The Nigerian government is responding to a tidal wave of China-made counterfeit handsets by initiating a program to block the devices from operating on mobile networks in the country.
More than 12.5 million counterfeit handsets are currently in use in the country, officials said. Counterfeit handsets are a problem throughout Africa, but Nigeria is Africa's largest telecom market by mobile network investments and subscriptions, with over US$25 billion invested in infrastructure and about 127 million subscribers.
The Nigerian government has announced that plans are under way to block counterfeits handsets from the networks by detecting the devices' International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number. The plan appears similar to efforts made by other countries on the continent.
"The enforcement will help increase revenue for the Nigerian government through taxes and will also increase revenue for genuine mobile phone manufacturers," according to a statement from the Standards Organization of Nigeria.
Efforts by Nigerian customs officials have failed to block the phones at various entry points into the country and to arrest importers of the phones.
Most of the phones coming from China into Africa are not licensed by governments and reportedly use smuggled chips, carry no verification from China's Ministry of Industries and Information, and have fake IMEI codes.
Kenya was the first country in Africa to implement a campaign to block such phones from accessing mobile phone networks.
In Zambia, the Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA) has enforced SIM card registration and has successfully worked with operators to block all unregistered SIM cards from accessing the networks. ZICTA has said it will do the same for phones with unregistered IMEI numbers. Zambia's mobile phone market has about 9 million subscribers.
In 2011, Chinese embassies in the region promised to aggressively crack down on companies and people exporting counterfeit electronic products from China. Embassy officials promised that the Chinese government would start inspecting all ports to prevent counterfeit electronic products from being exported to Africa.
That does not appear to have happened and an increasing quantity of counterfeit mobile phones from China have continued flooding the African market.
"It's not the Chinese that have a problem but the people that import the fake products and China cannot stop them," former Chinese Ambassador to Zambia Zhou Yuxio said recently, according to published reports.