How Government Efforts Can Reduce the Threat of Stolen Phones

NIGERIA has a thriving telephone market, supported by young demographics and slow but steady internet penetration.

According to the World Bank, Nigeria has the largest mobile market in sub-Saharan Africa. Recently, MTN Nigeria, the country’s largest telecommunications company, revealed that half of its 74.93 million subscribers have smartphones.

The growth of the mobile phone market is also fueling the exponential increase in the theft of these phones. This, experts say, is the result of a weakened institutional approach to tackling the threat of stolen phones in the country.

Although smartphone ownership has increased in the country, it is still relatively expensive for the average Nigerian. The Alliance for Affordable Internet recently revealed that owning a smartphone would cost a Nigerian 40% of his monthly income.

He said: “However, there are significant affordability divides between regions and countries that suggest smartphones remain inaccessible to many.

“In some areas, people are expected to spend much more than the world average. For example, in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, the number exceeds 40%. Worse still, in less developed countries the average person would have to spend more than half of their monthly income to buy a smartphone.

Yet, despite having to shell out a hefty sum to own smartphones, Nigerians like Dorcas and Besola Adejimi have faced having their phones stolen.

“I was at my usual crossroads that day. It was still dark; I mean it’s Lagos. When a Sienna pulled over, I didn’t think twice. It was my normal route. They were all men, but it wasn’t the first time I had entered a ride with only men.

“The car started and I felt the air on my face, mentally preparing for my day when I was pushed in the middle. I was stunned. The first smack brought me back to reality. Soon all the men were beating and slapping me. I started to scream, but we were on the move.

“I was soon on the ground. Then they grabbed my bag, took my purse, put the money in it and took my ATM cards. They had an outlet with them,” Dorcas said.

She said her ATM cards were not linked to her accounts containing cash. She added that they used a wrench on her, called her parents, threatened to cut off her left breast and take her to a herbalist.

Dorcas said her heart was in her mouth when all of this was happening. “When they dropped me off they took my phone and used a lot of theft on my face. I tried to go to the police station near my house to report, but they referred me to the station closest to where I was robbed.

“But I was scared to go because I felt the police were also part of the operation since I heard the driver call one of my attackers an officer. I couldn’t get my line back and I just moved on.

Besola Adejimi, another phone theft victim, said she had to pay 5,000 naira when she went to file a complaint at the police station. According to her, the station said she had no stationery.

She said: “When I went to file a complaint at my local police station, I was told to pay for stationery. I gave them the 5000 naira on me because they mentioned the station had no paper or ball point pen.

“I went to the train station the next day to try to track my phone and was told that the device to track my phone is not available at the moment but if they use their human trackers to track the phone , I will have to pay about N25k , and it would take me about three months before they find it.

Every day on Twitter, young Nigerians tweet about their flying experiences. It generally resembles that of Oluwatosin and Adejimi. There is no verifiable data to pull numbers from, but the frequency of these tweets has become alarming.

According to the president of the National Association of Telecom Subscribers, Adeolu Ogunbanjo, people should not have to go through the horrors of losing their phones and the disgust of facing the police.

He said: “The situation is so serious that the police must now be forced to empathize with the people whose phones have been stolen.

“When people go to report to the police, they have to go through so many hurdles. The government should simplify the process in that as soon as you report to the DPO, the police come into contact with a particular branch of the operators of mobile networks It should be simplified for convenience on both sides.

He said there was a need for subscribers to know the International Mobile Equipment Identification Number of their phones as this could help police if pressured to help.

Ogunbanjo added, “It is necessary for subscribers to know the IMEI of their phones. Anyone can use *#606# to get it. The process needs to be streamlined so that either the DPD or Area Command, due to the sensitivity of the situation, is able to handle such cases.

“All area commands should be empowered to speak directly to the operator with the IMEI so that the police can request that these phones be blocked. The process where he is brought to the state police command is too cumbersome. Let the DPO or zone commands be able to resolve this issue.

“If done in this way, people could easily get their phone back because the network operator can ban the use of that phone once the subscriber submits their IMEI.

“They can even track or trace the phone once another person inserts another SIM card. That the process be simplified at these rank levels and that there be a designated agent in all mobile network offices to ensure liaison with the police only on this issue.

He said blacklisting phones after they are stolen would likely help reduce phone thefts. He concluded: “Perhaps we can also consider an option where subscribers whose phones have been stolen can go to their telecom operators, report their stolen phones, prove ownership and have the phones blocked.

“It would eliminate the police, and telecom operators can verify this by asking the normal questions when you want to unblock your SIM card. If we could ban phones, people who steal phones would no longer have the right incentive to steal phones.

A security expert, Jackson Ojo, has revealed that the police are the only security team with the power to help anyone track their phone. According to him, while the police had the necessary equipment in some offices, they were not sufficiently motivated to do their job.

He said: “I think it is necessary to make a law that compels the police to work when stolen phones are reported to them.

“The process of tracking phones is very complicated. Sometimes the police direct people to Abuja. People have lost confidence. Recently I needed help from the police to locate my phones. They tracked my phone to Lagos from Port Harcourt and asked me to pay N400,000 for them to mobilize police officers from Port Harcourt to Lagos to help me retrieve my phone.

“Why should someone who has just had their phone stolen pay for the help of the police? The police took this as a window to extort subscribers and get rich.

“Yes, the police have the ability to track phones because they have their information and communications technology department. And this department handles all crimes related to issues like this.

“They have the capacity at the central level. Apart from the IT office in Abuja, and possibly other central areas, the department is not functioning in other parts of the country.

In 2018, THE Sun did an investigation which revealed how phones stolen in the UK ended up in Nigeria.

According to the report, the lack of proper regulation of the telephone network in Nigeria is the reason why the market for stolen phones has flourished in the country.

He said: “Countries in Europe, the United States and South America have signed an agreement to effectively blacklist stolen devices. It gives each phone a unique number which is added to a global database when it is reported stolen, making it useless in countries that are part of the deal. But Nigeria has yet to sign.

One of the industry experts said, “By staying off the blacklist, they are creating the market for stolen cellphones. If all nations stood together, a mobile would be useless once reported stolen. But countries like Nigeria do invite illicit imports.

An expert, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the nation should consider signing up.

“If there is an international agreement allowing stolen phones to be blacklisted, we should certainly be happy to be signatories to it,” the expert said.

According to experts, there was a need for a coordinated effort from every stakeholder to reduce the threat of stolen phones.

The telecoms industry regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission, has revealed in a now-deleted document that it is set to crack down on stolen phones.

According to the commission, it intended to start blacklisting the IMEI of phones reported as stolen in an effort to discourage theft.

Confirming the agency’s intention, Director of Public Affairs, NCC, Ikechukwu Adinde, said: “This system would help curb the increase in stolen phones in the country. The launch process is underway as we have already announced, in accordance with the regulatory process. This involves hiring consultants who will be in charge of the device management system.

In the document released by the NCC, the regulator said it would use the Device Management System, a technological solution that would allow it to disconnect any phone classified as stolen, to combat the threat.

According to her, using the DMS would allow her to track, supervise and secure the country’s telecommunications industry. It would also serve as a single interface for managing mobile and network devices in the country.

The commission added that while the process had begun, it still needed the approval of the Federal Executive Council before it could be implemented.

The NCC noted that a significant number of counterfeit ICT gadgets had infiltrated global markets, including Nigeria, and saw DMS as a solution to curb this.

It is not yet clear how the DMS will work, but telecommunications experts believe it could signal a respite for Nigerians if done correctly.

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