SON and the battle against product counterfeiters
Reports say the SON raided the company alleged to be packaging other company brands of shaving sticks and evacuated several trucks of substandard products. In a sharp reaction, the company stage-managed a mass protest in Onitsha against SON, accusing the agency of “destroying businesses and putting the national economy under stress by undermining manufacturers.” The erroneous impression was given that the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) was party to the mass protests. Similar protests are reportedly being planned across cities in the South-East.
Worse still, the company reportedly accused SON of demanding bribes. However, the names of the officers involved and the amount so demanded were not disclosed. This, perhaps, is the first time such allegation is leveled against SON in the course of performing its statutory duty. It is not known how many companies SON confronts on daily basis and how rich its officials would be if they went on a bribing spree. Somehow, in this era of war against corruption, the allegation was meant to divert attention from the real issue of product counterfeiting.
Reacting to the incident, the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) dissociated itself and expressed outrage at what they called “the devilish attempt of an Onitsha-based company to set manufacturers in the South-East against the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON).” MAN said the company is not one of its members.
Speaking to journalists on behalf of the manufacturers in Nnewi, an industrialist, Hon. Nosike Okoye dismissed as false the alleged SON threat to local industries. Earlier on, some leading manufacturers of shaving sticks in the country had addressed newsmen in Lagos and called on the Federal Government to deal decisively with fakers of their products. They stated that the good image they built over the decades risked being ruined if nothing was done to save them. A Nigeria Ball Point Pen Industries (NIPPEN) Plc representative Mr. Olasore Fatai said that the company in question has imported an estimated 30 million units of BIC products mostly from China and Taiwan in the past one year.
It is not unexpected that the nature of SON’s mandate would constantly bring it into collision course with unscrupulous companies and individuals that specialise in faking products. That is why SON should be ever ready, to confront a formidable challenge. Except this is done, the bad image Nigeria has earned as the “international capital of fake products” would never erase. Fakers want Nigeria to remain a haven of adulterated and counterfeit products to their sole advantage and ruin of the public.
The latest incident underscores the effrontery of product counterfeiters in the country. That a company accused of packaging substandard products had the impudence to organise mass protest rather than go into hiding smacks of lawless impunity and moral depravity. We have degenerated to a level where an offender takes the upper hand to hound the law that should drag him or her to a court for prosecution.
This is not the first time that the SON or other government agencies were haunted for performing their lawful duty. Not long ago, one cement company dragged SON to court for prescribing internationally accepted grades for cement in Nigeria. Rather than the SON being the persecutor, sanctioning and prosecuting companies, it is the companies that are dealing with the SON. Reason is that the production and use of substandard products is endemic in Nigeria. There are counterfeits for every product sold in the Nigerian market such that any attempt to reverse the trend meets with stiff resistance. The fakers rule the economy and for long, no one raised an eye brow. In this clime, people accused of corruption, rather than hide their faces in shame, turn around to sue government and its anti-corruption agencies.
But things are changing. It is no longer business as usual. Gone are the days when counterfeiters openly displayed their wares unchallenged. They acted as if there was no government or law in place. It is in the interest of every person who wants to do business to recognise that things have changed. The dragnet has been set across the country to catch the enemies of the economy, who flourish by producing poison for products.
There are three government agencies whose responsibility is to standardise and regulate products and services in Nigeria. These are the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and the Consumer Protection Council (CPC). These agencies individually and collectively, have the duty to standardise, regulate, enforce or sanction erring manufacturers and producers of sub-standard goods and services.
Owing to the diversity of products and services that need to be regulated, the job is shared among the three agencies. While the SON has the sole responsibility for National Policy on Standards, standards specification, quality control and metrology, manufactured industrial and imported products and services; NAFDAC’s duty is to safeguard public health by ensuring that the right quality food, drugs and other regulated products are manufactured, exported, imported, advertised, sold and used by the public. Finally, the CPC’s is there to ensure that the rights of consumers are protected by way of product quality.
For more than a decade NAFDAC has battled against drug counterfeiters. The fight has been fierce and legendary. The fiery and indefatigable pioneer Director General of NAFDAC, late Professor Dora Akunyili, put her life online in the fight against fakers of foods and drug products.
The spate of building collapse in different parts of the country, particularly in Lagos, aroused the SON to begin reassessing the quality of building materials. Initially, it was thought that torrential downpour and flooding induced the collapse of buildings as most occurred during the rainy season. But as the spate persisted even during the dry season, with buildings under construction caving in and causing heavy damage to lives and property, it became obvious that something was fundamentally wrong.
SON began its sanitisation with iron rods, electric cables and other components used in building construction. It imposed strict regulations on manufacturers and importers of building materials. This effort has yielded fruit. For the first in living memory, Nigerians could decide which grade of cement to purchase for building construction.
Dr. Joseph Odumodu, the incumbent Director General of the SON is deep in the battle against product counterfeiters. The SON is currently building a state-of-the-art metrology institute that would standardise all industrial products. Under Odumodu’s Made in Nigeria for the World (MINFOW) stratagem, Nigerian industrial products will be branded to meet acceptable international standards. Fakers of products will have no breathing space in the new dispensation.