The Director-General, Standards Organisation of Nigeria, Dr Joseph Odumodu, argues that the business of substandard products thrives only because consumers patronise them. He spoke with IFEANYI ONUBA
What is the level of awareness about the dangers of sub-standard products?
If you observe, a lot of people who are doing this business are sometimes not even aware of the things they do; the kind of impact it will have on citizens, lives, the environment and all that. We believe that one way you can effectively implement government policies is through collaboration, sensitisation and after that you can do enforcement.
The laws have been always there, but what we are trying to do now is to consider other ways of educating the people; let’s create some awareness and after that, you can do some enforcement.
So far, what has this type of collaboration achieved?
I had a similar meeting in Lagos with the phone and allied products merchants dealers. I can tell you it was a wonderful exposition. Let me say one thing, we are a standards agency, we are not experts in all parts of business. These people are market people; they are the ones that are really the experts in what they do. So, in doing our job, we also learn from them. And I can tell you that the phone dealers, we had collaboration with them and at the end of the day, they were the ones who prescribed the kind of actions that we are taking today. These people know the market and over time, they (have) found out that doing the wrong thing also does not really pay in the long term.
And having known the implication of doing the wrong things, now, they are prepared to do the right things. This is because they know that it is a sustainable thing to do the right things.
What has been your achievement in recent times in the fight against fake products?
Things are looking up. Compared to when I started this job in 2011, I can tell you that the number has improved tremendously. And most importantly, the average consumer is aware of the campaign. Talking about the number, we did the statistics then and we got about 80 per cent. Today, we are looking at half of that number and I can tell you that at the end of this year, we will be looking at about 30 per cent. And that is just the first step. When we get to 30 per cent, the level of reduction will be much faster. The point is the average Nigerian also needs education.
There are substandard projects all over the world, even in the United States and the United Kingdom. The difference is in the consumers. If consumers do not buy the products, then nobody will bring them. And what we are also doing is that government agencies are collaborating. We are inviting other government agencies that are involved in regulation. The more Nigerians are sensitised, the less those products will be bought; the less they are bought, then the less those people who are importing them from wherever will be able to do so. The problem we have today is that if you bring substandard bulbs and sell them within a week, the container goes within a week. It means a trigger is being sent to wherever it is being made that they should bring more containers; business is moving.
Imagine if you bring a container and in one month or in three months, nobody touches it, you cannot buy more. And when nobody buys them, they will stop importing them. That is ultimately where we are headed and we will get there.
What measures have you put in place to discourage this practice?
Today, we have what we call the Standards Organisation of Nigeria Offshore Conformity Assessment Programme. Before you order for goods, you are supposed to get a certificate for all regulated products before they are shipped into Nigeria. Over time, we found out that people were bringing in goods from all kinds of places and avoiding the ports. Right now, what we have introduced is what we call the e-product registration. We are saying that every product that is offered to anybody, in any market must be registered and should carry two kinds of codes. One type of code is visible and the other one is not visible and it is only known to the company that registered it; only to one person from that company. I say one person because it could also leak.
What we have today is that a lot of products have not been registered; we have given a deadline but people are not registering. The deadline was June. People have registered less than five per cent of their products. Why are they avoiding registration? If you ask me to guess, I think it is because they know they are not selling the right products. They don’t want to subject them to any evaluation and that is why we are doing this sensitisation. After September, we shall enter the markets and we shall remove products that are not registered.
Every unregistered product is substandard. We will remove it. I will not waste my time testing it. And we have the full backing of our bosses. At the end of the day, what government is preaching is industrialisation and creating wealth. How can we create wealth when we bring in all sorts of sub-standard products coming from abroad? I think the message is clear: we will remove those products and they have to be replaced with the patronage of locally manufactured products that are certified and then it will now create room for employment and wealth creation.
When are we expecting the conclusion of a new legislative backing for SON?
We have supplied everything that the National Assembly requires for the law. In the House of Representatives, we have done the public hearing; we are just waiting for their decision on it. The document is also in the Senate; maybe before the end of the year, it will be realised.
What we are trying to achieve is that anytime we impound products in a building, we will take over that building too. Some Chinese were caught recently making substandard batteries in Lagos but up until today, we have not seen the owner of the property. The law will allow us to impound the property. Government would take over the property so that when you want to give out your house, you would know the kind of people and the kind of work they do.
What is the worth of all the products you have destroyed in the last six months?
We have destroyed goods worth about N3bn in the last six months and as I am talking to you, our warehouse is also full, ready for destruction. Very soon, we will destroy more. But I also want to stress a point about the destruction. Every time you destroy products, you are destroying Nigeria’s wealth because these products that were bought from abroad were not bought with fake dollars. They were bought with our wealth, our collective wealth. So, it is not our strategy that we should destroy them. Indeed, our strategy is to stop them from coming into Nigeria as much as possible. But if they come in, you have to take action to stop people from having access to them.Consumers encouraging sale of substandard products — Odumodu by ngcareers