Peter Uzoho who visited Alaba International Market recently, writes on the motley crowd that makes the market thrive. Though not all have been to it physically, but the echo of the happenings in and around it has echoed across the length and breadth of the country and the world at large. No doubt, it has become a household name among direct or indirect users of electrical and electronics appliances in the world. A place to behold, Alaba International Market is indeed an amalgam and a muster point for business magnets in the area of electrical, electronics and allied products. The market, a mega system within a system, is located in Ojo area of Lagos, a few minutes’ drive off Badagry expressway. Alighting there for the first time, one is greeted by different national flags, hoisted horizontally in front of the market, dancing to the rhythm of the wind, thus giving credence to its international status. “Those are flags of the countries we do business with, so they’re mounted here as a symbol of the international status of the market”, Mr. Paschal Ozobugha, who deals on electrical appliances in the market, tells THISDAY. “You can see our own flag, the Nigerian flag, you can see the Chinese flag, the US flag, Japanese flag,in fact, over 30 flags are here, representing both the countries we import from and the ones that come to patronise us here,” Ozobugha explains.
Between 7:30am and 8am daily, traders arrive their respective shops, sweeping, cleaning and dusting everywhere, and then display their wares conspicuously in readiness for the day’s business. Customers from far and near, from within and outside Nigeria, troop in, to do their transactions, being assured that they are at the right place, for the right product and by 5:30pm market closes. As a highly structured and organised business setting, Alaba International Market is divided into sections and subsections. For instance, there is the electronic section, which is further divided into the brand new and the tokunbo subsections. There is the electrical section, where all manner of electrical appliances are sold. Again, there is the industrial and power sections, where variety of industrial machines and equipment are available for purchase. For easy identification and access, each of the sections is divided into plazas and lines with alphanumeric characters. “As a big market, if it’s not well planned, many things would go wrong; someone coming for the first time may get lost, traders here may be fighting over spaces, so that’s why the planners constructed it like this”, Ozobugha further said.
“So here, we have the electronics section which is further divided into the brand new and the tokunbo subsections. Here, you can get any kind of electronic appliance: fridges, freezers, generators, televisions, DVD players, decoders and what have you. The electronics section is the most popular section, that’s why when you tell someone about Alaba International, immediately, the person’s mind goes to where they sell electronics products. Even, some think these electronics are manufactured here in Alaba. “There is the electrical section for electrical appliances. There is also the industrial and power section, where industrial machines and equipment can be found for purchase”, Ozobugha added. Meanwhile, there is a certain open space in the electronics section of the market, where containers are emptied and people can buy whatever kind of electronics product they want, on the spot. Those kinds of goods according to them are called “non- tested electronics”. The buyer buys and goes with it without testing. It’s a trial and error kind of purchase in which the seller does not have any responsibility for its failure. “Here, people target when trailer will come with containers to off load. So, as the containers are dropped and they’re being emptied, people start selecting what they want, while the owner of the container is there to collect money. Nobody will test it for you to confirm whether it’s working or not. If you buy it, you’re on own your own, nothing concerns the seller and there is no refund of money”, Mr. Echezona Okoye, who sells tokunbo electronics products tells THISDAY.
As obtained in other business settings in the country, the Igbos are the major traders in the market, making Igbo one of the major languages used for communication among the traders. However, some Hausas are found at the industrial section, engaging in the bureau de change operations. Organisationally, there are different hierarchy of unions existing in the market for effective. Those are flags of the countries we do business with, so they’re mounted here as a symbol of the international status of the market… You can see our own flag, the Nigerian flag, you can see the Chinese flag, the US flag, Japanese flag, in fact, over 30 flags are here, representing both the countries we import from and the ones that come to patronise us here. As an international trade centre, people from different countries come to do business there. Manufacturers both home and abroad come to identify with the distributors in the market in order for their products to be known and patronised administration and control. There are the plaza or line unions, the sectional unions and the general union, with all having functional elected officials and offices. However, the most powerful is the general union, which possesses the highest level of authority, respect and benefits. So, “to avoid acrimony, the post of the general chairman is rotated among the six geo-political zones of the market, namely, Anambra zone 1,Anambra zone 2,Imo,Enugu,Abia,and Ebonyi zones”, Mr. Chukwuma Ihionu, the General Secretary of Alaba International Market Traders Union, explains to THISDAY.
In his enviable executive office, heavily stocked with files and correspondences, decked in corporate black on while attire, with black shoes to match, flipping over files, the handsome dark complexioned businessminded secretary relaxing in his couch, says ”the market is a big place, so it needs a high level organisation and administration, so that our international business associates, including the indigenous ones, you find here are safe and convenient to trade with us. “We have the undercover security men who are exclusively known to the executives. They move around the market to detect crimes. We have the Tasks Force, who helps the executive body go after defaulters. Every Thursday, we do sanitation so that our environment will be neat and clean, and we’re affiliated to the Lagos State Waste Management Agency (LASWMA),” Ihionu noted. As an international trade centre, people from different countries come to do business there. Manufacturers both home and abroad come to identify with the distributors in the market in order for their products to be known and patronised. Distributors jostle for spaces in the market to do business. Buyers both in wholesale and retail scales from across the world throng the commercial centre to buy directly from distributors to save cost and maximise profit.
For manufacturers, failure to identify with the market either by omission or commission deprives them of the needed publicity and marketing of their products. “Any manufacturer that is in the line of electronics/ electrical, industrial and allied products that has not identified with this market, has not started. This is where you have the major distributors. Both local and international manufacturers bring their goods here and we in turn sell”, the secretary said. However, in spite of the popularity and the international status of the market, many have argued that the recent bourgeoning of shopping malls in the country, particularly, in Lagos where the market situates, might be posing serious challenge to their business, as people now prefer to easily and more conveniently move into these malls to buy the same products. But among the electrical and electronics products dealers in Alaba, there are divergent views on that. Some of them are of the opinion that those shopping malls exist to their best interest, as they are also their customers, saying that there can never be a challenge to them. According to them, they rather come to them to buy and resell contrary to what people think. To them, the owners of the malls rarely import, as they do not have the business capacity to go into importation, but rather come to patronise them, the big time importers. They also argue that they use the shopping malls to spread their customer base in the country and so can never be moved by their existence.
“Those shopping malls you talked about come here to buy from us”, revealed an electronic dealer in the market who refused to give his name. “They are our customers so we’re not challenged in anyway by their existence. At times, they will call us to find out the latest price of a product before they will sell. It’s through them that we even increase our number of customers, so we’re not afraid of their being in the same line of business with us”, the source said. On the other hand, other traders admit that the presence of shopping malls is having negative effect on them as they have snatched some of their customers from them. According to them, there is a decline in their daily sales. “Actually it’s affecting us negatively because those people that are buying from them are supposed to come to us, but now they have taken them away from us and it’s making our sales to drop”, Mr. Charles Umeh,an electronics trader in the market said. Meanwhile, they admitted that the only area they are being challenged is in the area of online business, where people can, from the comfort of their homes, use their phones to place order for goods, make payments, and goods are delivered right on time, which is lacking among them. Although, they said plans are on the way towards introducing that in their business, as they wouldn’t want to be eclipsed in business. However, they did not hesitate to express their own opinion on the country’s economic hardship, which they attributed to bad governance.
Culled from Thisday