CHIBUZOR EMEJOR writes on the renewed efforts by the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) to rid the country of all fake and substandared products that have posed danger to society.
It is obvious that counterfeit and sub-standard products have negative impact on the socio- economic development of any country. They imperceptibly destroy the foundation and fabrics of the economy.
In the words of the former Director General of the Standards Organisation of Nigeria, (SON), Dr. Joseph Odumodu, “The use of counterfeit products is very dangerous. Counterfeit destroys the economy. Counterfeit is like termite, it eats up the foundation of the house. Before one knows what is happening, the house is brought down to the foundation.”
In Nigeria, various sectors of the economy have been tremendously affected due to fake and sub-standard products. Take for instance, Nigeria’s textile industry had suffered millions of job losses when the country opened its borders and allowed sub-standard textile materials to flood the country from Asia and all other places.
The immediate impact was that the local textile industry was not able cope with the pressure from competition. This ugly situation led to the collapse of textile mills scattered across the country, apart from other causative factors.
Undoubtedly, Nigeria loses humungous amount of money to counterfeit and sub-standard products. In a report published in one of the national dailies, “Nigeria loses about N15 trillion to fake goods annually.”
The Financial Services Advisory Leader and Chief Economist, Project Blue, PWC Nigeria, Andrew Nevin, at the 90th Annual National Conference of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) in Umuahia, Abia State, said Africa records at least 100,000 deaths, arising from fake drug-related ailments yearly, as counterfeits drugs account for 17 percent of the generic drugs in supply in Nigeria.
In view of these, the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) has been working relentlessly to curb the influx or production of the sub-standard products in the country. The SON is saddled with the responsibility of ensuring that products manufactured within the country and products imported meet quality standards. This is to safeguard the health and safety of the citizenry.
The SON works with National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and the Nigerian Customs Service to evaluate products being brought into the country and those produced within.
Fake and substandard products cut across all categories of items from drugs, electrical, electronic household appliances, building materials, tyres and tubes, automobiles, machine spare parts, food and machines to mention a few. They all find their ways into the Nigerian market.
Apart from the fact that Nigeria’s borders are porous, the level of ignorance among many consumers is very high, coupled with prevalent corrupt practices in the country. All these have continued to exacerbate the influx of substandard products into the country. With all these challenges,the Standards Organisation of Nigeria has been frantically waging war against the unscrupulous elements who feed fat on this illegal activity in Nigeria, the largest market in Africa.
A school of thought also agrees that the high level of poverty in the country. contributes and aggravates counterfeit products. For instance, they argue that even when people know that a product is a counterfeit, they still buy them, due to poverty and ignorance.
In addition, there have been situations where products in the market do not have names. The distributors or agents give them a brand name, they choose. However, this situation is being tackled following the introduction of Standards Organisation of Nigeria Conformity Assessment Programme (SONCAP).
The SONCAP is an offshore and pre-shipment certification scheme to monitor, check and control the importation of regulated products into Nigeria. It comprises a set of conformity assessment and verification procedure applicable to all SON regulated products imported into Nigeria.
The Federal Government introduced the SONCAP to address the number of unsafe products entering the country and to eliminate their subsequent risks to public health and safety.
The scheme employs four mandatory processes of verification of product quality to meet specification standards such as NIS, International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO), and International Electrotechnical Committee (IEC) among others.
In this regard,SON has succeeded in creating an electronic data system for registering products. Today, SON is insisting that every consumer product it is regulating must have a code on it. If a product does not have a code, it means it is not genuine.
Through that process, the agency is able to create a more robust database that would help to trace the fake product to its owners. Each time the SON finds a bad product in the market, the problem has always been how to trace it to the retailer or agent who brought it into the country or to the manufacturer from anywhere in the world.
It is now easy to blacklist companies who are agents or importers, so that they are no longer able to bring in these counterfeit products into the country again.
Addressing journalists recently, Mr Farouk Salim,Director-General of SON, said the organisation’s increased level of seizures is assisting it to win the war against fake and substandard goods.
Salim noted that feedback from market associations and stakeholders across different sectors showed a significant improvement in the quality of goods, especially steel and cables.
On issues of complaints arising from goods purchased online, Salim advised consumers with such challenges to contact SON offices, adding that monitoring goods online could be very difficult.
“We have offices all over the country, you can bring these goods and the receipts to us to clarify these issues so that we can go back to these online dealers to seek redress,” he said. He restated SON’s commitment to strengthening its partnership with the media, while urging journalists to also assist in its fight against fake and substandard goods.
The SON has also intensified its enforcement on the substandard and compromised new tyres.
In Apo Tyre Market, Abuja, few months ago, about 30 shops containing suspected substandard and compromised new tyres were sealed by Enforcement Officers of the Standards Organisation of Nigeria with the support of the Security Joint Task Force.
The operation was carried out in the early hours as the traders were settling down to the business of the day amidst subdued protests and pleadings with the leaders of the SON and the Security Teams.
The entire area of the market was cordoned off by tough-looking security operatives providing cover while the SON Enforcement Officers combed the Tyre Market for supposedly new but already compromised tyres, wrapped for sale to unsuspecting consumers and motorists.
