The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Chief Audu Ogbeh, revealed last week thateighty percent of tomato pastes imported into the country are poisonous and not fit for human consumption.The minister made the disclosure during the 2017 budget defense of his ministry at the National Assembly.He said laboratory tests conducted by the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) showed that the imported pastes are harmful to human health. The minister, who attributed the escalation of kidney, liver and cancer diseases in the country to consumption of poisonous preserved foods, said the federal government will soon ban the importation of tomato paste.
But aside of substandard food items imported into the country, several other consumable items that range from drugs to drinks, electronics, household equipment, motor spare parts, etc, all suffer from the menace of counterfeit. The damage(s) done by imported substandard products to the health, safety, environment, property and lives of the citizens in Nigeria makes this trend worrisome. For instance, substandard electrical appliances have caused many fire disasters that killed scores and destroyed properties worth billions of naira. People are dying daily from the consumption or use of these substandard and adulterated imported products.
Of recent, refinedpetroleum products have also formed part of the substandard commodities imported into the country.Two elements suggestthat the imported refined petrol is of substandard quality. It is whiter just as it burns much faster than the coloured product refined in the country. Those who had cars before the importation of refined product began know very well that imported refined petrol takes you only to half or even less of the distance,which theproduct refined in the country could carry you; prompting motorists to wrongly fault their cars’ fuel economy.It’s a pity that while Nigeria exportshigh quality crude oil, it imports substandard refined product.
Nigeria has for a long time been a dumping ground for all kinds of substandard products from different parts of the world. A former Director General of the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), Mr. Joseph Odumoduonce raised an alarm that 80 percent of products imported into Nigeria are either fake or substandard. When a formal complaint was made in the past to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that China was importing fake products into the country, China responded that Nigerian businessmen were culpable. Very unpatriotic and unscrupulous Nigerians have been accused of conniving with some foreign manufacturers to lower the quality of goods to be imported into Nigeria so that the products will sell well at lower prices in Nigerian markets. The unfortunate penchant by Nigerians for low-priced goods would have increased under the current economic recession; making them more vulnerable than ever before.
Trading of imported substandard products survive in Nigeria because no stiff penalties are applied to offenders even when they are apprehended. There are severe penalties for manufacturers of substandard products in other countries including Britain, Japan and China. Indeed, a substandard product will not even get to the market in those places. In China, drug counterfeiting carries death penalty. Although China may be exporting one product to different countries, it will never risk exporting a substandard quality of mobile phones and accessories to countries such as Britain where standards are strictly enforced.But because corruption has become a way of life for many Nigerians including those charged with the responsibility of checking the menace, themarketing of fake and substandard imported products has continued to persist in the country.
Yes, it will persist because the proactivity of SON as well as the NAFDAC which are two separate government agencies that have core mandates to deal with the crisisis not good enough to curb the menace as required by the laws establishing them.Their CEOs are only good at lamenting over the menace each time they have to speak on the matter. For instance, the Director General of SON, Mr. OsitaAbolomarecently described manufacturers and dealers in substandard and adulterated products as terrorists in view of the danger their activities pose to the lives of Nigerians. He made this assertion through his representative, Mr. Felix Nyado, at a workshop organizedfor manufacturers, importers, distributors, and retailersin Onitsha, Anambra State,.
While NAFDAC’s mandate concerns food and drugs, SON is a body with a wider scope. The latter is saddled with the responsibility of ensuring that products manufactured within the country and others imported into the country meet global quality standards. This is to safeguard the health and safety of Nigerians.The SON was established by Act No. 56 of 1971 and subsequent amendments. Of the almost a dozen mandates of the SON, the essential and technical ones include certification of products in commerce and industry throughout Nigeria; quality control of products, weights and measures;establishment and maintenance of laboratories; and enforcement of standards.
Beyond lamentations is the critical need for SON and NAFDAC to be proactive in sanctioning importers of substandard products. Such products when identified should be confiscated and destroyed while importers of the products are apprehended and prosecuted. It will also be necessary for SON to establish more laboratories to reduce the work load on existing ones as this will enhance effective and faster testing of products within a shorter period. The four existing laboratories would seem inadequate to examine the qualities of all the goods imported into Nigeria; two in Lagos, one each in Enugu and Kaduna.
The presence of SON at our sea ports is critical to tackling the challenge of substandard imported products as it is easier to stop the influx of these goods at the entry points rather than wait to battle them later when they have gone in to circulation.May Allah (SWT) guide SON and NAFDAC authorities to put Nigeria first in their service to the nation, amin.