By OMOH GABRIEL, JUDE NJOKU and FRANKLIN ALI
Dangote Group has distanced itself from the raging controversy that cement sold in Nigeria are of the 32.5 grade that can only be used for plastering, culvert and other low level construction grade.
The company said it is within the realm of Standard Organisation of Nigeria, SON, to fish out those manufacturing and selling 32.5 grade and ensure that only the prescribed standard cement is sold in Nigeria. Dangote Group added that it is only the regulator that can spot the difference as there are no physical features to determine the grade except through laboratory test.
But other cement manufacturers differ, saying that there should be no limitation on cement products in the market place as the 32.5 grade has been part of building in Nigeria for 54 years. They said “We believe fundamentally that consumers should have a choice of products to suit their needs and applications. Current and future standards should continue to ensure that there is a good environment for choice, competition and quality.
“It is a fact that in the last few years, there has been more innovation and product choice, which has actually generated price reductions for end users.
It has been suggested that cement products should be limited and some removed from the market. Products such as 32.5 have actually been part of building in Nigeria for the last 54 years and are used widely throughout the world.
Limiting product choices will not be good for the consumer and will send the industry backwards and away from current international trend,” the manufacturers stressed, while assuring that the cement manufacturing community will “continue to support all initiatives in conjunction with other stakeholders to eradicate building collapse.”
Messrs Dangote Cement Nigeria Plc pointedly dissociated itself from the companies producing 32.5grade cement in the country. The company explained that it produces only the 42.5 grade of cement in its three plants at Ibeshe, Gboko and Obajana.
Dangote Group’s Director of Sales and Marketing, Mr. Ekanem Etim, who made the clarifications at a news briefing in Lagos, called on SON to enforce the regulation that only cement that meets the 42.5 grade is manufactured or imported into the country.
He noted that before now when cement was largely imported, SON had insisted that only 42.5 grade of cement was allowed into Nigeria and wondered why upon domestication of production, the same regulation should not be applied.
Earlier last week, other cement manufacturers in Nigeria had distanced themselves from the recent claim that poor cement quality is responsible for the growing wave of building collapse in the country.
The manufacturers, who debunked the claim, comprised Ashaka Cement Plc, Lafarge WAPCO Plc, Northern Cement Company of Nigeria, Sokoto and United Cement Company Plc, Calabar. But the Dangote group was not represented at that meeting.
In a statement, the other manufacturers said: ”The Nigerian cement industry is one of the most modern in Africa with significant new technology and capacity recently installed. Cement quality conforms with the highest international standards and the industry is constantly working with the regulatory authorities (Standards Organisation of Nigeria) to ensure up-to-date testing, certification of products and quality norms.”
It stated further that the cement industry in Nigeria is “committed to the sustainability of construction and we share public concern regarding the menace of building collapse.” Commenting on the possible cause of building collapse, the manufacturers said, ”Experience throughout the world has shown very clearly that cement quality is not the source of building collapse. Rather, the root cause is most frequently related to poor construction practices.
The level of skill, education and awareness in the construction sector must be improved.”
According to them, some of the past and on-going efforts of the cement manufacturers to address the issue include: developing several initiatives such the National Symposium on building collapse to bring stakeholders together to create awareness.
“There have also been several programmes in conjunction with Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) to educate and certify block makers and masons. We are committed to organising even more education and awareness in this area and have recently participated with the Ministry of Works to pursue this initiative.”
The cement manufacturers remarked that the Nigerian cement industry is leading the way in Africa in high quality by providing innovative products and solutions, which are required by a growing construction sector.
However, Dangote Group’s Sales Director, Mr. Ekanem Etim, said, “Some years back, the preponderance of cement in this country was imported and the standard laid out by the Standards Organisation of Nigeria, SON, was that you cannot bring in any cement that was below 42.5. Upon domestication of the production, we believe that the standard should not be lowered.
We at Dangote Cement, remain steadfast in meeting up to that particular standard. We are a key player in this industry and we believe that Nigerians deserve the best in quality and service delivery. That is why we take exception to the statement by the coalition of civil society groups that all cement manufacturers are not meeting up to the standard”.
“On one breadth, we want to align with the Civil Society that there is need for standards to be maintained. If the Standards Organisation of Nigeria had insisted that imported cement should come in 42.5grade, every manufacturer, be it local or international, should meet that standard.
To that extent, we should all comply so that Nigerians can get the very best from what we produce in this country. SON should step in, do what is required of them, so that we can give Nigerians the best and nip the incidents of collapsed buildings in the bud,” Mr. Etim said.
He explained that all brands of Dangote Portland Cement have the 42.5 grade specification clearly written on the bags. On the education of cement users, he said the company has over the years, been conducting training and re-training programmes for block makers and cement users in all parts of the country. He assured that the exercise will continue because it is a permanent feature in the company’s operations.
“We believe that we have to give back and educate users so that incidents of collapsed buildings due to poor use of the products can be stemmed. Where the block makers or users of the cement are not educated to know the difference between 32.5 and 42.5, they may use it for what it is not meant for.
For example, 32.5 is meant for doing culverts, rendering (plastering) but when you use it for storey buildings, high storey buildings, bridges and all that, it cannot stand the test,” he said.
On the escalating price of cement, he claimed that despite the spiraling inflation, devaluation of the Naira and hike in energy costs, Dangote Cement has not increased the price of its brands in the last five years. He said the company achieved this because it invested heavily on logistics (transportation).
It would be recalled that the coalition of civil society groups and Built Environment Professionals, had last week, threatened to take its campaign to the National Assembly with a plea that the lawmakers probe manufacturers and importers of cement for compromising standards in the building and construction sub-sector.
They promised to enlist the Consumer Protection Council, CPC, to prompt SON to be alive to its responsibilities by ensuring the sale and manufacture of high grade cement for the Nigerian market by punishing offenders. The coalition also canvassed the enforcement of the National Building Code to address the lax control by regulatory authorities.