NIGERIA-ECONOMY: Flourishing Market For Second-Hand Goods

Toye Olori

LAGOS, Jul 11 1996 (IPS) - The bustling Nigerian markets have become one-stop shops for extremely cheap, second-hand goods.

Clothes, shoes, household items, books, cars, vehicle spare parts and tyres, are all available at the second-hand goods markets, known as ‘Select Markets or Benddown Boutiques’. These popular shopping spots have virtually driven markets for new products out of business.

As the goods flow in mostly from Asia and Europe, poor Nigerians with weak buying power, welcome the trend with relief. They see the flourishing trade as the new employer in a country where more than 10 million are out of work.

“The bulk of the Nigerian citizenry now depend almost entirely on imported second-hand goods. It is not as if Nigerians hate using brand new goods; the reason for this near total reliance on such goods is simply due to stark poverty,” says Cordelia Onu, a journalist here.

Bargain prices at these markets attract people from all classes. Civil servant Ayo Banji told IPS at one of the markets that he was shopping for clothes for his children.

“Things like this have never happened here before. We have been so dehumanised that only food stuff is not second hand in this country,” Banji said.

“I spent just 270 naira (a little over three US dollars) for the eight pieces of shirts and shorts that I picked from the heap of clothes. They would have cost more than 250 naira (about three dollars) each in the store”. He intends to wash the items in boiling water before use, to prevent contracting any skin disease.

Similarly, Funke Ogunrotimi, at the shoe section of the market, said she could not afford a pair of brand-new shoes on her salary.

“The new pairs cost between three and four thousand naira (between 37 and 50 dollars). My salary is just 2,000 naira (25 dollars) a month and I have to pay a rent of 400 naira (five dollars) for a one-room apartment; then there is food, clothes and transport to my office five times a week,” Ogunrotimi said.

Besides the ‘Benddown Boutiques’, major streets here have been converted into open markets for the sale of second-hand household appliances like refrigerators, freezers and air-conditioners.

The second-hand boutiques have popped up not just in the capital, but all over the country. In Ibadan, 120kms north of here, one businessman has become a millionaire from importing second-hand motor engines, television sets and refrigerators.

An advert from his company touts his business as a philanthropic venture to help the poor acquire the tastes of the rich by selling to them cheap household goods.

But some environmentalists here are not so keen on the boom in second-hand appliances, like refrigerators, because they may pose health and environmental hazards.

Late last year, two government agencies – the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA) called for a ban on the import of such items.

James Abalaka, Director General of SON, warned that imported second-hand fridges, freezers and air-conditioners from foreign countries contain ozone depleting substances, like Freon 12 and Freon 22 gases, which are dangerous to the environment and human health.

The general public and the thriving dealers in second-hand goods however viewed SON’s warning as tantamount to heresy. The ordinary citizen says that without such imports, they would not have owned such luxuries, albeit second hand, while the dealers believe the call was aimed at running them out of business.

“Without dealers in these second-hand goods, I would not have been a proud owner of a fridge, a colour television and a video recorder, ” says John Oloruntoba, a senior manager with an insurance company here.

Oloruntoba, who earns 8,000 naira (100 dollars) a month, pays 2,000 naira (25 dollars) for his two-bedroom flat, and has three children, one in post primary school and two in a private school, where school fees are as much as 3,000 naira (37.50 dollars) per child a term.

“This is what the military government has turned Nigerians into. They now want to ban importation of such items. Did they not realise that things will go bad when they devalued our money and gauged business in dollar terms?”

Oloruntoba was at the popular Lawanson street (now referred to as “Tokunbo Street” because of the large numbers of fridges, freezers and air-conditioners which line the about half a kilometre long street), to buy a freezer.

“Tokunbo”, in the Yoruba language means from abroad and until the advent of second-hand goods, it was used as the name for children born overseas or in a far away land.

Dealers in second-hand items have even gone as far as writing an open letter to General Sani Abacha, Nigeria’s head of state, to argue a case for their business.

In the letter, signed by Chuks Ezezue and Sunday Ekey, the dealers argued that the freon gases used by the imported second- hand fridges and air-conditioners are the same gases used by locally-produced ones.

“On face value, the campaign is to protect both human life and the environment in Nigeria. But we know it is an effort to run out of the market those currently involved in the business of importing these second-hand items, to enhance the business of dealers in brand new appliances who have priced their products beyond the reach of the ordinary Nigerian,” the letter said.

Brand new deep freezers cost between 120,000 and 130,000 naira (about 1,500 and 1,625 dollars), while the second-hand ones cost between 14,000 and 18,000 naira (between 175 and 225 dollars). Brand new table-top fridges cost between 40,000 and 70,000 naira (between 500 and 875 dollars), and second-hand ones cost between 6,000 and 9,000 naira (about 75 to 113 dollars) .

Local manufacturers are also crying hard times since second- hand goods have put a huge dent in their sales. And, they must also deal with a stifling business climate charaterised by the high cost of foreign exchange, high inflation, shortage of raw materials and the rising cost of utility services.

“This position of the economy has resulted in the dwindling take home pay of the average Nigerian, which also has translated to a high build-up of unplanned inventory in our warehouses,” says Adamu Yakubu, chairman of a branch of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, in the northern city of Kaduna.

High prices and Nigeria’s battered economy since the introduction of the IMF-inspired Structural Adjustment Programme in 1986, have also forced car dealers to shift to importing second- hand cars.

“My company was registered in 1985. We sold brand new locally assembled Peugeot brands, but now one cannot afford the prices any more, so I had to change to selling imported used cars,” Bakare Taiwo a car dealer here told IPS.

“Initially people were going for second-hand cars, because they could not afford new cars. But their response presently is not encouraging. For the past two years, the car business is not booming because of the state of the economy,” Taiwo said.

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