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Threat of cancer-causing school uniforms in Nigeria


The Director-General, SON, Osita Aboloma

Cancer remains one of mankind’s deadliest noncontagious diseases. It is therefore not only worrisome and disturbing, but also scary to learn that one can contract the scourge from clothing materials such as school uniforms. To state then that nursery, primary and secondary school children are at the highest risk of getting cancer is to state the obvious. A crucial step toward addressing the menace is to trace the origin of the cloth. Challenges may arise over the need for government or anyone to monitor or check the quality, in terms of standards of these clothing materials and uniforms since they are always imported.

Recently, the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) alerted Nigerians, particularly the importers of school uniform materials into Nigeria, about some cancer-causing substances found in some school uniform materials made by two China-based companies. The two companies allegedly named were Sing Shun Fat School-Clothier Company and Zenith Uniform Company. SON further revealed that azo dyes which were found in some school uniforms in Hong Kong contained up to 173 milligrams and 41 milligrams per kilogram of the tested samples respectively, which were above the maximum allowed in the standard.

Many countries have banned the use of 4-amino azo dyes in school uniforms owing to the fact that these dyes could release carcinogenic substances, such as aromatic amines when mixed with sweat. The school uniform becomes carcinogenic when the dye in the clothing materials comes in contact with sweat of the pupil wearing it.

It is against this backdrop that SON’s Chief Executive, Mr. Osita Aboloma, advised importers of school uniform materials in Nigeria to endeavor to undergo the process of conformity assessment of such materials prior to import. Aboloma further advised Nigerians to report any suspected uniform materials that may already be in the country to SON for necessary sampling, laboratory tests and analysis to be carried out at its Textile and Leather laboratory in Kaduna for necessary regulatory action. In his words: “all International Accredited Firms (IAFs) undertaking the off-shore conformity assessment programme on behalf of SON all over the world have been put on alert regarding the cancer-causing substance in school uniform materials and other clothing materials to be imported into Nigeria.”

Beyond the warning alerts given by SON on the cancer-causing school uniforms made by the China-based companies, there should be some draconian measures the government must take to ensure all-round safety of its citizens. One of such measures is placing an immediate ban on the importation of school uniform clothing materials. One of the reasons the Nigerian textile industry collapsed was the cheap exports from China. The influx of cheap textiles and fabrics into the country from all over the world, mainly from China and India is responsible for the downturn in the Nigerian textile and garment industry. Before this ban is placed, efforts should be intensified to revamp our local clothing and textile industries.

Also, routine checks on warehouses of importers and marketers of clothing materials should be carried out by SON officials in order to deal with non-standards-complying marketers and importers. Poor monitoring of the country’s porous borders is brought to the fore as unchecked imported goods still find their wayto the markets.

Seven years ago, in an attempt to decongest the seaports and facilitate the clearance of goods, the federal government reduced the number of agencies at the seaports and ordered National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and SON to vacate seaports and carry out their statutory duties outside the ports. However, sometime in May this year, in the wake of the codeine abuse crisis, government at the federal level ordered the return of NAFDAC to seaports to be able to effectively control the importation of regulated products. Many Nigerians commended the government for doing the needful to arrest the codeine menace back then.

Not much success has been recorded since the exit of SON from seaports in 2011. The organisation’s outside-the-seaport operations of combing warehouses and markets to wade off substandard product syndicates who operate efficient distribution networks by spreading their deadly consignments across markets have not yielded substantial results. The influx of substandard and life-endangering products would be stopped and confiscated right there at the seaports if the SON officials are always on ground. To justify the government’s action, some may argue that SON officials have not been totally sent away from operating at the seaport as they still participate in examination of cargo but only on ‘invitation’ by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) or Nigeria Customs Service (NCS). This is not as effective and efficient as having SON officials on standby to attend to standards-related responsibilities and demands when the need arises.

As done in the case of NAFDAC when the need arose, we urge the federal government to order the return of SON to the seaports to be able to fully monitor and check the unfettered high inflow of substandard, counterfeited and life-threatening products to Nigeria through the seaports. By proactively acting this way, our seaports, other entry points and indeed the whole country will be safe from any infiltration of cancer-causing school uniform clothing.
Kayode Ojewale wrote from Idimu, Lagos

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