By Chioma Obinna
IT is no longer news that every year, reports abound of major building collapse, road traffic accidents among others with records of deaths, loss of property and livelihoods.
Sadly, causes of this collapse are rarely reported even though findings have linked them to the use of unwholesome and substandard materials smuggled into the country.
Findings have also shown that the use of substandard building materials and loose standard verification of imported versions of the building materials are some of the reasons behind most of the building collapse incidents across Nigeria.
Today, Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation with over 50 per cent of the people residing in urban areas. But because the country lacks the capacity to cater for its population, there is a huge dependence on foreign products and most of the products imported into the country are machinery, chemicals, transport equipment, manufactured goods, food and live animals.
The country is also a good market for health and hygiene products, which are mostly from China, United States, and India.
Specifically, early this year, the Standards Organization of Nigeria, SON, destroyed substandard Liquefied Petroleum Gas, LPG, cylinders and tyres worth about N300 million because they failed the minimum standards requirement. Sadly, most Nigerian homes are likely using a substandard LPG cylinder, just as most cars on Nigerian roads are fitted with at least one or two imported fairly used tyres whose integrity may have been compromised due to how they were packaged and transported into the country.
Sadly, in 2012, the Federal Government of Nigeria evicted the Standards Organisation of Nigeria, SON, from the country’s seaports, in a move the government said was intended to streamline the vetting process of all products that are imported into the country through the ports.
Although this decision may have been well-intended, the aftermath and downsides have outweighed the advantages over the years, putting Nigerians at the receiving end.
According to statistics from the World Health Organisation, WHO, a total of 4,120 out of 100,000 of the country’s population suffer road injuries while the country loses 160 per 100,000 of the entire population due to the same cause. This makes Nigeria the country with the highest number of road traffic injury and death rates in any single study in Africa.
During the Easter period, not less than 189 crashes were recorded across the country. This resulted in 235 fatalities. Also, in a report, the Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC, stated that it recorded 3,947 road crashes and 1,758 deaths In the first quarter of 2020 alone.
According to the FRSC’s Corps Public Education Officer, CPEO, Bisi Kazeem said fake and worn-out tyres were major causes of road crashes in Nigeria.
“The fact is that most drivers do not only use fake tyres, but they use them until they are completely worn out before they change them. This reduces the traction which often leads to crashes, especially during the rainy season as a result of slippery surfaces,” Kazeem.
Official statistics released by the Federal Fire Services disclosed that, apart from the many lives lost, Nigeria lost over N5 trillion worth of goods, properties and other valuables to inferno between 2013 and 2018.
This is according to official statistics given by the Service during the 2018 Fire Fighters Day in Abuja.
The Director-General, Standards Organisation of Nigeria, Farouk Salim is saddened by the poor supervision of products that find their ways into the country through the ports.
At the recent destruction exercise in Lagos, Salim who described the goods that were destroyed as life-endangering and unfit for use, said, “I wish there was a way we can send them back to where they are coming from but, unfortunately, we don’t have an agreement with these countries. This is turning the country to a dumping ground.”
The consequences of the proliferation of substandard imported products are manifold, extending to homes and offices.
In the views of the Deputy Director/Head of Public Relations, Mr Bola Fashina: “The consequences of the proliferation of substandard imported brands in Nigeria are also seen in every home as home appliances bought at exorbitant prices end up serving the home for only a short time. In some cases, they end up causing life-threatening accidents from the sitting room to the kitchen and the bedroom.
“In the offices, the situation is the same. As basic as a stapling machine fails because they find their ways from the ports to the office desk or shelf of an office unchecked. It begins from when they are imported.”
Sadly, Nigerian hospitals have also been caught in the web of substandard imports, as diagnostic and other facilities used in patients’ management are failing integrity tests.
“85 per cent of goods coming into the country come through the Lagos ports, so, if we are able to work effectively in Lagos, we will minimize the problems,” Salim said.
During the recent destruction exercise, the SON Director-General disclosed that about seven containers were stuffed with tyres that had five tyres in one, as such, a container that was supposed to take 1,000 tyres conveyed about 5,000 tyres, which eventually affected the integrity of the tyres.
On cylinders, he said, “Any importer should not engage in the importation of cylinders without following the due process because we ensure that for cylinders to be imported, there must be approvals from SON. Importers must also consistently meet the requirement of the standards.”
Salim said the organization is not happy destroying these goods because it is a loss, not only to the importer but to the nation.
The Standards Organisation of Nigeria Act, 2015 Act No. 14, which repeals The Standards Organisation of Nigeria Act, Cap S9 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 has given powers to the Standards Council to designate, establish and approve standards in respect of metrology, materials, commodities, structures and processes for the certification of products in commerce and industry throughout Nigeria.
In this regard, the organization has set up regulatory requirements. For imported goods, it is the mandatory Offshore Conformity Assessment Programme (SONCAP PROGRAMME). For locally manufactured products, it is the mandatory Mandatory Conformity Assessment Programme (MANCAP Programme)
The SON has a set of mandates that include Designation, Establishment, Approval and Declaration of Standards In Respect Of Metrology, Materials, Commodities, Structures and Processes, quality control of products, weights and measures, investigation of quality of products, enforcement of Standards among others.
Although the agency is backed by law to perform these roles, they currently cannot do so much in this regard because the agency is unable to stem the influx of these products into Nigeria as they are not allowed to operate at the ports where these products are brought into the country. This is contrary to the provision of the SON law stipulating that SON should verify the quality of products at the seaports and major entry points of Nigeria.
As of the last count, there are over 1,500 illegal land borders, most of which are illegal routes for smugglers. The Nigeria Customs Services is visibly overwhelmed with efforts to keep a tab on duties, hence are unable to keep another eye on the standards.
“We are supposed to ensure that the borders and the ports are monitored properly, and in doing this we protect the country from substandard goods. One of such ways is to make sure that the employees of SON are in the port of entries in the country, especially the Lagos port where the majority of goods comes into this country.”
While making reference to the section of the law that mandates them to be at the ports, Salim said, “The 2015 Act, Section 7(30b) says the Standard organisation must be at the port of entry into this country. Our people can be efficient if we are allowed to work at the point of entry of these goods, but right now we are not allowed at the ports.”
He said, “They allow us once in a while to check goods but that should not be the way, because SON as an organisation should not depend on the kindness of other organisations to do its work”.
The DG noted that although there were other agencies of government at the ports, SON has the statutory obligation and the knowledge to identify substandard products.
He said if SON was given permanent access for inspection and enforcement of standards at the ports, the menace of substandard goods in the Nigerian market would be greatly reduced.
He however noted that the organisation was currently enjoying a cordial working relationship with the Nigerian Customs Service and other sister agencies at the ports, ruling out any reason to worry about a clash with other agencies operating at the ports.
“What NAFDAC and the Customs are doing at the ports are totally different from what SON does. We get along with them very well but we don’t need to depend on them because we are supposed to be in the ports by right, except if the law is changed,” Salim said.
However, critical stakeholders believed that returning SON back to the ports is one major way of cutting down the influx of substandard products into the country.