By Jimoh Sulyman
Known as the tech hub of the city of Ilorin, the Kwara state capital, Challenge Area as it is popularly called, a moniker gotten from an old and popular bookshop, Challenge Bookshop.
In case you are asked where is the IT epicentre in Ilorin, any answer apart from Challenge area, can be said to be wrong, because that is your ‘go to’ place, for all your tech need and support.
Also known as the ‘Computer Village’ of Ilorin, one can get various services pertaining to mobile phones and computers.
In this piece, the writer is trying to bring the story of the people to the world, where they discuss their journey, challenges and what have you.
My journey to face the “Challenge”
Murtala Muhammed way is a popular road situated in the very heart of Ilorin metropolis, a very busy city centre for trade and commerce.
Like I said, a very busy road, the road is a reference point for direction, accommodating several banks and businesses of different fields, not to forget the overhead bridge that lies along the road.
Sitting along the way is the Challenge Bus Stop and there is the Challenge Tech Hub, and that is my destination for this piece.
On getting there, it was a theater of hustling and bustling, a market, as traders and technicians alike, running up and down to make a living and in the case of customers, they are waiting for the technicians to solve their problem.
Busts of energy filled the air, from young hustlers trying to make a living for themselves.
I was taken to meet with Head of the Market and some of his members of the Executive Council, the chairman, a soft spoken gentleman by my observation, he commanded huge respect from everyone in the market, the chairman of the market, Comrade Sulyman Abdulrahman Moyosore, who discussed some of their challenges, struggles and changing of narratives.
Leadership and Organisation
The Chairman of Kwara State Association of Telecommunications Trader Allied Dealers, KWATTAD, Comrade Sulyman Abdulrahman Moyosore, popularly known in the market as ‘Amir’ who also doubles as the President of Kwara State Association of Phone Technicians, KWAPTECH, oversees the administration of the Challenge Market in its entirety.
Talking about the organisation of the market, he said “In my six years of administration, the market has been quite organised because of the existence of code of conduct that is well specified in our bye-law, that every member of the association have in their possession and everyone knows that their actions have its consequences.
Moyosore revealed that, the association had more than 800 registered members and they all have their respective Identification Card for recognition and verification of their membership by the customers.
The Chairman, Moyosore, reiterated some of the challenges they are facing in the market.
He said, “every occupation has its own peculiar challenges, but in our own regard, the biggest challenge we’re facing is financial constraints, because our occupation at times, requires a lot of money of which we don’t have.
“In a situation whereby the government is assisting us with empowerment and soft loans, that would really improve our condition, but all our efforts to access loan from the state government have been abortive,” he added.
“Another challenge we face is our inability to access some of our materials in our vicinity, because most of the things we use are mostly gotten from far away places like Lagos, this often results in high cost of those materials and unnecessary waste of time.
“We also encounter problems in situations whereby, in the course of repairing a client’s phone and the phone damages and spoils permanently, most times, some customers don’t understand that we the technicians are just trying our best, we are not makers of the phone,” he said.
Adding, “we need standardisation, with the aid of the government in form of a standard market. If you go to places like Lagos, Port Harcourt and many others, they all have a ‘Computer Village’, such that it will avail us more space and allow foreign investors to consider us worthy of doing business with.
“If you get to markets like Alaba and Ladipo in Lagos, the traders there usually enjoy credit facility from the gadget manufacturers, because the Lagos State Government helped to create a good platform for the traders by helping to standardise the market, so I’m urging the Kwara State Government to follow suit”, the chairman noted.
He also lamented the state of insecurity in the market, referring to incidents of incessant shop break-ins, he however call on the government to provide security for the people of the market.
He said, “we need the help of the government, we are recording a number of break-in incidents and there is little we can do, and most times these heinous crimes usually put the victims out of business, because the robbers usually loot their shops dry, so we need the government to help us beef up the security in the market”.
In his own remark, Sheu Ahmed, complained about the lack of parking space for their customers, which at times, discourage the customers from patronising them, he however pleaded with the government to help them resolve the problem.
Timileyin narrated that, “one of the challenges facing us is the epileptic power supply, which is really affecting us, because we use electricity a lot, we spend a lot on fueling our generators which is eating deep into our purses”.
