Menace of Substandard Tyres Dealers

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Gilbert Ekugbe highlights the titanic challenge the SON has had to contend with as it carries out its constitutional mandate of taming the malevolent merchants of fake and expired tyres as well as other substandard products

It was a ghoulish expedition, a near-death experience. The Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) enforcement team who raided some locations in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, penultimate Thursday for fake and substandard tyres, surely appreciate the risks and gristly nature of their job.

They are not strange to possible unsavoury reactions or resistance from some of their sometimes-spiteful targets. That is what they have accepted as the mirthless part of their assignment. That was why they went with security operatives on their mission. However, it is unlikely that they actually envisaged the level of audacity, grit and mercurial temperament of the ‘merchants of death’ who ply the substandard tyre trade.

The enforcement team soon got the first whiff of trouble. The exercise was carried out simultaneously in three locations in the FCT: Area1Market, Apo Village and Kugbo Mechanic Village. The team, however, recorded success in only Area1 Market. They were fiercely and viciously resisted in the other two locations.

The team ran into a sudden volley of bullets and other dangerous weapons. Riled by what they probably saw as the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) meddlesomeness, the business owners and hoodlums in these areas, who must have had a prescience of the raids through whatever means, had mobilised obviously to stop the exercise.

However, if the freakish display by the hoodlums shocked the enforcement team and the accompanying security operatives, it certainly failed to deter them. Although they had to beat a tactical retreat to avoid further casualties, as some members of the team and security personnel sustained serious injuries, they still succeeded in confiscating a sizeable consignment of expired tyres from Area1 Market.

The macabre expedition of the enforcement team underscores the titanic challenges the SON has had to contend with as it carries out its constitutional mandate of taming the malevolent merchants of fake and expired tyres as well as other substandard products. But the regulatory agency has vowed never to retreat or surrender until the unscrupulous tyre merchants are nailed and their illicit trade stopped.

“We are determined and equal to the task,” declared the Director General, Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) Mallam Farouk Salim represented by SON’s Regional Coordinator, Mr Albert Wilberforce, who led the raids.

He added: “We at SON will not leave any stone unturned to ensure that these culprits are brought to book and these expired tyres don’t find their way into the market, because the growth and development of the country is our primary concern.”

Salim, who spoke to newsmen after the enforcement exercise, explained the sharp practices engaged in by substandard tyre dealers, which necessitated the raids by SON’s enforcement team. He said many Nigerians have now delved into the illegal business of importing used tyres, which by law are tagged “contraband” and selling them to members of the public.

These merchants, according to him, are also in the habit of stuffing and compressing these used tyres, while they even go to the extent of spraying and polishing the used tyres and selling them to unsuspecting Nigerians as new.
The yuletide season is approaching and this is the time of their business boom because Nigerians are travelling for the festive season, “Wilberforce said.

He, however, vowed that the SON would take further action on the enforcement in spite of the attacks as, according to him, “the Director-General is determined to ensure that standards are maintained across board.”

Dealers Request to Meet SON
However, a group of traders in Abuja have written to the SON D-G, requesting for a meeting as an aftermath of the raids and implored the agency to suspend further enforcement actions till after the meeting they proposed.
The traders, who deprecated the raids, wrote under the platform of the National Association of Nigerian Traders (NANTS), Abuja Chapter, which they describe as the umbrella of all traders in the markets, plazas and other trading places in Nigeria. The danger of fake and substandard tyres is inherent in the incessant auto crashes they cause on the roads. According to the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), a larger chunk of accidents being recorded frequently on Nigeria’s major high ways are traceable to the use of expired or substandard tyres.

FRSC Road Accident Statistics
Statistics from the FRSC showed that a total of 2,471 death’s and 5,320 auto crashes were recorded within the half of this year alone, a sizeable percentage of those accidents resulting from expired and worn out tyres. And majority of these accident victims were Nigerians in their prime.

