BY UDEME CLEMENT
In a bid to stem the tide of importation of fake and substandard goods into the country,Â Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), the agency vested with the responsibility of preparing standards for products and processes to ensure quality conformity destroyed over 100 containers of fake and substandard goods estimated at over N2.5billion in their operations in 2009.
In the same vein, the agency destroyed 30 containers of substandard products with the total monetary value of N300million in the first quarters of 2010.
The Director of Enforcement, Mr. Bayo Adegun, disclosed this in a chat with Sunday Vanguard in Lagos, stressing that the seizures comprised of electrical appliances, hold-house items and various goods which were discovered to be substandard afterÂ laboratory tests conducted to ascertain their quality.
He added, â€œIn our daily operations, we have also discovered that over 70 per cent of fake and substandard products coming to Nigeria are from China. Nigerian government has alerted the authorities in China about this problem and a memorandum of understanding (MoU) has been signed between both countries as regards imports business and the need to curtail substandard goods.
I believe there is positive response from China , but the process of negotiation is still on-going.Â We are optimistic that at the end of the exercise, something positive would come out of itâ€.
On the economic implications of destroying goods worth billions of naira, he said, â€œWe have a duty to protect the consumers as well as the economy.
But our aim is not to destroy goods because most importers in Nigeria often take loans from commercial banks to run their businesses.Â So, if we seize goods and just carry embark on outright destruction, it would have adverse consequence on the entire economy because not all goods we take samples from are substandard.
Some items may only have rectifiable fault. In that case, we allow time for the importer to rectify little problems before the products are distributed in the local markets.â€
On how the analysis is carried out, he explained, â€œWe have complains unit where we receive, analysis complains and investigate the importers of different products. Sometimes, wrong usage could also contribute to ineffectiveness of a product making it appeared to be substandard.â€
Responding to question about products already distributed in the markets, he said, â€œin SON, we have unit for market survey where we inspect products that are already in the market to ascertain their quality and conformity with the specified standards required for human consumption. We move into the market to take samples of the products in order to trace the importers to know how the products came into the country.
After that, we carry out necessary laboratory test on the products to know their quality conformity. If the products are good, we leave them, but if they are substandard, we seize and destroy them.â€
Giving insight into their operations, he said, â€œThe first thing we do is to have a standard in place, which we compare laboratory test results. We test electrical appliance and household items like fan, kettle, air-conditioner, among others. We have a well-equipped laboratory in Enugu where we test roofing sheets, cement and other building materials.Â We also have a food chemical laboratory in Lagos for testing food items and chemicals. We also have textile laboratory for testing fabrics of different categories.
We are 50 per cent equipped to do the work, because we also carry out regular training and retraining exercise for staff to ensure adequate capacity building. We facilitate training of staff outside the country in collaboration with some international agencies. Aside from that, each time new equipment arrives we often sign contract with the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) to train the staff on the proper usage of such equipmentâ€.
On how many importers of fake products had been prosecuted, he said, â€œAt present, no one has been prosecuted. This is because SON is not empowered by law to prosecute those found culpable in the act. What we do is ensure that all fake and substandard goods are destroyed. We have starting reviewing some of our laws, may be in future that would happen.
â€œAs far as enforcement is concerned, the biggest challenge we face is with the importers and clearing agents who put more emphasis on money than the lives of people. Some of them bring in substandard products and try to use their connection with people at the top to clear them not considering the health hazards such products could have on the consumers who are the end users.
Another challenge is that of funding. SON must be properly funded to carry out its task efficiently.Â Another thing is the purchasing services, which also create problems in the system.
â€œWe believe that the way out is regular enlightenment programmes, which SON is doing on regular basis to make people realise the danger of consuming fake products.Â We are using every forum to talk about the health hazards such products could cause for people. The strategy of controlling imports is a primary engine for industrial growth and development of the nation.
Over the years, SONâ€™s port operations have created a lot of controversies due to ignorance and lack of proper understanding of the procedures and guidelines used by the agency for port operations.
SON has the responsibility to ensure compliance with the government policies on Standards Metrology and Quality Assurance of both locally manufactured and imported products and services throughout the country.
â€œThe scheme consists of inspection and sampling of imported products, laboratory test and analysis, release or rectification of temporary impoundment, destruction of poor quality imported products and seizure. The category of exported and imported items to beÂ inspected for compliance with standards or specifications include, chemical and allied products, civil engineering related products, textile and leather productsÂ as well as food and codex productsâ€.