Stakeholders clamour for return of SON to seaports

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Steve Babafemi

The absence of the personnel of the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) at Nigerian seaports to check containers bringing goods into Nigeria has been attributed to the rise in the volume of substandard goods imported into the country.

Consequently, the agency has not been able to effectively monitor and control the influx of substandard goods into the country.

But the recent codeine crisis occasioned by its abuse by Nigeria youths has compelled has compelled the federal government to direct NAFDAC to return to the ports to check the unwholesome and dangerous drug products imported into the country.

Now that NAFDAC has been allowed, stakeholders and port operators of the view that a sister-agency, SON, which mandate include standards regulations, monitoring and enforcement, equally need to be operating at the ports if the lives and property of Nigerians are to be safeguarded as well as the nation’s economy protected from the vagaries of injurious products.

They express deep concern over the preponderance of sub-standard imported materials found in Nigerian markets.

A Lagos-based supermarket operator, Mr. Mr. Ade Komolafe, said it has become so compelling to examine the kind of products that comes into the country daily, adding that over 90 per cent of imports arrive in Nigeria through the nation’s seaports.

“The ports are where you can check the inflow of these products because as soon as they leave the ports, getting rid of them is difficult, where and where can you go and start mopping them up? I think the government should allow a return to the status quo, let the agencies critically needed at the ports be physically there, let us see more harmonious, inter-agency co-operation and collaborations. The sub-standard products could be stopped if we want, because nobody would want to use his money to buy something that may end up killing him/her. We have government officials that should safeguard and secure our lives and property, let them act’’, he said.

A port user, Mr. Temale Ovihri, equally attributed the prevalence of sub-standard goods in the nation’s markets to the unchecked points of entry especially at the seaports.

He therefore made a strong case for an agency like SON to be operating at the ports as a way of preventing life endangering products from getting to the markets.

For its part, the senate committee on industry has called for the return of the Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) to the nation’s ports.

The chairman of the committee, Dr. Sam Egwu, who made the call during an oversight function to SON’s offices and laboratories in Lagos, said Nigeria as a large scale importing country must have SON at the seaports in order to ascertain the quality of goods coming in.

“We cannot overemphasize the issue of standardization, because it is the core for every manufacturing output. We are not happy that SON has not been allowed to operate at its maximum capacity, especially with their presence being felt at the port.

“Nigeria is import dependent, with porous borders and for them not to be at the port to inspect these goods first hand is not good enough. They should be allowed to be at the port to see these products before they enter into the market.

“We have observed some products come into the country from countries that do not have standards all cloned with SON logo. This is certainly not good for the Nigerian economy.

“The discovery by the SON deterred such goods from getting into the hands of unsuspecting consumers,” he said.

It would be recalled that the federal government, in October 2011, through the federal ministry of finance, ordered SON and eight other agencies and various units operating at the nation’s seaports to vacate the place.

Then minister of finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, had explained that the exercise was aimed at reducing the number of agencies at the ports and facilitating clearance of cargo as well as maximisation of Federal Government’s revenue.

Prior to that time, the agencies at the seaports were the State Security Service (SSS), SON, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Directorate of Naval Intelligence (DNI), National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA), the Port Police alongside its Bomb Disposal Unit, Plant Quarantine with Veterinary Quarantine; Nigerian Immigration Service, Port Health; Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).

All the agencies were mandated to leave the ports except NPA, Customs, Ports Health, NIS, Port Police, SSS, NIMASA and the NDLEA.

It was gathered that since the implementation of the ministerial directive, rate of influx of unregistered and unregulated foreign products has been unprecedented, even as the purveyors of such products including their foreign collaborators have since regarded Nigeria as a dumping site for killer-items.

The issue of standards and quality of products in Nigeria is the primary responsibility of SON; which elaborates and publishes standards for both imported and locally produced goods.

Insiders claim that in terms of quality assurance for locally manufactured goods, the agency has done well by having standards for virtually everything that is available in the country including garri, rice, cassava flour, shea butter, kunu, zobo and so on.

The serious limitations faced by regulatory agencies like SON and NAFDAC have been the proper implementation of standards especially in the face of sub-standard products imported into the country from Overseas.

According to an industrialist, Chief Emmanuel Ade Ojo, the issue of unchecked influx of sub-standard products into Nigeria has remained worrisome to local manufacturers.

“These products come in and they compete with our locally manufactured products unfavourably, leading to the closure of industries, unemployment and collapse of the Nigerian economy,” he said.

Now, according to the provisions of SON Act, the agency should verify quality of products at the seaports and major entry points in Nigeria. Apart from the seaports and airports, Nigeria is said to have over 400 land borders excluding several illegal routes which are supposed to be properly manned by law enforcement officials.

The porous borders and illegal routes are used by smugglers and importers to bring in all sorts of sub-standard products into the country. Therefore, positioning the right official agents at the seaports remains one of the effective ways to check the menace of sub-standard products. If the vital agencies return to the ports, there would be enhanced capacity to fight the circulation of substandard products across the country.

Since its exit from the ports, SON has been intercepting and impounding on the highways, containers and trucks suspected to be loaded with sub-standard products and subjecting such products for testing and analyses before knowing the next step to take.  The interception is usually carried out through tip-offs and intelligence gathering.

“Chasing containers on the highways is not the best; it is so crude and risky and it has not been so effective in addressing the influx of sub-standard through the seaports. Inter-agency collaborations have equally not been effective. Federal agencies, we understand, are not much involved in sharing information, intelligence and tip-offs among themselves and working at cross purposes appear to defeat the various plans and programmes of the federal government to grow the economy.

“At times, some unscrupulous officials collude with economic saboteurs to bring in fake products either with poor documentation or false declaration. In countries like Ethiopia and Kenya, activities at their entry points are so streamlined; all relevant bodies are given opportunities to perform their statutory functions. For instance, when it is time for inspection and examination of containers/products, all the agencies would line up to carry out their specific duties without overlapping or blocking others. But this regrettably does not happen in Nigeria; certain agencies due to money-making motive feel they should be the only ones needed at the ports hence they continue to sabotage others,” said a government official who craved anonymity.

Again, there are rampant cases and incidents of wrong labelling and suspicious clearance of consignments. For each product, there should be HS code which spells out information concerning duty, product specifications and so on. But whereas the HS code may be there, the product inside does not tally with what is stated on the code. Some officials would be aware and allow such products to be released from the ports thereby making the government lose huge revenue.

A port user, Innocent Okurobido, said containers having wrong HS Codes should be confiscated and those behind the deal arrested and prosecuted.

He queried: “How can the economy grow when there is always glaring connivance to circumventing the system by some dubious people?’’

Stakeholders believe SON can help to check some of the sharp practices at the seaports. Apart from the law that has given it sweeping powers including prosecutorial, the agency has the required capacity and competence to do the job.

 

 

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