What is the percentage of substandard products imported into the country?
That question is a bit difficult to answer since we do not have data on total imports. We can only speak for those that we participate in the examination at the sea ports and land borders. As for products in the market from our surveillance activities, we can say five out of every 10 products or 50 per cent that is entering the country.
SON is equipped more than ever to fight the menace especially with the implementation of SON Act 14, 2015 which empowers us to prosecute any offender. We are in the 36 states of the federation including Abuja. There are over 41 life threatening items that are in the prohibition list which we have the mandate to seize where ever they are found within 24 hours
How far can the Act go in tackling fake products menace?
The Act is one of the good things that have happened to the agency. It gave us powers to deal with sub-standardisation and counterfeiting of goods imported or manufactured locally. It empowers us to prosecute offenders within 24 hours of apprehending them. I must tell Nigerians that we have been taking advantage of this law to sanitise the nation and ensure that unwholesome goods and products are not found in the country. Our mandate is to safeguard the lives of the citizens and ensure that products coming into the country meet the nation’s minimum acceptable standards.
The Act also enables us to stop further distribution of unwholesome products by giving us the mandate to inspect warehouses, shops, houses where we suspect that substandard goods may have been hidden or stored and confiscate them.
Furthermore, our new Act No. 14 of 2015 has enabled us to initiate prosecution on infractions related to substandard products importation, storage and distribution. Penalties are relative to the offences unlike in the past when cases drag in the law courts and offenders revel in the illegal business of importing or manufacturing fake and counterfeit goods. It is now common knowledge that we no longer bark but bite.
What is the relationship between standardisation and the nation’s economic prosperity?
There cannot be economic prosperity without standardisation and quality assurance. It saves cost, ensures value for money, promotes repeated purchase thus increasing capacity utilisation and creating employment. Standardisation ensures market confidence for the manufacturer, importer and consumers.
What is SON doing about the high level of imported fake and substandard products such as tyres, cables and steel?
We are constantly retooling our off-shore Conformity Assessment Programme (SONCAP) to checkmate imported substandard products. Our state offices are out daily to do market surveillance, while our enforcement teams are on alert for information to act 24/7. At the moment we have a task force on steel monitoring going round the nation to assure the quality of local production. There’s a marking scheme for both locally manufactured and imported steel products for traceability. This enables us to trace any steel product in the market just in case there is failure in construction or anything related to it. The company that has its name on any product that fails will be made to answer questions; it also heighten producers interest to ensure they produce quality products and monitor it too in the market place.
What impact will SON’s presence at the ports have on the economy?
The impact will be huge as we will in collaboration with sister agencies stop the influx of substandard products at entry points. Under the new Executive Order by the Presidency, the one-stop-shop for goods clearance will positively impact the economy by preventing unfair competition occasioned by substandard products.
It has been observed that most locally manufactured products are not into the Mandatory Conformity Assessment Programme (MANCAP) scheme. What is SON doing about this?
We are daily on the road through our state offices locating new factories and product outlets to bring them under the MANCAP scheme. We are also working with Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) groups such as the National Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (NASME) and National Association of Small Scale Industrialists (NASSI). We are actively involved in the ongoing nationwide SME Clinics being coordinated by the Office of the Vice President. We are determined to encourage the growth of Micro Small Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) especially those that are not in the MANCAP and are yet to bring their product up to the Nigeria Industrial Standard (NIS).
The programme is tailored towards their size of business where they are given reasonable rates to enable them go through the process of standardising their products while they are also granted waivers in vehicle importation to mechanise their production processes.
Can consumers get refund for the purchase of poorly manufactured and fake products?
We have a consumer complaints desk in all our state offices coordinated from our operational headquarters in Lagos. We have just recently commenced capacity building in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). We assist consumers get redress when they complain to us. We advise that consumers obtain receipts for purchases and take the trouble to complain. Depending on the situation, we insist on remedy, change or outright replacement of the offending product.
We are strengthening our internal mechanisms to combat substandard products head on . I urge all Nigerians to join hands with SON in order to create greater opportunities for genuine and certified locally manufactured products to thrive.
How can ADR curb the influx of fake and sub-standard goods?