At the end of the operation, three truckloads of the suspected substandard tyres were driven away by the SON Enforcement Team, with a message to the market leaders to direct their appeals and complaints to the SON management.
Several of the traders were heard asking aloud why the tyres were not apprehended at the points of entry while others wondered why new tyres produced in 2021 and 2022 could be said to be substandard.
Addressing newsmen after the exercise, the leader of the SON Team, Mr Dauda Yakubu, Director, Standards Development, stated that the action was predicated on detailed information on the prevalence of supposedly new but already compromised tyres in the market.
This, he stressed, was in the exercise of the organisation’s powers as provided in the SON Act No. 14 of 2015 to remove suspected substandard products from circulation, investigate the source and prosecute standards infractions.
Yakubu disclosed that SON’s previous effort to remove the suspected substandard tyres from circulation in November 2021 ahead of the yuletide celebrations was violently resisted by the traders, with injuries to some of its staff and damage to many of its operational vehicles as well as hired trucks.
These he said, necessitated SON’s request to the Security Joint Task Force to protect Nigerian consumers from the imminent dangers from the continuous circulation and sales of the suspected substandard tyres.
“It was also in fulfilment of the promise by the SON Director-General, Mallam Farouk Salim to leave no stone unturned in protecting Nigerians by removing substandard products from circulation wherever they are found,” said Mr. Yakubu.
According to him, many automobile road crashes have been caused by supposedly new tyres that bust on motion and such tyres may have been compromised in the course of importation or smuggling into the country through the stuffing of four of five into one to evade payment of appropriate duties and taxes to Government.
While displaying several samples of the seized tyres with signs of squeezed and rough edges, Mr.Yakubu stated that these were due to the application of force during the stuffing and un-stuffing of the tyres.
He stated that such tyres pose a grave danger to motorists and passengers, stressing that they have led to avoidable accidents, injuries and loss of lives of many Nigerians.
The SON Director, Standards Development admonished motorists and consumers, in general, to pay closer attention to tyres before purchase by looking out for rough edges as signs of forceful stuffing and un-stuffing, change of week and year of manufacture as well as rough drills and paintings on the surface of the tyres.
These according to him are signs that such tyres even if they look new, may have been compromised and thus pose a grave danger to the users.
On further steps to be taken by SON, Mr. Yakubu stated that samples of the tyres were earlier bought and subjected to Laboratory tests and analysis before the raid, stressing that more samples from those confiscated would still be subjected to the same procedure to enable the organisation make informed decisions based on scientific evidence.
On why the tyres were not apprehended at the points of entry, he explained that the law is targeted at consumer safety, necessitating the removal of the suspected products from circulation first while investigating the source.
According to him, such stuffed tyres have in the past been discovered to come in either through smuggling or wrong declaration and circumvention of the SONCAP procedure to ascertain the conformity to the Nigerian Industrial Standard (NIS 252:2017) for New Pneumatic Passenger Car Tyres.
He explained that the owners of the seized products and sealed shops would be given a fair hearing as provided in the organisation’s Standard Operating Procedure, while the SON management would subject the matter to due legal process as usual.
As part of efforts to check influx of substandard products, the SON boss has also called for the return of the agency to the ports to help minimise the damage done by substandard products to the nation’s economy.
While destroying substandard electric cables, engine oil, LPG cylinders, stuffed new tyres, unapproved cigarettes and low grade roofing sheets in Lagos recently, Salim, observed that all the products destroyed were imported into the country and smuggled through the ports.
He, therefore, called for the return of SON to the Ports to help minimise the damage done by substandard products to the nation’s economy. According to him, the burning of the substandard products is to assure Nigerians that SON is actually destroying them after obtaining a court order to that effect.
“Most of these substandard products were captured in the market where they are ready to be sold to customers and the unfortunate thing is that they passed through our Ports.
“It will be much easier for these substandard products to be detected if our employees are at the source of the import of these products,” he said.
According to him, SON is not always invited for joint inspection, and that invitations for joint inspection are rare and far between.“I guarantee you that if our officers have opportunity to inspect these products, the moment they look at it from experience, they will be able to detect the substandard goods.
“Don’t forget that officers of the Customs Service are trained to check for duty, they have no idea of how to detect substandard products easily, and our personnel are trained on how to check these products,” he said.
The SON boss said its officers had no unfettered access as stipulated by the constitution. He said:“Unless the law is changed by the National Assembly, signed by the president, the law says SON must and should be at the port, not at the discretion of any organisation.”
In all,there is urgent need to communicate with consumers on the negative impact of counterfeit products. There must be collaboration with regulatory agencies to ensure that people who do the wrong things are dealt with according to the provisions of the law to serve as a deterrent to others.
The citizenry and the government need to do is to say NO to counterfeit. Therefore, consumers must be enlightened on the negative impact of counterfeit. This is where the media must play their traditional role of informing, educating and sensitising the populace.
The SON also needs to deploy cutting-edge technology in its fight against counterfeit products as well as in enforcement. More progress would be recorded when the brand owners work closely with SON and other regulatory agencies to educate Nigerians about the negative impact of counterfeit products.