The menace posed by the influx of adulterated products in Nigeria is becoming increasingly alarming, writes Jonathan Eze

The war against fake products should not be left alone in the hands of the officials of the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) because like wildfire, the zeal and zest of some wicked and callous individuals and organisations in making Nigeria home for their nefarious activities is burning and it must be contained before it burns every Nigerian.

Going through news reports recently, it is confounding to note that the agency works round the clock in chasing and apprehending these criminals wherever they are found and confiscates their harmful products.

Thus, the hard work and industry of the SON needs to be encouraged and supported by all well-meaning Nigerians. That is why the agency should continue to open its communications lines in the event that Nigerians are willing to supply it with useful information.

The populace should resolve to blow the whistle whenever they suspect that any structure or building is harbouring criminals who are bent on reducing the life spans of the product users and exploiting them financially in buying products of questionable qualities.

It is also heart rendering to note that in spite of the presence of many regulatory and security agencies in the country, fake products still manage to find their way into the Nigerian market. From consumables to hardware, the average Nigerian is aware that he could be tricked into spending his hard-earned money on fake products, which may eventually claim his or her life.

This effort is against the backdrop of a discovery at the weekend of three different warehouses of eight flats each housing fake products like body creams, baby products, detergents, insecticides, body sprays among other household items which are always found in our supermarkets.

SON, in company of security agents and representatives of some news media visited the warehouses at the Kirikiri area of Lagos. The operation led by the Director of the organisation Inspectorate and Compliance Monitoring, Bede Obayi, was quite revealing. It was obvious that the importer who is already in police custody does not and can never know the quantities and brands of products he has in the warehouses because each of the flats and even staircases were filled and stocked to the brim with different products majority of which had expired.

While addressing journalists, Obayi said: “We invited you on a follow-up of the operation we carried out here at Kirikiri Town where we saw a warehouse fully stocked with expired baby creams and other products imported by a company known as Jouf Ventures Limited.

“Regarding this company, we have promised Nigerians that we must do adequate investigation to be sure that the products that left the dubious importer’s warehouse to different shops across the country are recovered.

“It must be properly traced and tracked. We are going to withdraw these products from circulation. This is what we have been doing since the last operation. But unfortunately, while we were doing this investigation, this man didn’t disclose to us that there were other warehouses he is operating from.

“With intelligence information gathered from officers of the Nigeria Police Force, we now discovered three extra warehouses which this importer in any way did not inform the SON during the investigation.

“This is to tell you the nature of the man in question. You have seen the various products littering the warehouses; the storage conditions are very poor and unhygienic. The drugs and other products in the warehouses have expired. This is something we as an agency cannot accept.”

He further said: “We want to thank the governor of Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode, because at hearing that the SON had stepped into the matter, the state government directed that the building be sealed, and you could see when we went there that the place has been cordoned off by the state government. If we had had support like this, we will be doing more. Remember, the issue of the Lekki Garden when we cried out about the number of people and quality of materials used in handling the project, the state government again came to the rescue.”

According to Obayi, “Here, we are happy that we have discovered all the warehouses of this man, and we will do due diligence on these warehouses as we told you the last time. The fact here is that this man is bent on not doing what is right because for him not to disclose to the regulatory authorities about other warehouses, you could discern his criminal intention. If you are changing the date of products, you are actually selling expired products that are harmful to the public.

“We cannot allow such a person to act the way he likes. He has been handed over to the Nigeria Police for further investigations. This is in line with the powers of the Act that established SON.

“It gives us adequate prosecutorial powers to deal with these people who don’t want to do things according to the rule. People think there is no government in this country, but the government of the country is very active and working.”

According to an editorial published by one of the national dailies recently, it was noted that all over the world, there are numerous 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, 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 public.

“The gateway into the country is policed by different security organisations, ranging from the Nigerian Customs Service 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 hemorrhage at the ports – land, sea and airports.

“Unscrupulous businessmen who specialise in importing fake goods should be punished. Officials charged with the responsibility of enforcing standards must embrace the anti-corruption spirit of the current administration. State officials must realise that a decision driven by greed and lust for dirty money is detrimental to the overall well-being of the country. Nigerian businessmen should endeavour to embrace high standards and sound business ethics. They should learn to do business with character.”

Furthermore, there is an urgent need for SON to be strengthened. The federal government on its part should ensure adequate funding of SON because the scope of their coverage is limitless coupled with the fact that the unscrupulous importers are not relenting in their wicked quest to continue to flood the Nigerian market with fake products.

The National Assembly should also ensure an increased budgetary allocation to life saving agencies like SON and make new laws that would further empower it to deliver on its mandates. The director general of SON too should endeavour to reward its workforce and motivate them to put national interests first ahead of their selfish interest.

Manpower development through training and retraining of personnel should be regular with emphasis on quality in order for the operatives to be in tandem with world best practices.