Committal proceeding trails Lafarge, SON cement classification controversy
WHAT started as a mild disagreement following contests for supremacy between major manufacturers of cement product, has assumed a new dimension, as one of the producers, Lafarge Cement WAPCO Nigeria Plc, now have the leave of the court to commence a committal proceeding against the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON).
Specifically, the parties will return to the Federal High Court, Abuja on February 24. On that day, hearing may commence in the criminal proceedings preferred against the regulating body, SON, which has been accused of flouting the order of the court in the cement controversy saga.
But as at press time, The Guardian learnt that SON was yet to file a reply to the committal proceeding.
Lafarge says it decided to begin the criminal suit against the Director-General of SON, Dr. Joseph Odumodu, in order to ensure that justice prevails over the matter.
Granting the leave, Justice A.F.A. Ademola, had said: “That an order is hereby made granting leave to the plaintiff/applicant to commence committal proceedings against Dr. Joseph Odumodu, Director-General of the Standards Organisation of Nigeria.”
The Judge also directed Lafarge to put SON on notice. “That an order of substituted service is made for the processes in respect of this committal proceedings on the alleged contemnor be published in the Punch, Thisday or Guardian Newspaper.”
After some intrigues attended the issue of cement classification, the regulator, finally issued a 60-day ultimatum to cement manufacturers on product labeling and traceability requirements. Primarily, the guidelines mandated the manufacturers to indicate on product bags the manufacturing and expiry dates, product application information as well as the batch numbers of the products.
Cement manufacturers, including Dangote Cement, Lafarge Nigeria, Unicem, Ibeto Cement, Ashaka Cement and Sokoto Cement, had appealed to the agency to review its initially-proposed 30-day deadline to enable them to implement the changes in their processes. The move, which is expected to enhance traceability in case of product failures, also places a responsibility on cement manufacturers to ensure that their products meet required guidelines and health and safety requirements.
The whole episode came to the fore in May last year following issuance of a directive by Olusegun Aganga, Minister, Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment. The Minister had said the government was giving cement manufacturers a short grace period to comply with the approved standards, now tagged ‘NlS 444-1’. The implementation of a new standard for cement follows a battle between cement industry stakeholders regarding whether poor quality cement had been to blame for building collapses.
The highest grade – CEM I 52.5R, 52.5N, or 52.5 – will now be used for the construction of bridges. The second highest grade – CEM II 42.5R, 42.5N or 42.5 grade – will be used for the casting of columns, beams, slabs and for block moulding. The lowest cement grade – CEM I & II 32.5R, 32.5N or 32.5 cement grade – will be used only for the plastering of buildings.
According to the ministry, the new guidelines would, “Enable the end users make the right choice; help to avoid unethical application of the different types of cement; enhance proper identification of the different cement classes and enhance traceability as well as guide users.” The ministry added that the standards were reviewed because they had attained the five-year mandatory period for review, as well as concerns over the quality of cement in the Nigerian markets.
Few weeks after, the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) issued a 60-day ultimatum to cement manufacturers on product labeling and traceability requirements. Primarily, the new guidelines mandated the manufacturers to indicate on product bags the manufacturing and expiry dates, product application information as well as the batch numbers of the products.
Cement manufacturers, including Dangote Cement, Lafarge Nigeria, Unicem, Ibeto Cement, Ashaka Cement and Sokoto Cement, then appealed to the agency to review its initially-proposed 30-day deadline to enable them to implement the changes in their processes. The move, which is expected to enhance traceability in case of product failures, also places a responsibility on cement manufacturers to ensure that their products meet required guidelines and health and safety requirements.
Nigerian cement producers were also expected to submit their advertisements and commercials for pre-approval by the SON before they are sent to the media, while processes should be initiated to ensure that products are properly stored by distributors and retailers to avoid compromising product integrity.
The directive, it was gathered came amidst Lafarge Cement WAPCO, Ashaka Cement and Unicem court’s action against SON regarding its plan to limit the application of 32.5 grade cement. The action followed a publication by SON restricting the application of 32.5R grade cement to plastering use only.
“We have instituted a suit against the SON over its recent pronouncement and plan to implement a new mandatory industrial standard order for cement manufacturing, distribution and usage in the country,” said the three cement producers at a briefing in Lagos. The producers added that 32.5 grade cement is a widely used multi-purpose product and has ‘never’ been associated with building collapses.
In Nigeria, cement comes in three grades, 32.5mpa, 42.5mpa and recently, 52.5mpa.. The new policy prescribes the use of the 52.5mpa for the construction of bridges; 42.5mpa for the casting of columns, slabs and moulding of blocks and the 32.5mpa for plastering only. Hitherto, 32.5mpa had been used for most construction purposes.
The matter eventually got to the House of Representatives, which set up an Ad-hoc Committee on Public Investigative Hearing on the Composition and Pigmentation of Cement (Cement Quality) in Nigeria. The committee conducted a three-day public investigative session in May last year, with relevant stakeholders submitting memoranda to it.
The stakeholders included Federal Ministry of Trade and Investment, SON, Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN), Cement Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (CMAN), Nigeria Society of Engineers, Nigerian Institute of Architects, Nigerian Institute of Building, Nigerian Institute of Quantity Surveyors, Federal Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development and FCT Development Department. All the eight cement manufacturers in the country also submitted their position papers on the matter.
Going by the logic of those who claim building collapse is due to the use of 32.5mpa cement, buildings would be safe if the higher grade of 42.5mpa cement is used.
According to the affidavit in support of motion on notice, Lafarge said that after the commencement of this suit, SON under the watchful eyes of the alleged contemnor launched three specimen bags of cement thereby implementing its directives and guidelines on labeling notwithstanding the pendency of this suit and interim orders of the trial court.
The applicant also added that one of the issues under contention in the ongoing suit is the defendant’s directives and guidelines on the compulsory certification and registration by SON of block makers, who utilize the plaintiff’s cement to mould blocks.