The increasing influx ofÂ Chinese products into the Nigerian market is givingÂ sleepless nights to many concerned Nigerians.Given that agencies like the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), the Standards Organisation of Nigeria ( SON) and the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC ), mann the borders to regulate the influx of banned and sub-standard goods, many are at a loss as to how these fake goods find their way into the country.Â Some have concluded that the institutionsÂ are largely ineffective in the discharge of their statutory responsibilities. Following the crippling effect of this trend on the economy, the Federal Government is set to tackle theÂ problem headlong. Would this measure follow the way of other failed initiatives?Â Charles Kumolu asks.
EXCEPT a first time visitor, most Lagos residents are aware of the existence of another Lagos in Lagos. While these residents are used to going to Lagos when the need arises, many, especially non Lagosians are usually at a loss each time someone in Lagos, says he is going to Lagos. Though the popularity of this Lagos is not known across Nigeria, a street (Balogun) in it is known beyond the shores of Nigeria. A stay in Lagos would be incomplete without a visit to Balogun street where one of the thriving markets is situated.
This market which extends into Marina and Broad Street, is located on Lagos Island. ItÂ is an old market with many lock- up shops. Unlike Idumota market, however, it hasÂ fewer multiple storey buildings.
Unlike in the past when this market was largely known for quality household appliances, beauty products, cosmetics, office and construction equipment, baby products, fashion accessories, clothing and food items, Balogun market today, conjures the image of a haven for inferior goods.
It is common place to find traders in this popular market displaying their products, which are mainly made in China. The traders buy the productsÂ wholesale from the Chinese merchants and further retail same to buyers who come from all parts of Lagos and beyond. Some other Nigerians import their goods directly from China.
Vanguard Features, VF can reveal with a measure of authority, that Balogun is not the only market where Chinese products thrive. Other major markets such as Alaba International, Auto Spare Parts Market popularly called Trade Fair, Oshodi, Yaba, Westminister and Computer village are also flooded with made in China goods.
Given the low and affordable prices of these products, people are usually attracted to them. For instance, while VF discovered that the current price of an original TM Lewin shirt goes for N9,000.00, (nine thousand Naira),Â the Chinese equivalent goes for N2,000. Same goes for shoes and bags. In addition, most mobile phones sold at the Computer Village and Westminister for lower prices, are imported from China.
Today, Nigeria has become a major market for Chinese brands of motorcycles which are in high demand in major urban parts of Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Aba, Onitsha, Kaduna, Uyo, Calabar and Benin. Some of the common brands are Sanyang, Chincheng and Bajaj Boxer. Commercial motorcyclists popularly called â€˜Okadaâ€™ riders are no doubt grateful to the Chinese for flooding the country with affordable motorbikes. The cheapest of these costs about N40,000.
A visit to Alaba international Market also revealed that most popular electronic brands, like LG, Samsung, Sharp Panasonic and others have their China equivalent.
â€œIf you want the China product, I will give you but that is not the original and it would not last for you.Â I am telling you this becauseÂ you speak my language,â€ an Igbo trader told VF at Alaba International Market.
While the electronic dealersâ€™ position, corroborate the general view that Chinese products are inferior, the products have continued to enjoy huge patronage from Nigerians.
That the sub-standard nature of the product would not allow it to last long, does not matter, so long as they are affordable.
From the choatic street of Lagos to the sleepy streets of Maiduguri, the ordinary Nigerian believes in China products because of their affordability.
â€œThis is the one we can afford. Who will give us money to buy the ones they call quality products? Some of them
even last longer than expected,â€ Uzomah Udemba, told VF at Balogun Market.
Regardless of this, it is believed that the influx of Chinese goods into Nigeria has strangulated infant local industries.
Explaining this to VF, Chief Aloysious Chiemesigolum, who does not want the names of his factories in print, noted that, â€œNigerian entrepreneurs are the worst victims, because we rarely manufacture as these goods come into this country randomly. I can tell you that most factories have folded because of Chinese products which are usually of poor quality. The government has not taken this issue serious,â€ he noted.
But has the Federal government been unconcerned with the influx of fake China goods in Nigeria?
Further findings by VF revealed that government has not gone to sleep on the issue.
