target,” she said.According to Oladunni there are many hoodlums, whose means of livelihood is stealing, thereby making life difficult for others.
“My younger sister visited me recently and in an attempt to navigate the road that leads to Cole Street, a set of hoodlums ambushed her at a gun point and asked her to hand over everything she had. They collected her phones, iPad, jewellery and money.“She was so devastated that she had to turn back without getting to my place. We wanted to report the case to the Police, but people advised us against it, saying the Police would not do anything about it,” she lamented.
Oladunni added that phone theft is one, among other criminal acts, perpetrated in the area, as hoodlums also burgle shops and homes at night to steal peoples’ personal effects.
“Living in Lawanson is not safe and people are gradually moving out, but what would you do if you own the house you live in? Would you leave your house and run? “So, government should please come to our aid and reinforce the Police in Lawanson,” she said.
Emenike Agu, a trader in Lawanson, added: “You go to them to lodge complaint and they don’t seem to take you seriously. They keep asking you irrelevant questions and at the end, they tell you there is no enough evidence to make arrest. “People know these boys and can identify them but, everyone is worried and would rather keep quiet, even when they witness a robbery,” he said.
Kingsley Okeke, narrated how his phone was stolen recent, saying: “Last Saturday, as I was returning from my visit to my uncle’s new apartment. I went through a very quiet route through the back of the house, which was an unfamiliar terrain. “After walking a few steps, a good-looking guy, about five feet tall, bumped into me and immediately acted all cozy and apologising. Unknown to me, he was a pick-pocket and it took me sometime to realise that he had stolen my phone in broad day light.”
For Bayo Kunle, it happened when he answered a call from a business colleague. He was in a vehicle and returned the phone to his back pocket after the call, not minding the young boy with dreads seated behind him, who stopped at a bus stop different from where he had earlier told the conductor while boarding the vehicle.” He said such incidents occurred most during activities, where youths overcrowd themselves, such as schools, hostels, market places and even churches and counselled owners not to save vital information in phones to avoid being scammed by these fraudsters if stolen. A worshipper at the Redemption Camp of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Mrs. Toyin Adetosin, lost her phone recently, precisely on August 9, during the ongoing yearly convention.
“Nowhere is safe again, even in places of worship, people still steal phones. I really didn’t know the exact time the phone got stolen, but all I know is that I did not leave my seat. I stood up when it was time to pray.“When I finally checked my bag after the service, it was not there,” she lamented. Chima Ibeh, a resident of Ikeja, narrated: “I feel very pained that phone theft is now the order of the day and gradually becoming a habit for the youths. “I was on my way from work when a group of boys ganged up and gave me the beating of my life. They took all my belongings, including my phones, which was the most painful part of it.”
Ifeoma Igboanugo’s phone was stolen in school. She took a commercial motorcyclist to her lodge, but at a lonely spot, the motorcyclist, pretending as if his motorcycle was faulty, robbed her.So, she got down from, hoping the man would fix the faulty motorcycle and continue the journey, he rather ordered her to hand over her phone, to which she responded rather rudely, asking why she should hand over her phone to him. He still took the phone by force.
“He left her stranded after collecting all valuables she had on her, including the phone.Hi-tech mobiles phones remain relatively scarce in Nigeria; hence,the soaring desire for gadgets from middle- class customers, The Sun UK had reported.
According to the newspaper, crime bosses in Nigeria are able to feed the demand and profit from it with the supply of thousands of phones stolen from British victims.Most of these phones often end up at the Computer Village, a mobile tech market based in the heart of Ikeja, Lagos, which it described as the end of the chain with iPhones on far cheaper. Speaking on the newspaper’s report, the Lagos State Police Public Relation Officer, Chike Godwin Oti, a Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP), said the State Police Command was not aware of the report.
Oti said the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Edgal Imohimi, had at different fora spoken against buying phones from unauthorised dealers.“If you, by any chance, purchase a mobile phone from anybody on the roadside and things didn’t go as planned, you have yourself to blame, because you will need a proof to defend yourself and where the phone come from when trouble arise as a result of buying such phone.“I am not aware that stolen phones from the UK end up in Lagos. I don’t live in the UK. I live and work in Lagos, Nigeria. If there is such report, the CP is yet to be aware. And I am optimistic that when he gets such report, necessary actions will be taken,” he said.
Oti continued: “The CP has warned people not to patronise unregistered phone sellers and hawkers, particularly the roadside sellers and those that hawk in traffic. They should buy from accredited dealers only.“It is not in our duty to decide where people should or can buy their phones. Due to the response and experiences we have gotten from people, whenever people report such cases to us, we swing into action to investigate.
“We cannot be moving from street to street, asking people where they got their phone from. If we do that, there will be outcry from the public, especially the media. So, we keep our fingers crossed and wait for reports.”In a bid to redeem the image of the Computer Village, traders at the market, under the aegis of Computer and Allied Product Dealers Association of Nigeria (CAPDAN), have partnered with an unnamed software company to develop a web portal that tracks stolen phones.
Speaking with The Guardian, a hardware engineer, Adewale Adeyanju, said while the initiative might sound great, there are limitations against its success.“For it to work, there has to be a comprehensive database of mobile devices coming into the country, as well as a collective record of phones sold (to whom, when, where), while stolen phones would have to be reported.
“A lot of the devices sold here are not legally / officially-registered devices and their sales are not regulated for the most part. If traders/sellers cannot be made to sell registered devices, which can be tracked, then can a unified database really solve anything?” he queried. He stated that lack of a central database in Nigeria is a major problem, adding that even the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) does not have a unified database of telecom consumers, just as the Nigeria Identity Management Commission (NIMC) does not possess any similar data trove either.
“Yes, Nigerians have signed up for Bank Verification Numbers (BVN), but that is only limited to banked consumers (and over 75 per cent of Nigerians are not banked). “While the CAPDAN initiative is good idea, it is hard to see how it is going to work,” he said.He noted that European countries, United States and South America have signed a deal to blacklist stolen devices and under this agreement, each phone has a unique number, which is added to a global database when it is reported stolen, making it useless in the countries that are signatories to the agreement. For now, phone owners can only be very careful how they handle their gadgets and caution where they make or answer calls or even use their phones, generally.