Wednesday, October 21, 2015

SON’s war against substandard products

October 14 was World Standards Day and the Standards Organisation of Nigeria commemorated the day with sensitization programmes. It was interesting watching the Director-General of SON, Dr. Joseph Odumodu, and the President, National Association of Nigerian Traders, Mr. Ken Ukaoha, on the Nigerian Television Authority’s magazine programme, “Good Morning Nigeria” anchored by Kingsley Osadolor and Blessing Abu on that day. I shuddered when Odumodu said that on his assumption of office some four years ago, 80 per cent of products that flooded our markets were substandard. Yet, SON has been in existence since 1971 as the law setting up the agency was the SON Act 56 of 1971 although amended several times.
Did you know that many of our electronics products such as television, radio, and computers do expire? Did you know that tyres, cement, generators, bulbs, clothes, water, foodstuffs, lubricants, batteries and many other items do expire? Aside from expiring, many of these products circulating in Nigerian markets are either outright fake or produced below acceptable national and international standards. According to the experts, while many of the traders who engage in importation of goods do not know or care less to find out the approved national standards for the goods they are importing, a sizeable number of them deliberately ask their producers to supply them substandard products. The rationale for this is largely pecuniary as it is common in many capitalist states like ours where business tycoons’ sole aim is how to make super profits.
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Sadly, Nigeria has been turned into a dumping ground for expired, fake and sub-standard products from abroad. According to the DG of SON, “Statistically, Nigerian-made products account for less than five per cent of substandard goods while imported products account for over 90 per cent of substandard products in terms of quantity.” According to Odumodu, in 2015 alone, the agency has confiscated and destroyed goods worth over N4bn. He claimed that before the 2015 amendment of the Act setting up the agency, the fine for anyone caught manufacturing or importing substandard products was a paltry N50,000. Hence, many unscrupulous local manufacturers and importers preferred to commit the crime and pay the penalty which was like a slap on the wrist. Thankfully, the seventh National Assembly has tightened the nuts and bolts of the old law and imposes stiffer penalties in the amended legislation.
Quite unfortunately, the economic implications of dealing in inferior products are very grave. The menace has led to the closure of many local industries with attendant loss of jobs and revenue to government. Among companies that have been run out town by the activities of importers of substandard goods are Bata shoe manufacturing company, Berec Batteries, Micheline and Dunlop Tyre manufacturing companies, as well as many automobile and textile factories. Where are Aswani, Afprint and many of the textile companies in Lagos and Kaduna today? They have closed shops while their warehouses have now been bought over by religious groups for the propagation of their faiths.
Aside from the economic loss, there is also the health hazard angle to this issue. For instance, many of the imported poultry products such as frozen chicken and turkey have been found to be unhygienic for human consumption as they are believed to be injected with steroids and preserved with harmful chemicals from their countries of importation. It has also been reported that much of the rice being brought into Nigeria are expired or largely unsafe for human consumption due to preservatives used on them and long years of storage. Oftentimes, many of the home appliances purchased in the market do not last largely because they are second-rate. In very many instances, they cause damage to properties and lives. Such is very common with electronic gadgets, wires and cables. According to Odumodu, a standard electric bulb, whether energy-saving or energy-consuming, should ordinarily last for 10,000 hours and should not cost less than N500. The question is, how many of us are willing to part with that much for a single bulb?
That brings us to the issue of quality and affordability. Perhaps, due to our poverty level in this country, many consumers prefer buying cheap than buying quality but expensive products. Take for instance, there are many computer users whose operating systems are pirated copies. It’s the same story with books, music and films. People will rather buy cheap pirated books and compact discs of films and music rather than purchase the original copies for much more. This perhaps is the psychology behind some traders’ preference for importation of inferior products. This much was told to the SON authorities by the Chinese manufacturing companies when they went there to plead with them to stop producing substandard products for Nigerian markets. Odumodu said the Chinese industrialists told him that they were only producing to the specifications given to them by their Nigerian customers. This has to change!
It is heart-warming that the National Association of Nigerian Traders has joined forces with SON to rid Nigerian markets of substandard products. This they decided to do after receiving capacity building from the regulatory agency. NANT has formed task forces across all the major markets in the country that is assisting SON to identify and confiscate unwholesome products brought into markets for sale. It is also gratifying to note that though SON is no longer at the Nigerian ports, the agency in collaboration with the Central Bank of Nigeria, the Federal Inland Revenue Service and Nigeria Customs Service has come up with the integration of SON’s e-certificates into the Nigeria Integrated Customs Information Systems. This was launched on September 10, 2015. Thus, SON’s e-product certificate has become part of the Customs Form ‘M’ documents to be attached for clearing of SON’s regulated products at the Nigerian Ports.
With this development and several other steps being taken by SON, the agency is very optimistic that within six months, the incidences of manufacturing and sale of substandard products currently at about 40 per cent would have been further reduced to 10 per cent in Nigeria. I sincerely hope so because the agency is still faced with daunting challenges.
I dare say that there is no sufficient sensitisation of the general public on the dangers of procuring deficient products as well as how to identify genuine ones in the market. More so, as the SON’s mark of quality such as ‘MANCAP’ and ‘NIS’ are susceptible to being faked. SON needs to work robustly and collaboratively with the Ministry of Trade and Investment, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control as well as the Nigerian Export Promotion Council to ensure that the fight against substandard products in the country is won by the government.
To my compatriots, I say, “shine your eyes”! Go for quality products even if they are more expensive than the inferior ones. Stop being penny wise, pound foolish. Let us save ourselves the agony of wasting resources on products that are not durable and are at the same time harmful.
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