BY EMEKA EJERE
Agitation by the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) to be allowed to operate at the seaports in accordance with the law received a boost recently when the National Assembly (NASS) hinted of plans to return the agency to the nation’s seaports.
Chairman, House Committee on Industry, Mr. Enitan Dolapo-Badru, who gave the assurance when he led his committee members on an oversight function to the SON Laboratory office in Lagos, had noted the agency’s continuous absence at the ports since 2012 has paved the way for substandard and prohibited goods to freely enter the country.
Although the federal government’s decision to evict the SON from the seaports in 2012 negates SON 2015 Act, it was accepted because of the need to streamline the vetting process of imported goods through the ports and improve the ease of doing business in the country.
However, there are strong indications that the laudable move is putting Nigerians at the receiving end of substandard imports, which leads to loss of lives and other valuables, through quantum of auto crashes, collapsed buildings and fire outbreaks in public buildings among others.
Available records show that in the last two years, Nigeria imported US$47.4 billion worth of goods, up by 40 percent of imports recorded in 2015 and 29.9 percent in 2018. About half of Nigeria’s imported goods representing 49.6 percent came from Asia, while 30 percent are from Europe and 11.2 percent came from North America. The others are from African nations, Latin America, Oceania and Australia.
Given Nigeria’s population size of about 201 million people, its total $47.4 billion in 2019 imports translates to roughly $240 in yearly product demand from every person.
At a meeting of the African Organization for Standardisation, it was highlighted that some countries in Africa have become huge markets for counterfeit materials, especially the imported ones. This explains why Nigeria and other African countries are fast becoming dumping grounds for substandard or unfit products from other parts of the world.
Section 7(30b) of the 2015 Act, stipulates that Standard Organisation must be at the port of entry into the country. They can also be efficient if allowed to work at the point of entry of goods, which is not the case right now.
In January, SON destroyed substandard Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) cylinders and tyres worth about N300 million for failing the minimum standards, highlighting the dangers such could have on unsuspecting consumers. Experience has shown that even Nigerian hospitals have also been caught in the web of substandard imports, as diagnostic and other facilities used in managing patients are failing integrity tests.
Director General of SON Farouk Salim is saddened by the poor clearance of products that find their ways into the country through the ports. Salim, who described the goods 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 agreement with these countries. This is turning the country to a dumping ground.”
The SON boss had stated that the agency was working to return to port to enable it combat substandard goods entering the country. He added that he had reached out to senior officials in the government to get SON back to the ports after it was withdrawn by the previous administration.
As at last count, there are over 1,500 illegal land borders, most of which are routes for smuggling. Findings have also shown that more than 90 percent of the nation’s imports come through the sea ports. The Nigeria Customs Services appears overwhelmed with efforts to keep a tab on duties, hence are unable to keep another eye on the standards.
This has permitted the influx of substandard products that eventually find their way into the markets, homes and offices across the country, with the negative effect of killing the local industries.
While assuring of the NASS’ resolve to address challenges at the ports, Dolapo-Badru noted that the continued absence of SON officials has caused havoc to the economy and the loss of lives of innocent Nigerians who use such poor quality products.
He said, “A lot of deaths from substandard products are recorded on a daily basis in the country. Tanker explosions, building collapses, fire resulting from poor electrical and electronics products, to mention a few.”
Dolapo-Badru, who insisted that Act 2015 made it mandatory for SON to be at the ports, promised that his 18-member committee will do everything within their legislative powers to ensure that this anomaly is corrected.
The SON also 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.
“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 ports, where majority of goods come into this country,” the SON DG stated.
While making reference to the section of the law that mandates it 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.”
“What NAFDAC and the Customs are doing at the ports is 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.”
In a chat with Business Hallmark, a businessman Mr. Felix Okoro, said he has no problem with SON returning to the ports, “if only they (SON officials) are coming to ensure sanity, not to frustrate genuine businesses just to make money.”
According to him, “the main problem of Nigeria in this direction is not the smugglers or importers of substandard products, but law enforcement agents who look the other way after being compromised.”
However, some expressed fear the its return may further lengthen the clearing process which has been a source of congestion at the ports with its attendant costs in loss of man hours and cost of goods.