He suggested that the state government should provide them with a standby generator in order to improve their productivities.
“It depends on the ability of the person to comprehend what he is being taught, but the learning period is within six months to two years at most, for an apprentice to be deemed proficient enough to practice privately and he will be given a certificate at the end of his training” .said Moyosore
Ayodele Timileyin said, “If we are to look at it, you know it is a vocation and it is dynamic, but at least in a day we make up to N3,000 as take home, but some days when we have good sales, we can make up to N30,000,but it all depends on the number and calibre of customers that we have.
“We make better sales towards the month end because that is when the workers receive their salaries and during the rainy season, because that is when phones spoil most,” he said.
Fight against phone theft
The problem of stolen gadgets, most especially phones, has become rampant in recent times and a great cause for concern.
Comrade Moyosore revealed the association’s efforts in fighting the criminal acts, he reiterated that, “truly we’re trying our best, one of the steps we’re taking is that, we’re having a strong relationship with the security operatives.
“Buying and selling of stolen phones is not allowed here, according to our bye-law , anyone found selling or buying a stolen device will be apprehended and handed over to the police, in fact such a person is no longer welcome to our midst.
“You know most people love freebies and such a thing can land them in hot water, in a situation whereby a gadget is sold for N200,000, but someone promised to sell it for you at the rate of #100,000 ,without a genuine receipt or document to back it up ,that should have been a red flag to you that something is not right.
“Even within this week, we have apprehended three people and we handed them over to the police at the state headquarters, they came to unlock a phone, without presenting the phone carton nor the documents.
“We also got another man from Igbaja arrested on the same suspicion as the three that I earlier mentioned, those are the ways we cooperate with the police to nip the problem in the bud,” the chairman said.
Speaking with Mr Ayodele Timileyin, he said, “even before the advent of phone tracking, stealing of phone has been an issue for a long time in the past it is easy to sell stolen phone, because it is almost impossible to detect one,” he said.
In his capacity as the task force chairman, Timileyin added that,” I have seen a lot in that regard, since the new technological trend of tracking stolen or lost phones. Some of our boys in the market at times find themselves in police net because they unwittingly get involved in stolen phones.
“They may have to spend close to N400,000 in order to bail themselves from the police station. For phones that cost less than fifty thousand naira”, he noted.
Timileyin also disclosed that,” our association is trying its best to mitigate the scourge, in the past we usually ask for just the receipt, but we later find out that those thieves have started printing their own receipt, that is why we now request for both the receipt and carton of the phone.
“The issue is really affecting us in the market, because it is of popular belief that time a phone is stolen in Kwara State, the place to go to is here in Challenge Market, but we’re trying to change that mindset by helping to apprehend those found wanton.
“We usually get them arrested and see to it that the phone gets to the original owner and make the person realise the crucial role we played in helping him/her to recover the phone, so that the public will know that we’re a group of responsible people
Changing the narratives
Speaking on the popular narrative that those working at challenge are mostly miscreants and rogues, Amir’ was quick to dismiss the notion as false.
He said in his own statement, “truly we all have our different outlooks of reality, but on that narrative, I will state categorically that, there is no miscreant in this market, it is probably a misunderstanding from the people, mostly cheapskates, those that are looking for freebies, usually fall into the hands of fraudulent entities.
“There is no way that someone who uses his money to rent a space will want his name to be brought to disrepute. Such a person will want to satisfy his customers for future references.
“There are some unscrupulous people that usually parade themselves around the walkway of the market, most times unsuspecting customers fall victim to these people, because they usually trick them into business with low prices of goods and services.
“When the customers get swindled by those people, they always ascribe them to be ‘Challenge boys’, where as they are not registered with us, hence we’re not responsible for them and their actions,” the chairman said.
He added that, “Challenge is an area, where our own market is situated, so anybody is free to roam around as they please, we don’t have the power to obstruct anyone’s movement”.
Moyosore also disclosed that, every phone technician in challenge is duly registered with the association and they all have their respective serial numbers that is allotted to them, “so that is why we’re urging our customers to always ask for the technician’s serial number or ID card, before doing business with him” , he noted.
