Dealing with the menace of substandard products

Barrister Osita Aboloma, DG, SON

By Edward Dibiana

The immediate past Chairman, Senate Committee on Industry, Senator Sam Egwu, apparently drew the attention of many to the challenge of products standardization in Nigeria when he said, “We are not happy that the Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) has not been allowed to operate at its maximum capacity especially with their presence being felt at the ports.

“Nigeria is import dependent, with porous borders and for them not to be at the port to inspect these goods first hand is not good enough. They should be allowed to be at the ports to see these products before they enter into the market.

“We cannot overemphasis the issue of standardisation, because it is the core for every manufacturing output. We have observed that some products come into the country from countries that do not have standards, but clone SON logo. This is certainly not good for the Nigerian economy.” The senator had observed.

The Director-General of SON, Mr. Osita Aboloma, raised similar concern a few days ago, while briefing the newly appointed Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Otunba Adeniyi Adebayo and his Minister of state counterpart, Ambassador Maryam Katagum, on the recent achievements and challenges of SON.

The DG had described SON’s continued absence from the seaports to undertake quality verification and prevent influx of substandard and life-endangering products into the country as one of the agency’s biggest obstacles in carrying out its constitutionally backed responsibility of ensuring that Nigerians are protected from avoidable harms associated with substandard products.

Many have posited that both the human and economic costs of influx of substandard products into Nigeria can’t be quantified, or sufficiently appreciated, unless put in the ugly context of avoidable human and material losses.

For instance, when lives are wasted in road accidents, as a result of substandard Tyresor Brake pads; when deaths occur and multimillion naira property destroyed in domestic fire incidents, due to fake electric wire or cooking gas cylinders; when buildings collapse because iron rods and other building materials are substandard; or when motor engines or other machines break down as a result of adulterated engine oil;  then the horrendous criminal impacts of perpetrators of substandard products begin to register.

Rogue business men and women, in alliance with their foreign collaborators, have continued to afflict Nigeria with the scourge of substandard products and the resultant negative economic, safety and reputation consequences.  This challenge became so worrisome that in July 2018, SON Chief Executive, Aboloma officially requested 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, adding that 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 gave the names of the companies as: “Awulu Investment Nigeria Limited; DoncasAssociate Nigeria Limite; Britto International Commercial Industrial Limite; GNCSP Global Services; Ike and Sons Enterprises; Kumara Global Limited; and Chudon Global Impex Limited.”

Apparently motivated by sheer profiteering, many of these perpetrators continue to hurt Nigeria and its citizenry in different ways, especially as Nigeria has seemingly become a dumping ground for all manners of products. But the long hand of the law is beginning to catch up with many.

Impounded substandard iron rods and the some foreign nationals suspected of importing them.

Last August, SON enforcement unit raided two warehouses in Okigwe and Owerri in Imo state, where substandard roofing sheets worth over N500m were impounded. The items, according to SON sources, will be evacuated and destroyed and culprits prosecuted in line with the SON Act 14 of 2015.

In February, a Federal High Court in Lagos ordered the remand of four men charged with producing adulterated engine oil. Justice Oluremi Oguntoyibo ordered that the suspects, Johnson Uche, Olaide Shifty, Kingsley Meteke and Abdulquadri Olayinka , be remanded in prison custody pending their arraignment. The prosecution stated that the engine oil did not comply with mandatory industrial standards, an offence that violated Section 26 of the SON Act 2015.

SON had at different times prosecuted many other perpetrators of substandard products across the country. A couple was for instance arraigned in Awka Anambrastate for manufacturing adulterated paints, just as some Chinese nationals were prosecuted in Lagos for importation of substandard iron rods in Lagos.

Records show that some of these criminals clone successful, recognized brands outside the country and import them to sell to unsuspecting consumers as original, while others with questionable manufacturing capabilities produce items with compromised standards. These practices do not only deny consumers of value for their money, but sometimes, endanger their lives.

So, when the SON DG, Aboloma, in April last year, set up a rapid response team code named: Surveillance, Intelligence and Monitoring (SIM) unit, to lead the agency’s war against substandard products, industry watchers agreed it was a bold statement that, “enough is enough. Nigeria will no longer be a dumping ground for substandard products “.

Among other responsibilities, the SIM unit,  led by Mr. Suleiman Isa, a deputy director, was charged with, “Intelligence gathering on substandard, fake and life endangering products throughout Nigeria; data collection, collation, analysis and retention; maintenance of risk profile and register of substandard, fake and life endangering products.”

In addition, the unit also carries out quality assurance activities and strategic raids/enforcement/regulatory operations to reduce incidences of influx and sale of substandard and life-endangering products on the directives of the DG, SON.

This proactive move to strengthen the core objective of SON, by launching a frontal attack against perpetrators of substandard products has continued to record unprecedented results, when number of impounded substandard products and prosecution of culprits are considered.

From Lagos to Onitsha, Katsina to Port-Harcourt, Calabar to Ilorin, SON war against substandard products is raging with noticeable renewed vigour and uncompromising diligence and commitment.

For instance, early this year, SON smashed a syndicate that specialized in the counterfeiting of genuine brands of made in Nigeria cables at the Alaba International Market, Lagos following successful intelligence. The raid was done in collaboration with the Cable Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (CAMAN).

Mr. Isa, head of the SIM unit, said that the perpetrators’ “import either foreign branded cables or unbranded cables and re-label as certified Nigerian brands to deceive unsuspecting buyers. They then present this substandard cables with SON certification marks do on the labels to fake authentication and verification to the Nigerian Consumer”.

In January, at  Yankatsari Yangongon Kano state, multi-million naira products were destroyed by SON after they failed necessary quality and standardization laboratory tests and analysis.

These products, confiscated from the Kano/Jigawa axis, included, bags of 25kg expired foreign rice, 257 bags of substandard mosquito coil, 190 cartons of fake Dorco brand of shaving sticks, 96 rolls of fake NOCACO electrical cables, bags of substandard fertilizers, substandard Automobile Brake Fluid and Bales of empty sacks of rice. The SON Regional Coordinator North West, Alhaji Abba Adamu Bauchi and the Kano/Jigawa States Coordinator, Alhaji Yunusa Muhammed, supervised the destruction of the substandard products.

Shortly after that, SON in its Nationwide mop up of suspected substandard products, shut down some illegal facilities for the fabrication of substandard Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) cylinders at  Bida Road in Onitsha, Anambra State.

The substandard cylinders were described by the Anambra state coordinator, Engr. Nwaoma Olujie, as a “time bomb”.  The factories were said to lack basic requisite facilities for the manufacture of LPG cylinders.

Three lorry loads of substandard LPG cylinders, welding machines, paint, spraying machines, compressors, gauges and other items were evacuated from the locations. Similar mop up raids for LPG cylinders were carried out in Kaduna, Kano and Katsina at the same period.

Several other substandard product syndicates were smashed across the nation through this remarkable enforcement drive.  Substandard products impounded in the exercise included, Tyres, Textiles, Electronics Gadgets, Roofing Sheets, Iron Rods, Lubricants, Brake Pads, among others.