To ensure that Nigerians’ lives are protected from the negative effects of imported or locally-manufactured sub-standard products, the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) has sealed 13 steel companies across the country for standards infractions, writes AUWAL ABUBAKAR.
From whatever angle one looks at it, Nigerian consumers bear the brunt of the harshest part of the current economic challenges in the land. This reality is such that whichever way the economic pendulum swings, the challenges faced by Nigerian consumers remain worrisome, as some goods and services they invest their hard earned money on, sometimes, fail basic credibility test.
Take for instance the telecommunications sector. Not a few consumers have had cause to lament the poor services they receive from service providers in the sector.
This unfortunate development recently received the attention of the Senate as it queried the service providers over what it described as “high incidences of drop calls , poor internet connectivity and lack of transparent internet data billing”.
The Senate went further to demand that the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) exhibit more firmness in the application of its regulatory powers, to ensure that consumers get better deal.
This less than satisfactory services, the Senate has rightly noted, would not “only jeopardize the federal government’s efforts in the area of ease of doing business in Nigeria as most business transactions are telephone and Internet dependent, but will also deny consumers of value for their money.”
A similar trend replicates in the power sector. The issues of poor electricity supply and distribution as well as the controversy over estimated billing system occasioned by inadequate metering across the nation, have sadly become an intractable national problem.
While many consumers pay for power they didn’t consume, others have resigned to fate as electricity providers continue to give excuses for poor services, ranging from aging power infrastructure and inadequate investment returns. Yet the people remain in darkness.
In the drugs and foods sector, the menace of importers of fake and adulterated drugs is well documented. In fact late Professor Dora Akunyili, came to national light during her time as the Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration Control (NAFDAC) on account of her efforts to restore sanity to the sector.
It was through NAFDAC’s campaigns against drug counterfeiters that many consumers became aware of the unscrupulous activities of fake drug merchants, who in league with their criminal collaborators, go to foreign lands in Asia, South America, Europe and others places to clone well recognized drug brands, with little or no efficacy and sell same to unsuspecting consumers. Many of such consumers unfortunately die as a result of the unwholesome medicines.
Such activities of rogue manufacturers and importers, who cut corners just for selfish profiteering, are also observed in many other sectors. On the surface, these products look genuine. With trademarks and brand names already known, the unsuspecting consumer reaches out for them.
Added to an attractive lower price in some instances, the buyer falls for the offer, excited that he has made a good bargain. But that is the end of the story and the beginning of another chapter in his travails. The goods which looked genuine and relatively cheaper are after all, not what the buyer had expected.
They are fake or substandard products, cloned to look like the original ones. For the consumer, his unending tale of sorrow commences. That is, if he does not lose his life or that of any member of his family in the process.
This has been the lot of Nigerians – no thanks to the antics of manufacturers and sellers of fake and adulterated products.
These merchants of death are virtually in all sectors of the economy. From such daily consumables as food items, toiletries, drugs and basic household utensils, they also pervade such complex sectors as building materials, motor spare parts and accessories. At whatever angle they operate, they project one result – huge loss to the consumer.
That is why many, especially the consumer rights advocates have always called on regulatory authorities in Nigeria to be alive to their responsibilities in order to ensure that consumers begin to get enhanced service delivery which would impact positively on the quality of life and living among the people.
Just last month the apex consumer protection body, the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC), perhaps heeded to this call as it sealed some supermarkets in Abuja. The sales outlets were accused of stocking and sale of expired products and some others with irregular shelf life.
Such fraudulent business enterprises and their evil minded promoters, however, have continued to device criminal ingenious antics aimed at mere profiteering to the detriment of the people.
This is perhaps why the job of SON, charged with improving life through standardisation and quality assurance, is not a mean task. Since its establishment with an Enabling Act Number 56 of December 1971, SON has had rough runs with some Nigerian and foreign businessmen and women bent of flooding the country with fake and substandard products.
These unprincipled entrepreneurs, who are sometimes very vicious, and who could go to any length in an attempt to cow regulatory officials, however seem to be having their match in the current leadership of the organisation, headed by Osita Aboloma, a lawyer.
This is apparently evident in the manner the agency has applied its regulatory powers in recent times. When few days ago SON sealed 13 steel companies across the nation for standards infractions, the imageries evoked by that action were those of gory carnage, calamity and sorrow, associated with building collapses in Nigeria.