ADR will help in saving costs and mitigating the suspension of economic activities that may arise from enforcing our statutory regulatory functions against importers of sub-standard goods to the country. Although the general provisions in the new SON Act empowered the agency to prosecute perpetrators of substandard products manufacture, importation and distribution while also providing stiffer penalties for convictions including jail terms. We are thinking in the direction of exploring ADR measures at resolving conflicts without wasting resources or stalling economic activities.
We have empowered our personnel by organising training to empower them with skills to handle conflicts that may arise from complaints handling, market survey and stakeholder engagement.
The move became necessary in order to enhance service delivery by the agency as well as enhance stakeholders’ adoption and compliance to stipulated standards. Communication is key in mediation and reconciliation if goals will be achieved.
We are committed to protecting the lives and properties of Nigerians as well as the economy using the instruments of standardisation and quality assurance.
We realised that a lot of civil cases in the courts linger for too long because a party has chosen to uphold its ego when such cases could have been addressed using alternative measures.
ADR provides relief to frustration litigant’s face when resolving civil disputes using traditional methods. It helps to address delay, prohibitive costs, case congestion, restrictive single option, unsatisfactory determination of cases, ruined relationships and reduction in foreign investments.
Have you secured conviction of any fake and substandard goods importer?
Not recently but we are prosecuting over 10 infractions in Lagos, Akure and Awka and we’ll see that justice is done. Those are in addition to seizures of the substandard products and possible destruction if they cannot be rectified. The Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN) in support of our activities, has deployed four senior lawyers to help in building up our legal team. Besides, our new Act provides for stiffer penalties in relation to the volume of substandard products discovered including jail term.
What is your relationship with other agencies in the fight against fake and substandard goods?
We have a very robust collaboration with sister regulatory and security agencies. Recent seizures of stuffed tyres were a result of collaboration in addition to the seizure of substandard cables and the discovery of several flats in Lagos filled with expired products. The collaboration with sister agencies has added fillip to the success of our operations across the nation.
What is the scope of SON’s surveillance of the states and markets nationwide?
Market surveillance is a key activity of every state office on which they make reports monthly. When we identify a counterfeit product we do market intelligence to isolate it and prosecute the importer or manufacturer.
What are the standards you have for products and how do you arrive at the standards?
The Nigeria Industrial Standard (NIS) is the benchmark for quality of products and services in Nigeria like BSI standards in UK and ANSI in America. Standards are consensus documents on minimum requirements agreed by stakeholders and interested parties at technical committee meetings. The agreed drafts are then approved by the Standards Council for use as National Standards. SON only acts as secretariat.
These standards are products of the global village now. The Codex standards on Garri was originally developed in Nigeria and adopted for the world. Conversely, NIS includes adopted and adapted standards from other nations and international standardisation bodies such as the International Standards Organisation (ISO).
Do we have Nigerian standards?
Yes, we have NIS which is not independent of international standards. We have thousands of standards for every product imaginable. This is done with active participation of the relevant stakeholders. Standardisation include weight and measures.
In terms of surveillance and compliance, what are your achievements?
We have made tremendous achievements, particularly with regard to stakeholders support through classified information. Another pillar is the SON Act that has widened our regulatory and prosecutorial powers
It is beleived that the destruction of imported fake and sub standard goods is the destruction of the nation’s commonwealth. What is your take on this?
We destroy substandard products only when they cannot be rectified or are dangers to lives and property. Destruction is the least alternative as far we are concerned because we know that the monies used to either manufacture or import them could have been put into good use. But even at that, we cannot mortgage the lives of our citizens. We must realise that substan-dardisation is a clear and present danger.
What level of support have you received from the government in the area of advocacy?
Government is already doing that through the new Act of 2015, and through annual appropriation and support from sister regulatory and security agencies. What we require is other stakeholders support through information and collaboration. If you see something, say something, that is all we ask from the public.
What are you doing in terms of staff training to get them up to speed with latest technology and standards?
The government is already doing that with a new Act that gives us broader powers to fight the menace of substandard products. The Federal Government is also supporting the fight against fake and substandard products with yearly appropriation and other logistics support such as security and intelligence. The area that needs significant improvement is the support of other stakeholders and the consuming public in general. If you see something unwholesome, say something to SON. We need all Nigerians as quality vanguards to win the war against the menace of substandard products in Nigeria.
By: Okwy Iroegbu-Chikezie
The Nation News