Crusoe Osagie examines the threats, which fake and substandard products pose to Nigeria and its economy, and reviews the measures introduced by the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) to mitigate the challenge, including the most recent African alliance forged to turn the hideous tide
Battle against Fakes
Nigeria is in the middle of an epic battle for economic survival. Painfully, the enemies against which the West African nation contends are clearly stronger than it.
Dumping of goods and smuggling of harmful substandard products into the country mainly from stronger and more economically-advanced nations in Asia and Europe is the uphill challenge, which Nigeria faces in its move to develop the real sector against all odds.
Unfortunately, the actual act of moving these products that undermine the economy and its people is carried out by parochial and selfish Nigerians, who cannot understand that the major reason why it is attractive to be wealthy, is because the country of their origin is alive and in peace.
They apparently cannot see that if they annihilate their country in the process of trying to amass wealth at its expense, the riches, which they gather for themselves might become a curse to them.
Without realising it most times, these unpatriotic Nigerians are playing out a sinister script handed over to them by foreigners, who are sustaining the greatness of their own countries and their economies by damaging Nigeria. What a pity!
The Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), under the leadership of Dr. Joseph Odumodu, has fought a bitter battle within the country, trying to contain this scourge.
With a survey launched by SON revealing that the preponderance of substandard products in the nation’s markets stood at a staggering 80 per cent, about two and half years ago when Odumodu accepted the job to lead the standardisation agency, the former Managing Director of May and Baker plc, one of the largest pharmaceutical manufacturers in Africa, had his work well cut out for him.
He tackled subsections of the industrial sector trying to sanitise them. The Iron and Steel sector was one of the foremost. In that sector, he ensured that every product under the segment, which is either imported or manufactured in the country, is properly labeled in such a way that it can be traced right back to the manufacturer should it be found to fail any of the relevant tensile or chemical tests or worse still, if it is found to have been used in the construction of any failed structure.
SON has since also introduced the e-product registration initiative, which ensures that any product whatsoever, in the nation’s market must be registered and must carry a code that ties it to whoever produces it.
Offices of the agency have been opened across the country, with contact phone numbers for complaints available to the public, to ensure that SON is close to the people. The agency’s offices around the country also grant Nigerians necessary access to the organisation whenever they are not satisfied with the products they purchase or services they are rendered.
With these and several other steps taken within the country to tackle the malady, another survey to assess the progress had been made became necessary, and according to the agency, this study was carried out recently and it showed that the level of fakes in the market had dropped to about 48 per cent in two years.
But for 48 per cent of the products in a country as large as Nigeria to be fake or sub standard, the job of sanitising the Nigerian market is far from being completed, and Odumodu has said this is the reason why he has made his foray to the continent to form formidable alliances with fellow African nations, understanding that many of them are being used as a conduit through which fake products are moved into Nigeria.
“It is in our best interest to work closely with all the nations of Africa to tackle this problem. We stand a better chance against these trade enemies if we fight them as a continent than when we fight them as single nations,” Odumodu said.
Leading Africa’s Standardisation
To cement the regional strategy through which SON wants to further tackle the menace of bad products influx, the SON Chief Executive led Nigeria to beat Malawi in a keenly contested bid by the two nations to clinch the presidency of the African Organisation for Standardisation (ARSO), the continent’s umbrella body in charge of standardisation and quality assurance.
In the battle for the ARSO presidency, Nigeria emerged victorious over Malawi in what many described as an exciting contest, as both countries, during the ARSO standardisation week, canvassed member nations of the regional body for support in the election that would see only one nation produce the president of the organisation.
Odumodu of Nigeria and the Director General of Malawi Bureau of Standards (MBS), Mr. Davlin Chokazinga, were left to challenge each other on behalf of their countries after their counterpart from Sudan withdrew from the election in which each of the 34 member countries of ARSO was entitled to one vote per country.
The nineteen nations present for the week-long event and the organisation’s general assembly, were the only nations eligible to elect the new leader.
Confident of their chances to clinch victory, both candidates canvassed the seventeen other countries present until just before the ARSO assembly took place, and a few minutes before the meeting was called to order, Malawi conceded to Nigeria, declaring that it had become clear that the southern African nation did not stand a chance against the towering clout of the giant West African country.
Sharing his vision to steer the continent towards an efficiently-managed standardisation and quality regime to boost Africa’s global trade, Odumodu expressed satisfaction that 36 years on, the region was still forging ahead in the same pan-African spirit, which brings about togetherness and the belief that its constituents share a common destiny.
