Buying a used phone in Nigeria – what you need to know

Today, we’re in a smartphone market where your typical top of the line smartphone cost in excess of ₦400,000. ‘Budget’ smartphones cost premium prices, and cheap smartphones simply don’t make the cut.

For the geeky smartphone buyer who wants something premium at a sub ₦100,000 price point, all hope is, however, not lost. Used or refurbished smartphones present an opportunity to own a top of the line smartphone without having to break the bank.

Although the term ‘used’ or ‘refurbished will most times stir up an atmosphere of skepticism, like every stormy cloud, there’s always a silver lining. You just have to find it.

Here are some tips to get you started.

Tip No. one – identify a trustworthy source

Numerous online marketplaces float used electronics, but only a few have that bang for buck factor that’s all too essential in the dicey game of buying used phones. Among these select used phone warehouses, eBay, Offerup, LetGo, and our very own Jiji and Nairaland stand out from the rest.

You’re probably thinking eBay, Offerup, and Letgo, these are all foreign sites, how do I shop on there and get my items delivered to me. Well, it’s easy. Just check our buying used phones from foreign sites guide on how to get on with that.

The major selling point of these sites compared to others like Amazon and BestBuy is that they feature thousands of listings with an option to negotiate the price. Snoop around for long enough, and you’re bound to see something that finds the middle ground between your budget and taste.

eBay takes it a step further. Since most deals are completed via PayPal and since eBay offers an optional buyer protection program, buyers have a bit of cover from the antics of fraudulent sellers. OfferUp, LetGo, Jiji, and Nairaland lack this feature, and the general advice is to trade in person, but more on that in our online shopping guide.

Understand the fine print

There’s a stark difference between used, refurbished, and open-box phones. Each has its peculiarities, and knowing them ensures you don’t get disappointed when your item arrives. 

Used phones

Used phones, like the name rightly let out, are phones that have been used for a specified period. These phones come with significant wear and tear that’s dependent on the nature of the user and the duration of usage.

Refurbished phones

Ideally, the tag ‘refurbished’ means a phone has been subject to some form of reconditioning aimed at bringing it back to its former glory days. A refurbished phone can be a used, spoilt, or malfunctioning phone. What’s important is that they are fixed to function properly and tested to verify that fact.

Refurbished eBay listing

Now the state of a refurbished phone is all down to who handled the refurbishment. If it’s done by the original phone manufacturer, i.e., ‘factory refurbished,’ then you can expect a thorough retouching with the phone’s casing, battery, and accessories replaced if the need be. Essentially you are getting something that’s almost new.

If you buy a refurbished phone from a third party, it becomes a tad bit dicey. Some third parties have a high, almost manufacturer like refurbishing standard, others, just paint over the cracks and sell you scrap. The key is looking out for customer reviews. Read one or two positives reviews and 10 more negative reviews (if they are up to that amount), and you should know who/what you’re dealing with.

Open box phones

An open in-box phone is practically new but technically used. Sounds confusing? Well, it’s actually simple to understand. In today’s market, any mobile phone that comes with opened or tampered packaging is technically considered as used.

Open-box eBay listing

However, some people open up a smartphone without ever using it. Although it’s opened and technically used, the phone hasn’t been used. Get it? Open in-box smartphones are the unicorns of the used phone market. Expectedly they cost more than your typical used or refurbished smartphone, but the price point is still significantly lower than brand new smartphones.

Don’t be too cheap

The used/refurbished phone market is just like any other marketplace – you get what you pay for. Most sellers who deal smartphones know the market worth of any device they are trying to sell, and they do well to price it as such.

While you can be lucky to come across an absolute steal of a deal, be wary of product listings with ridiculously low prices. The chances of getting scammed or receiving a defective device rise sharply with these kinds of deals. Worse still, the smartphone could be a stolen device, in which case you become complicit to a theft.

Take the time to do proper market research to spot a good deal but don’t stray too far away from the normal, acceptable price. Remember, If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.

Thoroughly assess what you’re buying

Used and refurbished phones are not brand new, so there’s bound to be one or two blemishes here and there. While some sellers go the extra mile to point out the flaws with their merchandize, others turn the blind eye. The onus is, therefore, on you, the buyer, especially on sites like OfferUp, LetGo, and Nairaland, where there are no escrow or buyer protection services.

Check pictures

A good way to do this, if you don’t meet up in person with the seller, is to properly access the pictures of the item. For any item you are considering, the images displayed by the seller should be of that item in question.

In fact, a seller dealing used goods, but displaying generic photos is a huge red flag you shouldn’t ignore. The only exception to this is when you’re dealing with OEM manufacturers or reputable tech stores that have a reputation to protect.

Ask questions. Check the IMEI

Ask for detailed specifications. Be sure of what comes in the package, and always make sure to request for the phone’s IMEI. You can run the IMEI through sites like IMEIPro to extract a short history of the phone. If it is stolen, carrier locked, or lemon, it will be flagged.

Purchasing a stolen phone is a crime in many countries, and carrier-locked phones are always a chore to unlock. Sometimes you might even spend more money unlocking the phone than you spent buying it.

If you have the privilege of buying in person, then be sure to physically assess every assessable component of the smartphone.

Check the screen

Start from the screen. Make sure there are no dead pixels or hairline cracks. Next, check out the battery. If there are any signs of battery swelling, ditch the phone.

Check the battery

Screen on time

If it’s an android phone, you can check the screen on time from the setting menu to derive a rough estimate of the battery’s durability.

Note that older phones understandably have weaker batteries since lithium-ion batteries lose their strength with time. Some estimates say over 20% of a battery’s is lost after 1000 charge cycles (should take approx. 3 years), so always factor this in before settling for a used phone.

Check the ports

Once you’re done with the battery, it’s on to the phone’s ports. Ensure every one of them still performs the function they were designed to carry out. Keep an eye out for shaky charging ports as this is indicative of a port that is about to fail or one that was formerly worked on, albeit poorly.

Protecting your money

The tech market, most especially Nigeria’s tech market, is awash with scammers. To stay clear of their money swindling antics sick to the following used phone buying commandments:

  • Never pay for a good you have not received when you’re dealing with an unknown seller. Regardless of how much a seller reassures you of his legitimacy, pay for your used phone only when you (or a proxy acting in your stead) has the phone in hand.
  • This goes for all the deals available on sites like, Nairaland without escrow, or buyer protection service.
  • If you’re dealing face to face, do so in a well lit and easily accessible public place. Fast food restaurants are my favorite dealing points. Make sure you buy at least one drink to appreciate them giving you a safe cover
  • If you’re buying on eBay, Amazon, or Nairaland, check out the seller reviews and the day they registered on the site. Anything a new seller without a chunk of positive reviews says should be taken with a pinch of salt.

And talking about positive reviews – don’t take them too seriously. The one time I was scammed on Nairaland was when I relied too much on positive reviews. Sometimes the seller can register multiple accounts and fake these reviews.

Dive deeper for negative reviews and hear what others who didn’t like the service are saying. If a bunch of positive reviews without any negatives is all you can find, use the registration date as your primary yardstick. If the seller has been on for long enough (say six months) congratulations, you have found a rare unicorn, otherwise, tread very cautiously.