Such avoidable human and material losses, many believed, were in a way, nipped in the bud by SON by applying its regulatory powers in that circumstance. Just last year alone, Lagos state witnessed a number of such unfortunate incidents that recorded several fatalities.
Some of those incidents were attributed to use of substandard building materials innocently procured by unsuspecting property owners, or as a result of cutting corners by builders, whose only motivation is unfair profit.
Speaking on the sealed factories, the Chairman, SON Task Force on Steel, Mr Enebi Onucheyo, said that “Laboratory tests and analysis carried out on the samples obtained from the factories revealed that most of them failed to meet the minimum requirements for diameter and mass per meter as provided in the Nigeria Industrial Standard (NIS 117:2004).
In order to give further bite to its regulatory powers and essentially protect Nigerians from fake and life-endangering products, the agency has started taking the fight against manufacturers and importers of substandard products to key origins of such products.
Bent on crushing these substandard products cartel, SON DG Aboloma in July 2018, officially requested for the blacklisting and prosecution by Chinese government, of seven companies responsible for the importation of many substandard products in Nigeria from China.
These companies according to the DG, were among those identified to have “persistently circumvented Nigeria’s import regime by their deliberate refusal to comply with the Standards Organisation of Nigeria off-shore Conformity Assessment Programme (SONCAP).”
Aboloma had stated in a letter to the Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria, that the activities of these companies “have impacted negatively on the perception of the Nigerian people on the quality of goods and services from the Peoples Republic of China.
And unless immediate steps are taken to arrest the situation, incurable reputational damage would be done to the Government and People of China.
We are of the view that every step necessary should be taken to prevent them from jeopardising the excellent trade and cultural relationship between the Government and Peoples of China and Nigeria,” he said.
The names of the companies were given in the letter as: “Awulu Investment Nigeria Limited; Doncas Associate Nigeria Limite; Britto International Commercial Industrial Limited; GNCSP Global Services; Ike and Sons Enterprises; Kumara Global Limited; and Chudon Global Impex Limited.”
This development, Bola Fashina, SON’s spokesman, said has started yielding positive results. The deal would ensure that factories in China reject orders from Nigeria that do not meet the approved Nigerian standards.
Other measures aimed at strengthening the standardisation mechanism by SON include the building of an ultra-modern laboratory complex in Lagos as well as a National Metrology Institute in addition to an existing Engineering Laboratory at Enugu and a Textile and Leather Laboratory located in Kaduna as part of the development of the National Quality Infrastructure.
With a firm surveillance and enforcement regime, SON has regularly apprehended perpetrators of products counterfeiting across the nation, many of whom have been convicted or are currently being prosecuted for standards infractions.
Experts situate these achievements as being in line with the mission statement of the organisation, which seeks to promote consumer confidence and global competitiveness of Nigerian products and services through standardisation and quality assurance.
But these criminal counterfeiters and their collaborators are apparently not the happiest in recent times as they remain in the receiving end of SON’s firm and uncompromising stance against their nefarious activities.
Just like it sealed the steal factories recently, and impounded hundreds of million naira worth of different substandard goods across the nation, the organisation also carried out similar activities last year, when it shut several shops in the Auto Spare Parts and Machinery Dealers Association (ASPAMDA) market on Lagos/Badagry expressway and arrested notorious counterfeiters and importers of fake and sub-standard goods.
The market had come under SON’s hammer following several surveillance exercises undertaken as a result of constant complaints by the public. In carrying out the exercise, Aboloma remarked that of much concern to the agency is the fraudulent cloning and faking of successful brands of car parts and accessories by dubious elements to make quick gains, depriving the trade mark owners of their benefit and consumers of quality products.
In his words: “We have SON Conformity Assessment Programme (SONCAP) for importers to ensure that whatever they import is in conformity with the nation’s standards from the country of origin while the MANCAP scheme is a detailed guideline for local manufacturers to ensure quality and standard in the production process.
No importer or local manufacturer has any reason to import or manufacture products that are not in conformity with the nation’s industrial standards. We insist that all importers, manufacturers and indeed dealers’ products must be registered for traceability.”
The success of SON or any other regulatory body in Nigeria will mostly likely be determined by how they apply their regulatory powers. The verdict obviously lies with the people.
- Abubakar is a development journalist.