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Sunday, 12 March 2017

Of fake products in Nigeria

Standards Organisation of Nigeria

It is extremely unfortunate that in spite of the heavy presence of several regulatory and security bodies in the country, fake or substandard products still manage to find their way into the Nigerian market. In the last quarter of 2016, there were reports that some unscrupulous persons flooded the country with ‘plastic rice’ imported from Asia. This was at the peak of the festive season when the consumption of rice was expected to rise. In the last few weeks also, there have been reports that garri, one of the staple food items of Nigerians, was imported from India.

From consumables to hardware, the average Nigerian is aware that he could be tricked into spending his hard-earned money on fake products. A pharmacist could also be fooled into buying drugs which components have been severely compromised because of the greed of importers. To say the least, this is worrying. It challenges all that a nation stands for in the quest for a healthy and just society. It is also one of the consequences of a nation that refuses to etch up the ladder in terms of production of goods.

This menace came to the fore recently when the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), with the aid of a whistleblower, discovered a warehouse in Satellite Town Lagos where two Chinese citizens were in the process of re-branding used or substandard tyres. With the help of some devious Nigerians, they had succeeded in bringing the tyres into Nigeria. They also secured a ‘safe place’ where they were carrying out their nefarious activities. Such a practice is dangerous to the lives of Nigerians. Innocent customers would have purchased such tyres in the hope that they were good for use as brand new products.

Apart from rice, there are indeed factually-authenticated experiences with fake or expired drugs, substandard batteries, phones, electric bulbs, body creams, electrical appliances, generators, and other forms of hardware. In the automobile spare part markets, some traders actually tell buyers that there are two brands available. Without any fear, they advise the buyer about ‘original’ and ‘fake’ products. Usually, the price of the ‘original’ is higher. Such is the menace and the impunity!

Often, these products are dangerous to the health or safety of society. Some of these products fail after a week or two. Although the statistics are not readily available, too many Nigerians have lost their lives to the menace of fake drugs. Only recently, a gospel artiste based in Warri was reported to have lost his life to expired anti-malaria drugs. Also, owing to the high price of tyres, most middle level employees often settle for used tyres. There have been many deaths too resulting from burst tyres while the vehicle was in motion.

The menace of fake drugs gained national prominence when the late Dora Akunyili as Director-General of National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) fought the cartel that specialised in importing fake drugs to a standstill. But that dynamism is gone and a business-as-usual disposition seems to have returned to the operations of NAFDAC.

All over the world, there are persons or corporate bodies who try to cheat the system by producing substandard goods in order to increase their profit margin. This has given rise to the establishment of some regulatory bodies. In Nigeria, Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), and NAFDAC are two of such organisations. As regulatory bodies, they are expected to be tough, fair and firm. They are also expected to gather intelligence routinely through market surveys, consultation with consumers’ rights protective bodies and the general public.

The gateway into the country is policed by different security organisations, ranging from the Customs to the Nigeria Immigration Service. Also, Department of State Services (DSS), Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) and others are represented at the borders. How these fake products find their way into the country, therefore, is befuddling. The truth of the situation is not difficult to discern. There is criminal collusion between the men and women of these organisations and the wealthy importers of these goods. In some cases, there is outright inefficiency.

When money changes hands, state officials look the other way while the soul of the nation is ravaged. Indeed, the general notion among serving officers in the Customs and Immigration Departments is that a posting to the border is a life-time opportunity to make it big. The maxim is that if you have the right connections and grease the palms of the relevant officials, any item can be imported into the country. This accounts for the massive haemorrhage at the ports – land, sea and airports.

Unscrupulous businessmen who specialise in importing fake goods should be punished. The public would like to know how many persons or organizations have been sanctioned through the efforts of regulatory bodies. Nigerians for example would like to see how the two Chinese men caught with substandard tyres would be prosecuted in the court of law.

Officials charged with the responsibility of enforcing standards must embrace the anti-corruption spirit of the current administration. SON should wake up and make Nigerians feel its presence. The spirit of an efficient and incorruptible NAFDAC should be revived with utmost urgency. State officials must realize that a decision driven by greed and lust for dirty money is detrimental to the overall wellbeing of the country.

Against the background of so many Nigerians dying through the use of substandard tyres and fake drugs, there is the need for advocacy and mass education. Often citizens make drug or product purchases without verifying claims on the accompanying literature. Some tyres are not designed for the tropical climate. Yet some more are expired before they arrive. Indeed some retailers or traders do not have an accurate knowledge of their wares. The regulatory bodies in the country should work with curriculum developing institutions to teach the people basic or rudimentary steps about safety and use of imported material.

Finally, Nigerian businessmen must embrace high standards and sound business ethics. They should learn to do business with character. The regulatory agencies should also wake up from their slumber. Pre-inspectorate and regulatory agencies who fail to live up to their responsibilities should be sanctioned. In line with the current government’s policy on whistle blowing, Nigerians should also report any incident of fake or expired product to the appropriate agency. When such reports are made, prompt action should be taken to reassure the public of government’s responsiveness to the hopes and aspirations of the people.

Vía The Guardian Nigeria

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