He also encouraged the customers to only patronise those that have a stand not just anybody that they meet on the way.
Speaking in consonance with the chairman, Ishaq Sheu Ahmed popularly known as “Alfa Goga”, an elder of the association, stated that the false notion about the infestation of miscreants here is false.
He said, “I’m a graduate from Kano State University, where I studied Science and Technology, same as many people here who are graduates as well, hustling here just to make a living for themselves, so it is a false narrative that has unfortunately spread around and misinformed the public about us”.
“We always encourage our customers to always go to those people that have shops and stands, because in case of any eventuality, we will be able to provide information about the person; that will put the customer on a safer side” , he said
Timileyin however admitted that there was a time the market was infested with miscreants and rogues, but he however noted that, the era of miscreants is now gone.
While narrating the reason for the past trend, he said, “in the past, there was no strong leadership in the market, so it was a free reign at that time, any one could just come into the market, they usually trick the customers into handing their phones to them and flee with the phone, but now things have changed”.
“Every member of the market now posses an ID card so it is easy for them to be identified and more so, we the task force now challenge any strange and suspicious person we see in the market, because we want to improve the image of the market in the public space” he added.
“It is quite unfortunate that the state government has not really helped our situation in this market, despite the fact that we pay our taxes to the government via the state’s revenue collectors, KWIRS”, said, Ayodele Timileyin who is the Chairman of the Task Force of the association, while expressing his frustration at the little to no assistance coming to the market from the government.
He continued, “the government can do so much more in order to improve our works, as one of the duties of the government to the people, because we are executing our own duties and paying our taxes”.
Comrade ‘Amir’ lamented the downturn in the country’s economy, a situation he said has taken a huge toll on his and colleagues’ business.
He however said “I believe it is only the government that can help save the situation and also cushion the effect of the economic crisis on us by giving us soft loans. We can’t access loans from commercial banks because of the huge interest rate .
“And also the durations given by those banks are relatively short, but if the government helps us out with loans, then I believe it will be a form of youth empowerment, as majority of us are youths. It will also help to reduce the rate of unemployment in the country, because the skill helps to take people off the streets,” he said.
A graduate of Accounting from Kwara State Polytechnic, Timileyin said, “you know, most of the things we use are mostly imported, the state of the economy, especially the foreign exchange, is really affecting us in term of the prices. When someone buys a phone at the rate of N32,000 and when the screen of the phone breaks, the person will now be expected to buy a screen at N20,000 ,just to repair a N32,000 Naira phone.
“I’m telling you the economic crisis is really affecting our sales, and has significantly reduced our daily earnings and most of us have no other source of income, this is where we pay our bills,” he said.
Reducing unemployment rate
According to the chairman of the market, the association has well over 800 members, that is, it has more than 800 people employed and taken from the street, he alluded that if the market gets the proper help, it has a capacity to employ more people.
In the same vein, ‘Goga’ as he is popularly called among his colleagues, while complaining about the rate of unemployment in the country, disclosed that ‘challenge market’ has become an industry on its own and it has the ability to reduce the unemployment rate in the state.
He said,”higher institutions across the country are producing graduates all year round,which is further compounding the numbers unemployed people, that is what prompted me to acquire this skill upon completion of my youth service at Enugu, when I realized the number of people that passed out during my batch.
“It is also helping in reducing crimes rate in the society because it is providing a source of living to a lot of youth, which is saving them from lives of crime, because as the saying goes, an idle hand is the devil’s workshop ”
While speaking on the prospect of the vocation, Sheu Ahmed stated that, “the vocation have a bright future ahead of it because it is about technology and technology is the future, technology is not changing, rather it is only evolving, a person just needs to be smart enough to follow the trend”.
He said a lot of people are only going for government job because it is pensionable when they are old, but the vocation of phone repairing can pay so much more, because it is a private job, it only depends on individual’s ability to plan and prepare for the future.
The writer believes if carefully searched for, we might find gems in the midst of their rubble and if properly polished, those gems might be of great value to this city and perhaps the entire nation.
What the writer is trying to say in essence is that, a lot of fine people with amazing ability might be found among the hustlers and if they’re properly managed, perhaps by the state, they might be of great value to everyone.