Alaba International: The Biggest Electronics market in West Africa
“The market place that depicts hustle in its purest form”
A trip to Alaba International market is usually characterized by heavy traffic on the bad one lane road and crowded population of humans trying to buy or sell.
My first visit to the crowded market was in 2010 when I went to swap a Nokia N81 mobile phone with his Nokia Express music and some cash.
I was 15 years old then, and I remember how fascinating I found the whole market. The beauty of the market is seen in the will power and ability of traders, young and old, to use the art of persuasion and lobbying to get prospective customers to patronize them.
Brief history of the biggest market in West Africa
Alaba International was formerly at Alaba Suru, Mile 2, Lagos State, before it was moved to Ojo, Lagos. Its present location was reportedly bought from the Nigerian Navy with the aid of Rear Admiral Ndubisi Kanu in the late 70s.
The International Market is popular in Nigeria and across West African countries as an accessible market for all kinds of imports, especially electronics and household items from Asia, Europe, and Eastern Nigeria–Aba and Onistha. For most businessmen their greatest fear is loss of containers due to a ship capsizing or fall of the container filled with newly imported goods due to bad roads, after spending money on taxes and levies demanded by the government and unions.
Dominated by the South Easterners of Nigeria, the market is the business place of people of various ethnic backgrounds and nationalities, including other West Africans and Asians trading there.
In the early 2000s the market during the heat of digital piracy, Nigerian musician 2Shotz sang a song “Alaba Boys”, giving cred to the life of hustling in the market. According to Proshareng the market has over 10,000 merchants facilitating annual transactions of close to $4 billion, with the major merchandise being electronics.
The Igbo apprenticeship model is dominant in Alaba International Market. It is a system where many young boys are brought from other cities in the eastern part of Nigeria and trained to be skilled businessmen. These young boys in their late teens work with their boss for few years and in turn their boss rewards them with cash and business skills.
Alaba International market opens at 7a.m. and closes at 6p.m all days except sundays, but due to the covid-19 pandemic market days are scheduled for Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 7a.m. to 4p.m. The Market has different sections for phone accessories, computer gadgets, household appliances, Bureau Du Change, industrial materials (wires, armoured cables, cold room etc.). These different sections have political associations that maintain the stability of the market. The market has its task force office, security department and sanitation department
Various big businesses like Slot, MTN, Airtel and Banks have branches due to influx of customers.
Due to the crowded nature of the market, there is a provision of middlemen who move about to connect buyers with traders; these men are known as “Osoohia.” Many of them don’t have shops. They act as brokers between buyers and sellers, thereby getting a percentage from any good sold through them, a system that has helped many of them become financially stable.
The market has a policy where a buyer is allowed to return a product within 48 hours and it’s the duty of the seller to fix the error or replace the product with a new one, failing to do so can lead to the trader’s shop being locked up, this provision was set, to ensure that the traders sell good products to prevent the reputation of the market from being ruined.
Alaba International market is also a key place in Nollywood movies distribution having many major distributors. A movie industry that is worth over $5.1billion being the third most valuable film industry behind Hollywood and Bollywood. These film makers and major distributors have requested for strong anti-piracy laws to prevent digital thefts and allow them get returns from their investments.
The major plazas in Alaba include Ubakason Plaza where phone accessories are sold, Don Ben Plaza and Obosi Plaza, where majorly electronics are sold. Renting a shop in Alaba is very expensive due to the fact that there is a big market of prospective customers, having a kiosk in a big plaza like Obosi cost almost 300 thousand Naira P.A and office spaces are rented for as high as 3 Million Naira P.A.
The Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON) encourages importers to invest in manufacturing and assembling factories to aid in creation of wealth and jobs for the unemployed youths and save Nigeria’s foreign exchange.
The reason why people love the market is because of access to cheap and fairly used devices and purchase of wholesale electronics.