Transport experts identify economic downturn as a major precipitating factor underscoring the increasing boom in the sale of fake and substandard tyres.
A manager with one of the private transport firms in Lagos, Mr. James Adepoju said the absence of standard tyre manufacturing companies in Nigeria and the tenacity of used tyre sellers to meet the increasing demand for them (used tyres) to boost their own economic power, not minding the dangers their atrocious practice poses also accentuate the problem.
“Come to think of it,” he posed, “how many people can afford to buy new tyres these days? The hard fact is that most Nigerians are forced to buy used tyres because of their low purchasing power, even when they are aware of the inherent dangers.”

Salim, canvasses a similar argument. He said the problem of the use of fake and substandard tyres became pronounced after the two major tyre-manufacturing companies in the country, Dunlop and Michelin, shut down operations and relocated.
The big vacuum their absence created, he lamented, led to the emergence of no less than 250 different distorted substandard tyres in the country today.

However, SON’s D-G, Mallam Farouk Salim, believes, judging by the reactions from stakeholders, that the agency is winning the war against substandard products with effective standard enforcement.
He said the agency had increased seizures tremendously.
The D-G, who spoke on many things in a recent interview, revealed that SON recently confiscated close to N2 billion worth of stuffed, substandard tyres in 2021 alone.

Aging process
He compared an aging tire to an old rubber band stressing that, “If you take a rubber band that’s been sitting around a long time and stretch it, you will start to see cracks in the rubber, cracks in a tire’s rubber begin to develop over time, initially not visible but over time, appearing on the surface and inside the tire as well. This cracking can eventually cause the steel belts in the tread to separate from the rest of the tire and nothing will slow the aging process.”

On how long a tyre last, the SON boss said apart from putting a tyre “expires date” to five years saying there are other factors such as heat, storage, underinflation and putting more tyres into, all these can dramatically reduce the life of a tire.

On reasons whether people should plan on replacement of tyre used or even if it’s never been used in every fives year, Salim, emplaned: “the sidewall of a tyre is covered in numbers and letters. They all mean something. But to determine the age of a tyre, you simply need to add five years to its U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) number to get the birth-date.

“Tyres made after 2000 have a four-digit DOT code. The first two numbers represent the week in which the tyre was made. The second two represent the year. A tyre with a DOT code of 1116 was made in the 11th week of 2016.”

Experts View
Speaking, an expert in auto industry, Garry Ubene, said; “of all your vehicle’s components, tires have the greatest effect on the way it handles and brakes. So if the SON recommends shelf life of tyre at your five-year, spend the money and don’t put it off. Your life could depend on it.”

Ubene said that all modern tires are made of synthetic rubber, which itself is an artificial elastomer, composed of polymers which are composed of isomers.
“Over time, you get something called polymer degradation wherein the very long polymer chains break down into much shorter and more stable chains, but which are different than the original material. That causes cracks, and more importantly a significant lowering of the tensile strength of the material, “he said.

Ubene suggested that the vulcanisers should carried along on sensitization on the use of substandard tyres and its implications to win the battle.
Meanwhile, the SON has said that it has placed tyres under “life endangering items,” and enjoined Nigerians to always use good quality tyres for their safety.
Salim warned against the importation, marketing, supply and use of substandard tyres in the country, emphasizing that the products kill and also affect the country’s economy adversely.

TESTIMONY
Mr.Tunde Olayemi (not real name) should know better with his recent near-death experience after he almost crashed for unsuspectingly buying an expired tyre.
He was on his way to Oshodi in Lagos from his Ayetoro-Itele, Ogun State base when passersby alerted him that one of his tyres was going flat.

He promptly packed the car beside the nearest vulcaniser to have the tyre checked.
He was told that the tyre had gone completely bad and needed to be replaced. Not to worry, the vulcaniser offered to help by placing a call to a used tyre seller nearby to bring a replacement.
One was brought in a jiffy. After being assured that the tyre he bought was a “Grade A tokunbo”(imported second- hand) one almost as good as new, the tyre was fixed and he resumed his journey relieved.

However, on Olayemi’s return trip later in the day, the same tyre he bought earlier suddenly burst on motion, erupting into a deafening explosion! Then the car began to go zigzag on the road as he held tightly to the steering wheel to control the car and avoid crashing into into other vehiches.
Mother luck smiled on him and he was able to halt the car a few inches to a ditch. Many other Nigerians are, however, not that lucky as a sizeable percentage of similar situations eventually result in fatality.