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Can S.O.N. ensure we get a good deal?

By Helen Ovbiagele, Woman Editor
WHEN I saw a South African news item with the title ‘Toilet Paper Fraud?’, I passed over the piece, thinking it wasn’t worth reading.   What fraud could there possibly be about toilet paper, that was worth  being put on the internet as a news item?

For lack of enough ‘safe’ interesting stuff to read , I went back to it, curious to know who and what was involved: expecting a light-hearted read.  It was a serious matter, starting with ‘Regulators on Monday warned the public about toilet paper being too short, following an investigation in Gauteng.’

‘NRCS has seized all the non-compliant toilet paper manufactured by Riverside Distributors and Comfort Toilet Paper Manufacturing, and ordered the manufacturers to immediately stop selling it,” spokesperson for the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications, Jaco Mameweck, said in a statement. The NRCS said the toilet paper was too short, by as much as 46 percent, and lacked perforations.

By regulation, it should be 500 sheets in length.   Perforations allow the paper to be easily torn and also help the regulator to measure it.’ The  manufacturer of the toilet paper said the lack of perforations was due to a problem with the machines, and that it is something all manufacturers of toilet paper deal with.  However, he said they wouldn’t take the accusations lying down and that they were in consultations with their lawyers.

Some of us may yawn with boredom because the news item wasn’t about billions of public money stolen by government officials, or money embezzled in an industry.

It was dull news about mere tissue paper that had not been produced according to the laid down rules by the national regulator of products.  Also, the offence wasn’t life-threatening to the users of the product, since its main use is to help clean up waste that would be disposed of, anyway.  It isn’t consumable stuff like  food or drugs or drinks.  If it isn’t up to the required standard, why bother?

That would be the reaction, I’m sure, of many Nigerians, and perhaps also of our own regulator of products.
In our country, the list of contents of a product means nothing.  It may not contain some or even none of those things listed on the label.  Talking about toilet paper, we too are supposed to have 500 sheets in a roll.  Has anyone ever bothered to count, or look at the quality?

Toilet paper is small fry.  What about matches?  Whether imported or made locally, the quality of some brands is terribly poor.   Some sticks are so weak that you can’t strike them.  They either break or bend in your hand.  Striking them is another big task.  The quality of what ignites the match stick could be very very poor.  You’ll strike and strike and strike!  No dice!  Soon, the striking board would lose its contents and you would be striking bare board; that’s if the stick is still  of any use.

What about the quality of our insecticide?   Most brands cannot even make mosquitoes and cockroaches faint, let alone kill them.

My pharmacist agreed that many brands should be taken off the market for non-performance.      As for rat killers, most are ineffective against rodents.  Some Electronics and electrical products are sub-standard.  The list is endless; yet, there’s a regulatory body which is supposed to supervise the contents and their quality in order to ensure that they comply with laid down rules.

On many occasions, we have lauded on this page the good work Prof Dora Akunyili started in NAFDAC when she sensitized the nation to the issue of fake drugs, foods and drinks.  She and her team then went about ensuring that the right thing was done.

This has not been easy for them because ours is a country where most citizens want to get away with doing the wrong thing, even if it leads to loss of life.   Profits and money so much rule our lives that we don’t mind producing or selling what we know will endanger lives.

Thanks to NAFDAC many people now examine the packages of drugs they want to buy in order to know the expiry date.  Also, we check the manufacturer of drugs, and their claims before we buy and use.   Products from companies and countries associated with fake or poor quality drugs are avoided.

We hope that Prof. Akunyili’s successor and his team will keep up and even improve on the good work on the ground at NAFDAC.

Recently, I’ve been reading about the efforts of the Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON) to monitor products under their supervision and ensure good quality.   This is good, and I’m sure hard work is going on behind the scene,  but the man on the street is yet  to feel its impact on the products we buy, as quality of several products are deteriorating by the day.

We don’t have this feeling that there’s a supervising body out there looking after the interests of the public.   It would be nice if the organization lets the public know what products they’re supervising, and to what extent, and what we should do when we’re sold sub-standard items.

Quarreling with the retailer doesn’t get one anywhere, especially in the case of imported products. They will tell you they sell what is available.   It is the regulatory body that should fight that battle for us by sensitizing manufacturers and importers on the need to ensure good quality.

Take the issue of that toilet paper case in South Africa.  It was reported that the product in question was found at a Spar in Randfontein and was manufactured at Riverside Distributors. The latter was said to have confirmed that their toilet paper was under investigation by the NRCS. Some products in Nigeria don’t carry manufacturer’s address, and some addresses on products may not be the right ones.

Is it mandatory that a product must carry the address and telephone number of its manufacturer?   If it is, does the regulatory body ensure that all manufacturers in their area of operation comply?  It is important that they do.  Back to the South Africa case, it was alleged that the toilet paper roll was short by as much as 46 per cent.

Now, that is a lot of loss for the consumer because he’s buying a little over half of the product, for the full amount.

Then, if the paper is not perforated for easy use, it is clumsy to handle, and there could be a lot of wastage, especially in a public outfit. We should move with the times in Nigeria and ensure that members of the public are protected against rip-offs from manufacturers.

I suggest that there should be a help-line that consumers can call for advice at their local S.O.N. when they have complaints about products.  If the manufacturer is on their list, S.O.N should be able to investigate the complaints, and then advise and caution.

A manufacturer that refuses to comply should be prosecuted.   To handle this well, SON should publish where they can be reached all over the country.  There must be an office in Lagos.  Where is it? With the hard economic times, I don’t think we should be left at the mercy of insensitive manufacturers who lack integrity and are after their own profits and comforts only.


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