18th June, 2013
By Uche Joe Anigbata
The Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON), as a government agency, was set up with the mandate to maintain and enforce product quality and standard due to the influx of substandard goods into the country. The major operational base of the organization was the seaport and airport. But in 2011, the agency was forced out of these major operational bases – sea and airports by the same government that set it up. While government may have acted in good faith as it tries to take measures aimed at sanitizing, standardizing, transforming and repositioning such agencies and institutions to align with international best practices, the collective cost of its action in this case is counter-productive and therefore needs to be re-addressed without further delay.
Considering the obvious negative multiplier effects of this singular action or policy, it is right to say that it is probably one of government’s bad decisions in recent times. Many concerned Nigerians have been appealing to the government to take necessary steps to review its stand on this issue with a view to reducing the monumental socio-economic pressure exerted on the economy and people by the menace of fake and substandard products in Nigeria, but to no avail.
On the vexed issue of massive importation of fake and substandard goods into the country, there is overwhelming evidence that Nigeria ranks among the world’s highest market for fake and substandard products and equipment. This is evidenced by the shameful scene of all kinds of poor quality goods and products that litter our open markets, shops, supermarkets, chemist and other retail shops. These fake and substandard products span across all classes and categories of items including drugs, electrical, electronics household appliances and equipment, building materials, tyres and tubes, automobiles, machine spare parts, food and machines to mention a few. Both the government and Nigerians appear to have been so overwhelmed by this problem that they have almost given up, thereby allowing it to redefine their lives and mentality as well as reshape their culture and destiny. It is no longer news or strange when a mechanic or generator technician tells you that he will go for a “tokunbo” or fairly used parts instead of new ones because the so-called new ones are obviously fake. Nigerians are now prisoners of a clear culture of collective failure, carelessness, insensitivity, weakness, indolence, incompetence and ignorance.
If government can really identify the gravity of this problem, estimate its size and multi-dimensional nature as well as correctly weigh its multiple socio-economic costs and effects on Nigerians and the economy, it will certainly discover the urgent need to return SON to the ports
The cankerworm called fake and substandard goods is seriously eating deep into the fabrics of Nigeria with major consequences. Lives and properties are lost due to building collapse and fire outbreak occasioned by substandard electrical and building materials. Substandard tyres and other fake motor spare parts have sent many people to their untimely graves.
Nigerians are not getting value for their money because it is spent on substandard goods that cannot stand the test of time. On the average, Nigerians may be spending about five times more money and time maintaining these products because of their poor quality. Added to these, is the undue pressure that substandard goods bring to bear on the environment. As a result of the high frequency of replacements caused by the use of poor quality materials and considering the fact that we have a poor recycling culture, our environment is always littered and over burdened with replaced and unusable parts. The chain effect of environmental pressure and pollution as a result of this problem as it relates to our farmlands, marine and aquatic life, blockage of our canals and drainage channels call for serious attention on the part of government.
Dumping of substandard goods in Nigeria is creating a disincentive to production and investment, thereby negating the whole essence of the protection of infant industries. Many Nigerian businessmen and women who risk importing quality goods are fast closing down because they cannot compete with the fake products dumped in Nigeria from Asia. A typical scenario is where a Chinese company manufactures a product for a Nigerian at a relatively fair quality and almost at the same time produces the same product for another Nigerian importer at a reduced quality. Due to low consumer awareness, these products get into the Nigerian market and sell at the same price, making the man that insists on bringing in quality goods to incur losses. In some cases, these foreigners play the role of importers, wholesalers, retailers and clearing agents at the ports, thereby jeopardizing our national interest. Where lies the survival of Nigerian businesses if Chinese and Indians with their Nigerian collaborators are allowed to perpetually flood our markets with fake and substandard products at large, medium and small scale with impunity. SON has synergy advantage in the port. Other security agencies like the Police, Navy, Air force, State Security Service are at the ports. The customs, immigration, Quarantine, NAFDAC and NDLEA are visibly at the ports. Bearing in mind the enormous problem posed by this growing economic ailment, SON needs to be present at the ports in order to nip these nefarious activities in the bud. SON can also tap the advantage of their cooperation in the pursuit of its tasks at the ports by working closely with them. Such a cooperation is not the same when SON operates outside the ports.
To adequately fight this threat to the Nigerian economy, SON needs to be brought back to the ports. It is obvious that outside the ports, SON lacks the capacity in terms of workforce, facilities, logistics and even the legal framework to meet the challenges posed by imported fake and substandard products in Nigeria. The geographical size of the country, the poor consumer awareness and the obvious security challenges make it difficult for SON to confront the problem in the open market.
SON no doubt could have come under criticisms while at the ports due to poor quality performance, lack of integrity and transparency in the performance of its duties, poor enlightenment and training on the economic importance of SON’s task for the staff on how to achieve zero tolerance on the issue of fake and substandard products, especially on such life threatening items as electrical, tyres, building materials and other items.
Considering the circumstances of the Nigerian situation, system and environment, can SON achieve any reasonable measure of success in fighting this ill if it does not operate within the nation’s sea and airports? The answer is no. Government should therefore, as a matter of urgency, put the necessary law in place in order to return SON to the ports.
We as Nigerians also owe one another both moral, social and official responsibility as well as liability which should consistently manifest not only in the form of a deep sense of nationalism and love for ourselves but also in continuous flow of sacrifices targeted at reclaiming our lost glory and renewing the face of our nation in this generation so as to restore the DIGNITY OF MAN in our nation.
•Anigbata, a public affairs analyst wrote from Lagos. •E-mail: challenge [email protected]