Nigeria may be at the risk of becoming a hub for substandard products especially with the commencement of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AFCFTA), which has opened more doors for goods within Africa to come into the country.
For years, one of the major regulators of standards in the country, the Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) has been evicted from Nigerian seaports.
The Federal government in 2012 banned SON from carrying out the inspection of products that come into the country at the ports, giving reasons that the presence of too many government agencies were causing congestion at the ports.
Although the decision of the government to evict SON from the seaports was to ensure a smooth transition of cargo at the country entry points, the side effects of this same decision have now posed great danger to both economy and the well being of Nigerian citizens.
The Director-General of SON, Mallam Farouk Salim told the media recently that the Agency has destroyed goods worth hundreds of millions within the past few months.
Looking at the Agency’s mode of operations currently, it will be easy for many substandard products to be sneaked into the country.
SON now has to depend on intelligence, reports or petitions to track goods suspected to be fake or substandard products.
The Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), and the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) that are predominantly in charge of Nigeria’s seaports do not have the primary mandate to determine whether goods meet a particular standard before letting them in the country.
This leaves the work of SON now more of a chasing Agency. The personnel of this very important standards regulator are also not found at the country’s borders.
Giving the fact that SON is grossly under staff with less than 5000 personnel, the Organization may be overwhelmed with the task of stopping substandard products from infiltrating the Nigerian market in large numbers, considering It absence at the entry points of the country, particularly now that AFCFTA implementation is in the process.
Over the past four years, SON has secured over 150 court cases to confiscate fake products. According to the Director of Legal Services, Barr. Umaru Kawu stated that the Organization over the years have secured 12 per cent convictions, 10 per cent plea bargain and 54 per cent forfeiture of substandard products.
“Court cases are very expensive, so in order to save cost, SON in most cases prefers out of court settlement where the substandard goods are confiscated and the offender is put under severance by the Organization’ Kawu explained.
With the volume of goods that will be coming into Nigeria’s market on the account of AFCFTA, and with SON absent at the ports and borders, the fight against substandard products may be difficult to curtail in Nigeria.
Again, the Organization may be engulfed with too many court cases considering the influx of substandard products that will come into the country through illegal routes all on the account of AFCFTA.
CONSEQUENCE OF SUBSTANDARD GOODS INFILTRATING THE NIGERIAN MARKET
Nigeria has already paid many heavy prices with the loss of lives from the collapse of buildings or fire outbreaks due to the use of substandard materials. Many lives have also been lost due to vehicle accidents all because of the existence of substandard tyres in the country’s market.
Despite the fact that so many properties or monies have been wasted, the danger of the influx of substandard products into the country is that human lives would end up being wasted as well.
The Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) said over 50 per cent of road crashes in Nigeria are caused by the use of expired or substandard tyres.
According to the Corps, 7772 out of the 9000 road traffic accidents recorded in 2015 across the country were caused by burst tyres.
SON acknowledged that the government had banned second-hand tyres years ago, but smugglers still find a way to bring the substandard tyres into the country using illegal routes through land borders.
Same illegal border routes are used by smugglers to sneaked in different substandard products into Nigeria on a daily basis.
SON’s STRATEGY TO CURTAIL INFLUX OF SUBSTANDARD PRODUCTS OUTSIDE OF PORTS/BORDERS
With the eviction of the Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) from the country seaports, the Agency in trying to still carry out its mandate of preventing the influx of substandard products in Nigeria, SON invented SONCAP, an initiative aimed at certifying products at the country of origin.
According to SON, SONCAP is an acronym that stands for standards Organization of Nigeria Conformity Assessment Programme.
SONCAP is a Pre-shipment Verification of Conformity to standards process used to verify that products to be imported in Nigeria are in conformity with the applicable Nigerian Industrial Standards (NIS) an approved equivalent, and technical regulations before shipment.
Under the SONCAP regime, imports are required to undergo verification and testing at the country of supply (exporting) and a SONCAP Certificate (SC) issued demonstrating that the product meets the applicable standards and regulations or a non-conformity report (NCR) where the goods do not comply with Conformity Assessment.
The Conformity Assessment is an activity of verifying that a standard or technical specification was applied in the design, manufacturing, installation, maintenance or repair of a device or system.
In using SONCAP as a replacement from SON in verifying products at the point of entry in Nigeria, the Organization (SON) does not have the capacity to have personnel in all the countries that are exporting to Nigeria.
So, SON depends on International Accreditation Firms (IAFs) like the Coteona, Intertek, Bureau Veritas, SGS, China Certification and Inspection Group (CCIC), China Standard Inspection Company (CSIC) for Pre-shipment Conformity Assessment of products that are imported into Nigeria.
Now, the verification of the quality of products imported into Nigeria depends largely on the IAFs, without any supervision from the Nigerian regulatory Body.
LAW MANDATING SON TO INSPECTS GOODS AT THE NIGERIAN PORTS
According to Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) ACT, 2015 PART VII Subsections 3 (b) states that SON “shall have a right of access at reasonable times to any premises including all Nigerian sea ports, airports and land borders where an industrial or commercial undertaking is being carried on, and may use reasonable force, if need be, to gain entry”.
Subsection 3 (d) (4) of the ACT states that ” for the purposes of carrying out duties under this Act, every officer of the Organization shall have the powers, right, privileges and protection equivalent to that of a Police officer”.
It is important for the Federal government to take the issue of substandard products infiltrating the Nigerian market seriously and empower SON to be at the borders as well as the seaports to inspect goods that are coming into the country at the point of entry.
Recently, the Commerce and Industry Correspondents Association of Nigeria, (CICAN) Abuja expressed worry over the possible economic sabotage the African Continental Free Trade Area (AFCFTA) may cause Nigeria if the country’s Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are not repositioned for increased productivity.
The Chairman of CICAN, Mr. Fred Idehai cautioned the Federal government that the implementation of the AFCFTA without putting in place certain infrastructures would be making Nigeria a dumping ground for foreign goods.
With the unserious level of the country’s commitment in ensuring that goods coming into Nigeria are all properly inspected to determine that they are of good quality, Nigeria may not just be a dumping ground for goods but a dumping ground for substandard products.
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