Standard Organisation of Nigeria in retrospect 2

SONContinued from yesterday

A Plastic was found in a mars chocolate bar in the UK. The company withdrew world wide all the bars made during the time the suspected plastic got into the chocolate bars. No mars bar was withdrawn from Nigeria.

Our much vaunted entrepreneurial skills is based on our ability to find substandard goods which we import into Nigeria; there are thousands of fake i-phones, Samsung, Blackberries, bulbs, textiles, etc. No one takes responsibility for these; except that it gives the customs which had allowed the goods in, to have a second bite at cherry by going after small traders who sell batteries, phones and accessories, etc.

A common cause of fires in buildings in Nigeria is the poor quality of the electrical wires used in building houses and the dangerous aluminum pipe we use in the conduit wiring and water systems in the houses. Some of the conduit pipes contain cancerogenous materials long since forbidden in overseas buildings. Asbestos ceiling materials are also used in Nigeria when it has been proven overseas that there is a high probability that asbestos causes cancer.

It is true that there are three grades of cement but most of the cement used to make blocks is 32.5 standard cement, good only for binding the blocks one to another and for plastering. Not many builders know this let alone the owners of the buildings.

There are five grades of fruit concentrates available for importation into Nigeria for our vast soft drinks factories. The no. 5 concentrate is used overseas as part of the mixture for animal feeds. Grade 1 fruit concentrates is used by the best fruit drinks makers such as Tropicana and the like. Various nations stipulate the concentration to use in so called fruit drinks. The best fruit drinks are fresh fruit drinks which are used at optimal point of ripeness, never concentrated but bottled or parked in tetra packs, immediately after pasteurization. I understand that Nigerian Bottling Company has now bought Chivita which has the famous advent on some of its soft fruit juices “no added sugar.” You have to put on your reading spectacles to see the small print of “added” in those three words. The impression one gets is no sugar. All the juice makers in Nigeria use concentrates of lower than the best qualities imported from countries not that scrupulous about standards. If you notice, all the fruit juices taste the same, now you know why. As for sugar, the fruits juices and soft drinks are already heavily laden with sugar – it is the nature of the fruits – some have more sugar than others.

Overseas, a customer can buy expensive fruit juices or he may buy fruit juices branded specifically for the chain of super markets he patronises – that fruit juice is the cheapest. If he has enough money he may buy brands clearly labelled “not made from concentrates.” But all have an intolerable amount of sugar which the law there forces you to state on the cartons. Even so there is a campaign that the sugar content of soft drinks is too high. A litre of coke, 7-up, sprite, Mirinder, Malt, I believe, contains 12 teaspoons of sugar; a litre of orange juice is slightly less. All the breakfast cereals we eat have too much sugar even before we add more sugar and milk. The problem of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, lungs and kidney disease has been traced to these factors. We eat too much sugar. Campaigners are now clamouring for a sugar tax on foods which I believe some countries are adopting.

Why do we use concentrates in a tropical country where fruit is in abundance? Why are the ministers of health, agriculture, industry and commerce not screaming at the soft drinks industries to patronise the local fruit growers to grow fruits for our juice industries? As one moves about in Lagos and other towns there are no end of fruit sellers – mangoes, oranges, African apples (these seem to have disappeared) agbalumos (Yoruba) or udara (Ibo) or African cherry (English) or sometimes called African star apple; the shelves of our supermarkets are full of Frutas, Chivitas, Danzas, etc – can we not adopt a policy to grow orchards in Nigeria to feed these juice industries? A poor country like Nigeria cannot have a clean water system from which we can drink water. In my youth we drank from the tap. In many parts of the world, including the U.S. you can still drink tap water. Bottled water is so profitable that Nestles, Nigerian Bottling Companies, etc. are all in it.

Standard Organisation of Nigeria has been established to do all these things and more – ensuring good quality roofing sheets, electrical wires and all other building materials, good quality in the fruit juices we drink, good quality even in bread! But if Government does not give its organisations the right leadership, the tools to achieve goals set for them, then the workers there would find ways to make their “bread.”

Manufacturers have horror tales to tell about Standard Organisation of Nigeria; Customs, NAFDAC, etc. Importers too have stories about Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and Customs. But every story has two sides.

As for Toyotas and Volkswagen, no one knows how many Nigerians had died from accidents due to faulty manufacturing which the makers themselves acknowledge. The Toyota case had to do with faulty brakes and faulty air bags; Volkswagen with faulty emission systems – all these faults are injurious to our health. In other countries, lawyers have made a fortune chasing companies with faulty manufacturing history. Ralph Nader in the United States was probably the greatest consumer advocate ever. What is wrong with Nigerian lawyers, our civil society, and our consumers’ protection agencies? Must all lawyers be chasing electoral petitions?

Dr. (Ambassador) Cole, OFR, is a Consultant to The Guardian Editorial Board.

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