SON Act and illegality of agency’s eviction from Nigerian ports
Although the Federal Government’s decision to evict the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) from the seaports, in 2012 negates SON 2015 Act, it was accepted because of the need to streamline the vetting process of imported goods through the ports and improve the easy of doing business in the country.
However, recent developments have shown that the laudable move puts Nigerians at the receiving end of sub standard imports, which leads to loss of lives and properties worth several millions.
The enormity of the loss could be seen in quantum of auto crashes, collapsed buildings and fire outbreaks in public buildings, leaving trails of sorrows from deaths to destruction of valuables.
It is pertinent to note that more than 90 per cent of the nation’s imports come through the sea ports, unfortunately, the inability of the Nigeria Customs Service to effectively man the sea ports have permitted the influx of sub-standard products that eventually find their way into the markets, homes and offices across the country unhindered. This in effect is killing the local industries.
In the last two years, it is on record that Nigeria imported US$47.4 billion worth of goods, up by 40 per cent of imports recorded in 2015 and 29.9 percent in 2018.
Put in perspective, about half of Nigeria’s imported goods representing 49.6per cent came from Asia, while 30 percent are from Europe and 11.2 per cent came from North America. The others are from African nations, Latin America, Oceania and Australia.
Given Nigeria’s population size of about 201 million people, its total $47.4 billion in 2019 imports translates to roughly $240 in yearly product demand from every person
At a meeting of the African Organization for Standardisation, it was highlighted that some countries in Africa have become huge markets for counterfeit materials, especially the imported ones.
This explains why Nigeria and other African countries are fast becoming dumping grounds for substandard or unfit products from other parts of the world.
Section 7(30b) of the 2015 Act, stipulates that Standard Organisation must be at the port of entry into this country. They can also be efficient if allowed to work at the point of entry of goods, but right now they are not allowed at the ports.
SON’s destruction of substandard Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) cylinders and tyres worth about N300 million because they failed the minimum standards presented the dangers such could have on unsuspecting consumers.
Sadly, Nigerian hospitals have also been caught in the web of substandard imports, as diagnostic and other facilities used in managing patients are failing integrity tests.
The Director General, Standards Organisation of Nigeria, Farouk Salim is saddened by the poor clearance of products that find their ways into the country through the ports.
Salim, who described the goods destroyed as life endangering and unfit for use, said, “I wish there was a way we can send them back to where they are coming from but, unfortunately, we don’t have agreement with these countries. This is turning the country to a dumping ground.”
The consequences of importing substandard products into the country are manifold, affecting homes and offices.
“In some cases they end up causing life-threatening accidents from the sitting room to the kitchen and the bedroom,” SON’s Deputy Director/Head of Public Relations, Mr. Bola Fashina said.
The SON Director-General, however, thinks that one major way of cutting down the influx of substandard products is to return SON to the ports.
Even though the organisation is backed by law to perform its functions of checking substandard products; it cannot do much because SON is not allowed to operate at the ports.
This is contrary to the provision of the SON law stipulating that SON should verify quality of products at the seaports and major entry points of Nigeria.
As at last count, there are over 1,500 illegal land borders, most of which are routes for smuggling. The Nigeria Customs Services appears overwhelmed with efforts to keep a tab on duties, hence are unable to keep another eye on the standards.
The Standards Organisation of Nigeria Act, 2015 Act N0.14, which repeals SON Act, Cap S9 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 has given powers to the Standards Council to designate, establish and approve standards in respect of metrology, materials, commodities, structures and processes for the certification of products in commerce and industry throughout Nigeria.
In this regard, the organisation has set up regulatory requirements. For imported goods, it is the mandatory Offshore Conformity Assessment Programme (SONCAP PROGRAMME). For locally manufactured products, it is the Mandatory Conformity Assessment Programme (MANCAP Programme).
The SON also has a set of mandates that include designation, establishment, approval and declaration of standards in respect of metrology, materials, commodities, structures and processes, quality control of products, weights and measures, investigation of quality of products, enforcement of standards among others.
“We are supposed to ensure that the borders and the ports are monitored properly, and in doing this we protect the country from substandard goods. One of such ways is to make sure that the employees of SON are in the port of entries in the country, especially the Lagos ports, where majority of goods come into this country,” the SON DG stated.
While making reference to the section of the law that mandates it to be at the ports, Salim said, “The 2015 Act, Section 7(30b) says the Standard organisation must be at the port of entry into this country. Our people can be efficient if we are allowed to work at the point of entry of these goods, but right now we are not allowed at the ports.”
He said: “They allow us once in a while to check goods but that should not be the way, because SON as an organisation should not depend on the kindness of other organisations to do its work.”
“What NAFDAC and the Customs are doing at the ports is totally different from what SON does. We get along with them very well but we don’t need to depend on them because we are supposed to be in the ports by right, except if the law is changed.”
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