For instance,Â the Standards Organization of Nigeria, (SON)Â in 1996 threatened that a formal complaint would be lodged with the World Trade Organization (WTO) ifÂ China does not check the situation.
The Chinese government howeverÂ responded by explaining that they do not deliberately dump inferior goods on Nigeria. According to them,Â Nigerian businessmen are culpable because they are the onesÂ who import the products.
This corroborated Chiemesiggolumâ€™s earlier stand on how the goods come in. Like the 1996 threat from the Nigerian government, indications have emerged that the Federal government is poised to sound a death knellÂ on the importation of fake Chinese goods.
Disclosing this,Â the Minister of State for Commerce and Industry, Mrs. Josephine Tapgun, stated that the Federal government has concluded arrangements to check the influx of sub-standard goods from China.
She said that President Goodluck Jonathan had approved the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Chinese government on the issue.
According to her,â€œthe MoU will be signed on August 1, 2010.Â What remains is to tidy up the arrangement to ensure it works.
â€œWe have set up a committee to do a proper homework to ensure that there are no loopholes after signing the agreement,â€™â€™ she said.
Tapgun also noted that the Chinese government had promised to properly monitor and ensure that goods imported from China met the Nigerian Industrial Standards.
According to her, the development will be a victory for Nigeria if the government can stop the flooding of her markets with poor quality goods.
She described the importation of substandard goods as an act of terrorism because it could lead to the loss of lives and property, as well as impoverish citizens.
Former President of Abuja Chamber of Commerce, Alhaji A.S Muhtar believes that the proposed M.O.U is a misplaced priority.
As far as he is concerned, Nigeria does not need collaboration with China to stop the influx of fake products.
Muhtar told VF that if theÂ Nigeria Customs Service and other agencies have been responsive to their duties, especially by ensuring that all goods coming into Nigeria are of good standard, Nigeria would not have become a dumping ground for fake Chinese products.
â€œMy feelings is that if our CustomsÂ judiciously check all the goods coming into this country at entry points, we will not be where we are today. So there is no point for such collaboration. Who is going to pay the Chinese government? In the first place, who ordersÂ these goods? Is it the Chinese? Our people are the ones giving the Chinese manufacturers the order for inferior goods. And they comply because they are manufacturers. We need to get our people to be more patriotic in the sense that they should allow finished standard goods to come into our country, for our own people to use,â€ he noted.
Continuing, he said, â€œthere are minimum standards for every item coming into the country for all products. And that standard must be followed. Those, who go there to import the goods should be made to stop it. I find it difficult that Chinese government would work for us. What we just need is to strengthen the entry points. If ten out of fifteen ships coming to Nigeria are sent back because of poor quality, I am convinced that people will not be encouraged to import fake products. There is need for sincerity in order to solve this problem, because so many acts have been signed in the past on that.
Against the backdrop that past efforts at tackling the problem, like the 2008 closure of China Town in LagosÂ on theÂ allegation that the market had become a haven for sub-standard and banned products from China, did not make any difference, VF gathered that many entrepreneursÂ do not have confidence in theÂ initiative,
But AdebolaÂ Fashina, Public Relations Officer, PRO, of SON disagrees with that notion.
For him, the idea goes beyond MOU, â€œIt has been negotiated and agreed, so what is left is to have it signed and put into effect. What it entails is that the Chinese government would take full responsibility for the fabrication of all products that are coming from China to Nigeria, to ensure that those products meet the standard requirement of Nigeria. It is beyond the Memorandum Of Understanding, it is an agreement that has been negotiated. What is left is to have it signed and put to effect. It will be jointly implemented by Nigeria and China.â€
Fashina further told VF that, â€œthe public needs to know that it is at governmental level. It means that agencies like SON that is in China is going to be responsible for testing all products that is coming into Nigeria. They will ascertain their quality and ensure that they are in line with what Nigeria requires.â€
Instructively, the Chinese are seen to beÂ taking advantage of the Nigerian governmentâ€™s failure to create sustainable environment for local industries to thrive as well as the absence of the technological know-how to challenge foreign influences.
Nigeria is Chinaâ€™s second largest trading partner in Africa after South Africa.Â China benefitsÂ fromÂ partnership with Nigeria has reached about U$ 6.5 billion in 2009.