Standards organisation of Nigeria in retrospect – Part 1

SONThe Federal Government has a large number of institutions aimed at monitoring the power of the executive, increasing personal freedom, protecting consumers from exploitation, ensuring justice and so on. These institutions include the Public Complaints Commission, the Code of Conduct Bureau, Legal Commission, Consumer Protection Commission, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), Trade Promotion Commission, etc.

None of these institutions have made any impact in achieving their stated goals: they are what in the UK are called quangos and their Director Generals (DGS) seem to have secured cushy sinecures. Their existence confirms the erroneous idea that the civil service does not do any work and that those who work in these organisations have a safe place from which to exploit their position for profit either through that office or in some other enterprise.

The Public Complaints Commission, the Ombudsman, was established so that if citizens feel aggrieved by a decision of a government department in Nigeria e.g. late or non-payment of pensions, unreasonable appropriation of property, overbearing attitude of civil servants, police brutality, etc. have a place to go to for redress. Nigerians could also report bad conduct, corruption, etc. with the Code of Conduct Commission. Legal Aid is available to those who cannot afford a lawyer should they be charged before the courts. NAFDAC is to make sure that all drugs, etc that we drink are safe and genuine. The Consumer Protection Commission was to protect the interests of consumers, Trade Promotion Council to ease trade with foreign business – all these organisations are remarkable in only one way, that is, their total ineffectiveness to meet the main reasons why they were established. They are comatose. These agencies are still funded but no one uses them.

The Standards Organisation of Nigeria was established by Act No. 56 of 1971 and subsequent amendments. Its functions include the preparation of standards relating to products, measurements, materials, processes, certification of industrial products made in Nigeria or imported into Nigeria. It was charged with the certification of industrial goods, to help in producing quality goods and circulation of quality standards of products.

The Standards Organisation of Nigeria has five sections and departments, a quality and environment management system; laboratories that test goods and products; food, and chemistry section; and engineering section that deals with materials, civil and electrical, textile and leather. Factories are expected to submit samples of all the materials they use in manufacturing so as to ascertain their quality. There is a section that checks instrument calibration facilities and NIS is supposed to help in industrial planning, research information. The library has 3000 Nigerian standards and over 55000 volumes of foreign standards. SON works closely with their foreign counterparts whose standards are also recognised. Imported goods are expected to meet standards of the SON and when this does not happen the products are either destroyed or some other corrective action is employed. SON works closely with NAFDAC, NDLEA, Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), etc.

SON has four laboratories to examine all the qualities of all the goods coming into Nigeria. Two in Lagos, one in Enugu, and one in Kaduna. The law requires that all manufactured goods in Nigeria should have a Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) registration number or certificate. Products may have on e-registration numbers. The procedures for these are clearly spelt out. Some of the proud achievements SON claims is that it now has three new cement standards, 32.5, 42.5, and 52.5 grades for various kinds of usage for making blocks, casting and bridge construction. Steel strengths are also certified by SON as well as thousands of building materials. A quick look at a list of what SON says they have standards for is absolutely bewildering.

Various paints including paints for automobile vehicles, sausage rolls, extruded puffed corn snacks, fruit drinks, and medication soap, soft drinks, mineral based oils, ball pens, hair conditioning creams and over 20 other creams, polyurethane foams, biscuits, plastic containers, milk, kerosene, aero fuels, diesels, premium motor spirits etc. There are thousands of other standards.

It does not take too much imagination to realise that for Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) to do its work properly it has to be a gigantic organisation. Thankfully there are many internationally accepted standards by international organisations to which Nigeria belongs. Most of these standards are simply applied. But for manufacturers of products in Nigeria, including well known brands these still have to meet the standards of SON.

But what stops goods not up to standards to be imported into Nigeria? Originally, SON was at the ports to check standards but lately they have been withdrawn. SON also is empowered to carry out market surveys to see whether what is sold meets standards. To do this, the SON should have an army of inspectors and vehicles to send out and collect goods for examination in their laboratories.

Some of the regional offices of SON (there are only four) have two vehicles to be used by few inspectors. Moreover, public awareness campaigns are necessary as the public know little about SON. Just testing the number of pure water makers in Lagos alone would demand a lot of people. Or testing the various fuels used in Nigeria must be a mammoth task, even before adding the plethora of creams and tooth pastes, soft drinks and other beverages.

Technically, there should be no substandard goods in Nigeria if SON is working efficiently. It knows where most of the substandard goods come from into Nigeria: ideally our inspectors or eyes should be in and on those countries. There is a whole lot of substandard goods in Nigeria, especially electrical goods, some of which may lead to death – wires used for buildings, steel rods that are substandard, long life bulbs which are not long life; everyone has had experience of buying goods which are below standards.

Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) needs to train its inspectors better, and the Nigerian factor must be exterminated in the organisation. Our importers deliberately bring in substandard goods and pharmaceuticals (NAFDAC). Even the factories in Nigeria cut corners and produce below standard goods; palm oil makers are now introducing some chemicals to make the oil redder!

The Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) with all these powers, like all the other organisations listed in the beginning of this article, cannot undertake an investigation on quality unless a complaint was made to it.

A few years ago Toyota and Volkswagen made confessions about mechanical defects in their vehicles. There was a world wide recall of their vehicles to replace the malfunctioning parts. Nothing happened in Nigeria. When I tried to find out why, I was told that I had to complain before SON could go after the vehicles in Nigeria. I could not understand how a matter that was in international reports needed a further report from me to galvanise SON into action. There was not one organisation or car dealer that the owners of defective cars had recourse even when the manufacturers had claimed responsibility. The consumer associations said nothing, civil liberties were quiet.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs said nothing, nor did either of the ministers of trade or industry. How can we be taken seriously when someone who had sold you a lemon admits it and writes you to get a refund and no one goes because the officials responsible could not care less?
To be continued tomorrow.
Dr. (Ambassador) Cole, OFR, is a Consultant to The Guardian Editorial Board.

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