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Monthly smartphone import hits N50bn

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By Abraham Adekunle

Asian brands dominate market as local vendors decry poor enabling environment.

Nigeria ranks high among countries in the world with huge mobile connections. At just over 200 million people, mobile connections in the country exceed 320 million Subscriber Identity Modules (SIM). This is not surprising because it is not rare for one person to have two or three SIM cards. However, what is surprising is that despite all these impressive figures, Manufacturing of mobile phones in Nigeria has remained a low. Consequently, over 99 percent of mobile devices used in the country are imported.

Even with the harsh economic realities and the decreasing purchasing power of the Naira, the purchase of phones have skyrocketed. Active mobile connections through Technology platforms such as GSM, fixed wired/wireless and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) are around 221.2 million. Connections to the GSM platforms through Mobile Network Operators (MNO), largely the quartet of MTN, Globacom, Airtel and 9mobile, as at May 2023, stood at 220 million. According to these figures, Nigeria’s telephone density is 115.9 percent.

International brands refuse to establish plants in the country.

There is no up-to-date data on telephone importation. But from 2019 to 2021, the total telephone shipment to Nigeria was $2.35 billion. The average monthly import then stood at $65.2 million. At the current exchange rate (N768 per dollar), the data supplied by the International Trade Centre (ITC), suggests a monthly import of N50 billion. So, the country relies on especially Asian countries for both assembling and manufacturing devices amidst the huge market opportunity.

Though local companies, including AfriOne, Imose, RLG, Bryte, Solo, Omatek and Zinox, have delved into local manufacturing, these companies, except for Zinox (which concentrates on laptop assembling), have since shut down. Meanwhile, international brands that are making huge profits from selling to the Nigerian market have failed to fulfill their promise of establishing manufacturing plants in the country. According to media investigations, the number of mobile phone models approved for the Nigerian market has increased to 2,112 as of April 2023.

FG supports international brands to the detriment of local manufacturers.

Data from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) indicated that mobile manufacturers had secured approval for 151 new models of phones in the last two months. Unsurprisingly, Chinese mobile manufacturers remained the leader in the market in terms of the number of approved phones. While local manufacturing suffers, Nigeria has supported other brands from countries including Finland, France, USA, India, Japan, Philippines, Taiwan, South Korea, South Africa and UAE to thrive. Phone brands dominating the market include Tecno mobile, Infinix, Nokia, Wiko, Xaomi, Samsung, Panasonic, Huawei, Asus, Apple, HP, Google, Gionee, Alcatel and Oppo.

Their prices range from between N150,000 and over N1 million, though there are older models that are sold around N50,000. These brands, according to findings from the NCC, sold about 63 million devices in Nigeria every year. Ironically, when Twitter was banned by the former President Buhari, there seemed to be an outcry, especially from supporters of the government and the ban, for the government to ensure that Twitter Inc. open an office in Nigeria. While this may be in the interest of the country, it would have been much better to campaign for manufacturing plants in the country. This way, more jobs are created and the price of these phones will be determined by the local market and not by the rise in dollar or custom duties.

Nigerian-made phones could not thrive in the market.

A report claimed that an average user changes devices between six to 18 months. According to Counterpoint Research’s Global Monthly Handset Sales Tracker, yearly smartphone sales in Nigeria grew by 81 percent between 2020 and 2021. This was at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sadly, a bulk of these phones are imported. Although many Nigerian-made Smartphones had been introduced to the market, they crashed out eventually. An example is AfriOne, which was birthed in Nigeria with an Investment of about $10 million. It introduced the “first-ever Nigeria-made phone” with a factory capacity of between 120,000 to 300,000 units of phones per month. The device gained traction for about three years, after which it was rarely sighted in any of the major mobile device markets in the country.


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