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Dangers of junk handsets

NCC Executive Vice Chairman, Prof Umar Garuba Danbatta.
NCC Executive Vice Chairman, Prof Umar Garuba Danbatta.

Another area of serious national health worry was opened recently when the National Communications Commission (NCC) said about 75 per cent of electronic devices imported into Nigeria annually are toxic junk and irreparable. NCC’s Executive Vice Chairman Prof Umar Garba Danbatta said this during the public inquiry on draft guidelines on disaster recovery and draft regulations on e-waste, in Abuja last week.

Danbatta said this happens because of the low income of most Nigerians and their desperate quest for information. The threat being posed by e-waste is so glaring and the NCC can’t just ignore it, he said. He also said, “In a fast-paced telecoms industry where speed and capacity define the networks, rapid advances in technology make it easier and convenient to change malfunctioning gadgets than to repair them. Also, the illegal and predatory e-waste value chain, which encourages the movement of e-waste from developed to developing countries, adds another layer to the global challenge of handling e-waste. In Nigeria, due to low GDP per capita/low income, and the desperate quest for information, it is estimated that 76% of electronics imported into the country are irreparable and toxic junk.”

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The NCC boss said in line with the commission’s regulatory mandate, the telecom industry regulator had developed  draft regulations on e-waste. He said the draft regulations represent a holistic intervention aimed at providing clarity and delimiting the responsibilities of various stakeholders in the e-waste value chain within the telecommunications industry. While the draft regulation is industry-specific, he said, it nonetheless keys into initiatives at national and international levels.

NCC’s Director of Legal and Regulatory Services Mrs Yetunde Akinloye, who presented a general overview of guidelines on disaster recovery and e-waste, said a fine of up to N10 million is being proposed against any company that flouts the regulations on e-waste.

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Revelations of the danger confronting Nigerians on this front is very worrisome indeed. This is because mobile phone handsets are the most ubiquitous gadgets in the country. Millions of Nigerians own telephone handsets and many people own more than one handset. GSM villages, as they are called, are now the busiest places in most Nigerian cities and a major feature of the economy and society. As NCC observed, most of the phones in use in the country are what are called second-hand ones. While thousands of phones are stolen everyday and are resold in the markets, many more are imported from Europe and Asia.

The impression Nigerians initially had was that these second-hand phones were just like the Tokunbo vehicles that we imported into this country by the millions, used and then discarded by Europeans for newer models. Before the vehicles, this country also imported millions of second-hand TV sets, air conditioners and refrigerators. Those ones too were said to have toxic substances harmful to humans and the environment.

The phones however present a wholly different challenge. For one they are much more numerous and for another, NCC says they were discarded not for newer models but because they were beyond repair. On top of that they are toxic. We must not therefore sit idly by until people begin to die in the tens of thousands before we act. Truly it is a tough task because everyone wants a phone handset. It is not impossible to accelerate the local manufacture of cheap phone handsets and then ban the importation of these harmful ones. To boot, we must enforce the ban strictly.

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