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Over the years, Nigerian telecom subscribers have picked quarrel with sellers of recharge cards because of one reason or another. Most among them has been over scratched off Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) on the card. REMMY NWEKE reports that chalk has come to the rescue.
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Inquiries by our correspondent revealed that one of the traders in the neighbourhood, Mr. Ade Tunde, was at the centre of the commotion. The contention was that he bought a recharge card from one of the Commercial Telephone Operators (CTOs) along the street and eventually scratched off the PIN in the evening of the previous day.
Next day, it was reported that he returned to the CTO being manned by a female school-leaver also known as ‘umbrella people,’ claiming damages that the recharge card of N1,500, was fake.
An argument ensued leading, however, to some male neighbours of the CTO intervening. This culminated into a fight, leaving in its trail some broken bottles, heads and of course, blood flowed.
Further inquiry showed that the recharge card was duly bought by the CTO from one of the major dealers of the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) operators in the country.
Also in recent times, there has been no session in the monthly Telecoms Consumers Parliament without a subscriber complaining of scratching off the PIN of his or her recharge cards across the networks. If it is not a subscriber of GSM operators it would be that of Private Telephone Operators (PTOs).
The parliament is organised monthly by the Consumer Affairs Bureau of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) as an avenue for interaction between industry operators and consumers, which is held in the six geo-political zones of the country.
These complaints heightened since 2005, following the approval granted to 14 companies to produce degradable recharge cards locally to be used by the teeming telecom subscribers, nationwide.
It also follows the announcement by President Olusegun Obasanjo, at the end of a meeting with telcos at Presidential Villa,
Upholding Presidential directive
With the Presidential directive, the Minister of Communications, Chief Cornelius Adebayo wasted no time in summoning stakeholders to a meeting in his office to further fine-tune the decision and to ensure prompt implementation of the policy.
At that meeting, the major operating companies commonly affirmed the possibility of manufacturing all their recharge cards requirements locally.
According to the Minister, this process must not be a “free-for-all process but that the companies to be approved for this project must be credible and possess the expertise to ensure that they can meet the requirements of the operating companies and the objectives of government.”
He noted that government was conscious of the fact that if left uncontrolled, the nefarious actions of some unscrupulous elements may frustrate the good intentions of government.
At this end, Chief Adebayo detailed NCC, to initiate a process of selecting qualified companies to be issued permits to manufacture recharge cards in
And by way of advertisement in the media, NCC proceeded to invite expressions of interest from interested companies for the manufacture of recharge cards locally.
A total of 98 companies responded to the advertisement and through screening of the applications, it was observed that over 60 per cent of the applicants were mere speculators who hardly had any clue about the exact requirements of the business being applied for.
The screening exercise resulted in a shortlist of 27 companies based on the information contained in their submissions.
These companies were then required to collect application forms and provide detailed information about their business plans, experience and financial capability among other facts.
After the summary of the submission presented to the Minister, he in turn approved 14 companies to be issued permits to manufacture recharge cards in
14 wise firms
The successful 14 companies granted permit by NCC to manufacture telecom recharge cards include the Security Printing and Allied Solutions (SPAS), Masterstroke Packages Limited, Airtel, Nitecrest, Cards Technology Limited, Namitech West African Limited, Snecou Group of Companies, South Beach Company Limited (SBC), Controcards Limited, Advantel Limited, PremiumIdeas Limited, Hemnung Investment Limited, Alfa Juliet Mangler Limited, and Orga Kartensysteme Limited trading as Orga West Africa.
However, it was emphasised that these permits were not a once-and-for-all process, as government would closely monitor the performance of these companies that have been granted the first batch of permits as well as the supply-demand equilibrium. Even as further permits may be granted in due course in response to the dynamics of the market, and decision of government.
Before now, CTOs have fought with customers over over-scratching of recharge cards owing to the grazing off of the PIN numbers which is the most important thing on a top-up card, just as was witnessed recently at Tinubu square.
Initially, Nigerians have used the ‘Bic-cover,’ which works out in two ways, by way of scratching well at times and often taking along with the scratch-off the numbers. Also some susbscribers use sand to wipe the surface of the silver column.
There have been cases whereby subscribers have to use hard objects to scratch off these recharge cards because the silver coating on the PIN secret column was heavy.
Then came the era of cleaning the silver column with just a scratch which received an outcry from the members of the public especially consumer protection agencies with special focus on telecom consumers.
On the other hand, some of the cards were being scratched beyond recognition by some subscribers, most of who are in the prepaid or what is called in local parlance ‘Pay As You Go’; who are often in a haste to scratch, load and begin to make calls immediately.
This means subscribers only buy cards when they needed to make calls, and in that haste get the card damaged. This, over the last five years, must have accumulated into several thousands of Naira, and automatically written off by subscribers or the sellers, which in this case are the CTOs, as bad debt in most cases.
And in order to retrieve such scratched off numbers subscribers have to call customer care of the telco in use, which experience is subject for another day, because often they would simply confirm that the phone is yours and request you to provide the batch and serial number of the recharge card as well as part of the PIN still visible, with which to assist the affected subscriber. This takes at least 24 hours to accomplish.
Chalk, a saving grace
However, in the spirit of dynamism in the nation’s telecom market, Nigerians, especially the CTOs, have discovered another method of scratching recharge cards without any blemish.
Investigations by our correspondent showed that this method of scratching off the silver coated column in most recharge cards could be achieved with a piece of chalk.
Chalk, as defined by Longman Contemporary dictionary, is a soft white or grey coloured rock formed a long time ago, from the shells of small sea animals, and nowadays used extensively in writing on a blackboard.
Just place your piece of chalk on top of the silver column and move forward and back and by the time you do that up to five times, the PIN numbers would begin to surface without any damage to the numbers, or the card.
Confirming this to our correspondent, a CTO Ms Felicia Ike, who is located at Oshodi, a Lagos suburb, said that nowadays, they sell their recharge cards without any headaches or heart-attacks even as she demonstrated how it works for us to see. According to her, seeing does not only make you believe but convinces you further. She described it as “scratching without tears.”
Although there is palpable fears among CTOs that as this ‘secret’ of scratching recharge cards has been revealed the price of chalk in the market may go up beyond the several pieces they now sell at N10.
Ms Ike, further advised subscribers to stop recharging only on emergency or when they are already tensed up on a subject, “because that is when most of the recharge cards develop problems due to the force used in the scratching exercise.”
Additionally, “it is always good to recharge when you are at peace with oneself, although now the chalk formulae has come, subscribers may decide to close their eyes and still have a clean but not scratched off PIN as long as they placed the piece of chalk at the right place and move back and front.”
On the use of sand to wipe the surface of the silver column, the CTO said it truly works but very dangerous like the application of Bic-cover over the column, stressing that when done mildly, it comes out neat.She also said that the ultimate result would be scratching your recharge cards without tears, that is, using a piece of chalk. This, she noted, obviously, is another way of finding innovative solution to technology questions in developing country like