“It is said that ‘When the music changes, so does the dance’. I am glad to note that many Changes are taking place in Africa. Multinational companies that want to expand their businesses are turning towards pre-growth emerging African Economies, now branded as the final investment frontier. This is influenced by the fact that Africa, especially sub-Saharan Africa, has been among the fastest growing regions in the world, with an average gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate exceeding five per cent”, he said.
Odumodu noted that Africa needed to change its fortunes and go beyond the current 3 per cent of its contributions in the world trade and 10 per cent of its intra-African trade.
“There is great need for turning tables on import-based approach to industrialisation. More so there is great need to change from exporting primary goods in its trade arrangements and focus on the value addition of its products from vast natural resources (agricultural, forestry, fisheries, energy, minerals) and also harness its tourism potential”, he added.
The ARSO president noted that he intended to work with all the member nations of the organisation to tackle the problem of low industrial capacity for diversified manufactured goods; the lack of qualified standardisation personnel; dearth of effective standardisation and conformity assessment infrastructure; over dependence on imports from outside the continent for more than 90 per cent of its goods; SMEs’ lack of capacity to take advantage of globalisation among several other objectives.
Combating Trade Cheats
Odumodu literarily took the fight against the dumping of fake, substandard and hazardous products on the nation’s market by unscrupulous elements in the international market to a continental level, calling on the entire Africa to present a united front in the battle.
Representatives of 19 African countries, under the umbrella of the ARSO, agreed to harmonise standards, in order to boost the chances of African products and services in the global market.
The SON Director General, in Yaoundé, Cameroun, called on all other countries in Africa to join hands with Nigeria to battle the problem of dumping, which he said was ravaging all African states.
The African nations under ARSO, on their part, stressed that greater agreement on standards in education policies set out across the continent would allow joint ventures in academic research, innovation exchanges to facilitate import and export of life-saving or life-changing discoveries.
“Harmonisation of standards set by ARSO would ensure we get faster results as well as mutually benefitting outcomes; for instance, the building of standardised railway systems with the same gauge across Africa.
“We need to ensure our manufactures adopt high standards in processing and manufacturing goods. This will in turn diversify and improve the export earnings for the continent,” ARSO stated.
Stressing the importance of a common front in the fight against dumping, Odumodu stated: “Africa has enemies who dump products on them at prices that make it impossible for Africa to compete; enemies who dump radioactive products on us without our knowledge because we do not have sophisticated infrastructure to test and detect these things, enemies who prevent us from developing on our own.
“If we fight these enemies as individual countries, we may not have enough capacity or capability to do so. But if we fight these enemies as a continent, it will be a lot more effective because the smaller countries will take advantage of the presence of the larger countries and vice versa and that is where we are going,” he said.
The SON boss noted that it was for the purpose of prevailing in the intricate battle, which is in most cases against more developed and stronger nations, that the continent is strengthening its umbrella standards body, ARSO.
“We are going through rejuvenation in ARSO” Odumodu said. “We have had some challenges in the past. Most of these challenges have now been surmounted and we are moving on to achieve more of the objectives of the organisation. We have to create projects around which we can all work together to attain our major goals. This is the reason why all the countries of Africa must work together and learn from what others have done. We do not have to reinvent the wheel,” he added.
“There is a lot work going on. We are looking at national standards and harmonising them into regional standards and from there we will move to continental standards and that is why we have the ARSO standards already in place. About 800 standards have already been elaborated. These are original standards not adopted standards, for example, I come from Nigeria and we have standards for cassava mill (Garri processing) and this is original and native to us. So everybody must share from the successes that everyone else has achieved,” he said.
Also, the Chairperson of the International Standards Organisation (ISO) Committee for Developing Countries, Mrs. Evah Oduor, lamented the low level of intra-Africa trade, which currently stands at around 10 per cent compared to Europe, a smaller continent in terms of population and land mass, where they trade with themselves to the tune of about 40 per cent.
She also noted that the current 3 per cent Africa contribution to international trade was unacceptable; stressing that ARSO must commit itself to improving these embarrassing statistics.
“Africa must become more assertive, it must make its own standards in order to improve its capacity to trade more effectively in the international scene and a collaborative stance is imperative,” Oduor stated.
“As one person, as one country, you may go very fast in a race but you can only go far if you run along with other countries,” she stressed. According to her, Africa must develop and standardise local products in order to turn them into world beaters.
Monitoring the Impact
With the regional strategy, which SON has tagged as the next frontier in its battle against sub standard products and international trade malpractices, now deployed, stakeholders are on the lookout, to assess what result it will turn out for SON and the entire country.
Senator Ibrahim Musa of Niger North Senatorial District, who is the Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Investment, noted that as overseers of the activities of the nation’s standards body, they are watching with keen interest.
They have also pledged to be on hand to measure the extent to which these initiatives yield results that will enhance the lives of Nigerians further.