Every country has her own challenges with substandard goods and products, whether manufactured locally or imported, but that of Nigeria is in higher than usual dimensions.
The prevalence of substandard products was so much in the pharmaceutical sector until Prof. Dora Akunyili proved that the challenge of fake drugs could be dealt with successfully. It was not easy for her and her colleagues at NAFDAC in those days.
Attempts were even made to kill her, perhaps to send warning message to other chiefs of regulatory organisations of government, but she was not deterred; with the support of the Federal Government, she fought the fake drugs lords to submission. Her predecessor has continued with that spirit.
The preponderance of fake products in almost all spheres of human activity here is alarming. From computers and ICT products, building materials, machinery, cars and spare parts, hand kerchiefs, towels, to keys and padlocks, fake products flood the market daily, and they are mostly from China and Asia.
The Asian Tigers are here, but more with substandard and economically wasteful products. The government body responsible for designation, establishment, approval and declaration of standards in respect of materials, commodities, structures and processes, certification of products in commerce and industry, their promotion at national, regional and international levels, throughout Nigeria, and the enforcement of same is the Standards Organisation of Nigeria, SON.
Their mandate is enormous, the challenge is gargantuan, they are restless, committed, doing their best, but the influx of fake products continue without abating.
Only this week, the Director General of SON declared their readiness to enforce standards in the electric bulb section by destroying fake electrical bulbs.
The incidences of frequent fire outbreak in homes, industries and offices these days, make the need to check fake wires and bulbs imperative. Door keys and padlocks from China do not last for more than a few weeks; same in the motor spare parts markets, where used parts are now preferred to the so called new ones from China. Today, for almost all items in the market, you have original and fake products displayed side by side, with impunity, and the buyer decides, depending on his choice and purse.
But the worrisome aspect is that the crooks are thriving too much in this business. Some of these men import substandard products from China, paste the name and logo of standard and popular brands on them and sell. Others even open up products like television sets, change the internal components, and sell!
This is where all genuine companies exporting to sell in Nigeria need to collaborate with the SON Conformity and Assessment Programme, SONCAP.Established since 1971, SON has changed and is actively involved in import inspection of goods and quality assessment at the ports and borders of Nigeria, considering the economic and health/safety implications of influx of substandard goods into the country. But fake products are everywhere.
The question then is: Why is the impact of SON so little felt by the people?
The many problems of the importers drive them into cutting corners to make some profit. First, they pay import duty, NAFDAC fees, SON dues, ship agent fees, clearing and forwarding fees, wharfinger, wharfage, stevedoring conservancy dues, animal and plant quarantine dues, and many more, before the containerised goods leave the sea port.
If any of these government officials or department is not pleased, he simply raises an issue against the importer to the Customs which elicits some enforcement action against the man. At the end of the day, he settles, with more cost, and he sells at a loss. Next time he asks the exporter to reduce specification and quality in order to recoup his losses in the earlier consignment, and it subsequently becomes a habit.
Second, where the officers in charge of a particular section in the ports clearance process come predominantly from one ethnic group, they use their position to promote the interest of importers from that group and punish or put importers from other or perceived rival ethnic group at a disadvantage.
The net effect is that the disadvantaged importer struggles to also make some profit by importing poor quality products. Greed, corruption, and ethnic manipulations have played together at the seaports to land substandard products in Nigeria, complicating the challenges of SON.
Third, with Nigeria as a dumping ground of all sorts, due to absence of government encouragement for production and manufacturing, many want to import from China, the known centre for fake, cheap and substandard products. They all find patronage for the questionable products they import because of our huge population, and continuously depreciating Naira purchasing power. The market for fake products has become large because the majority cannot afford the high cost of the original standard quality products.
Fourth, the Lagos seaports have been so balkanized among the ruling class and their cronies, in what they called concessioning, which has made the place look like a mad house. Any conscientious citizen who used to visit the Lagos seaports of Tin Can, and Apapa in the early 1980s to 1990s, will shed tears for this country over what presently obtains there. The ports have become the shame of their past glory.
The work of SON needs to be known by all and sundry through more education, more campaign, more information to the consuming public. The cooperation between SON and the consumer protection agencies need to be enhanced in the interest of the people. SON on its part cannot continue to treat symptoms by destroying the importers goods alone, which only impoverish Nigerians.
The battle must now be carried beyond our borders to China and Asia. Early this month, our President visited China with a very powerful delegation, and a top parliamentary official from China also visited Nigeria a few days ago. They should be telling themselves the truth about the need to start punishing exporters of fake and substandard products to Nigeria.
Mr. CLEMENT UDEGBE, a lawyer, wrote from Lagos.