Friday, February 3, 2012
We will sustain war against substandard - DG
The standard organization of Nigerian (SON), Director General Dr. Joseph Ikemefuna Odumodu in this interview with our business correspondent AYODELE SAMUEL, speaks on the agency plans to intensify the Zero Tolerance Campaign against substandard products in country. Could give us an overview of activities in 2011. 2011 was indeed a busy year for us. It could not have been any less given both the mandate of the Federal Government to the SON and the realty of the issue of sub-standardisation in the country. It was so endemic that there was hardly any product line that was not being sub-standardised, the details of these we have spoken about, at various interactions before now. On completion of the baseline study that revealed that over 85 percent of consumer products were substandard, we set out a 6 point agenda to drive the changes we sought in a hurry to stop the carnage and the callous de-industrialisation of Nigeria. In which way is your agency partnering with Consumers and other stakeholders? As part of the initiatives to drive home SON’s “Zero Tolerance to Substandard Products” initiative, the agency, in collaboration with the Consumer Protection Council (CPC), has met with leaders of the Electrical Dealers Association of Nigeria (EDAN) and General Electrical Dealers Association (GEDA). The aftermath of the meeting was the setting up of the first ever Consumer Help Desk which should help in Enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of the two regulatory agencies in discharging their statutory responsibilities of ridding our markets of substandard products and protecting the consumers. We also carried out a sensitisation of operators in the steel and iron bars sector , At the meeting, we warned of the prevalence of substandard steel products in the country, declaring our resolve to check it. Some of the directives issued out to steel manufacturers and producers present at the meeting were: all steel made in or imported into the country must bear approved identification marks by SON, all manufacturers and importers were directed to ensure that their products conform to the requirements of NIS 117:2004, manufacturers were directed to ensure they acquire modern testing equipment for chemical and mechanical properties of iron rods and a task force was set up to ensure compliance by stakeholders we had a meeting with primary aluminum producers which led to the review of the Nigerian Industrial Standard for the product. At that meeting, we recalled that efforts made to sanitise the sector had been marred by fraudulent activities ranging from poor identification of products and false declarations of aluminum sizes. We also made it clear that the minimum thickness approved for the product is 0.40 millimeters. Operators were mandated to ensure compliance with the NIS specifications or risk seizure and prosecution by SON. Aluminum producers were also mandated to ensure that every sheet produced or imported by them bear appropriate identification marks from factory to the roofs maintaining that all cladding and flashing materials shall have a minimum thickness of 0.40 millimeters. Last year December, we also meet with representatives of major dealing companies in attendance, including Techno, Panasonic, Sharp and Sony, were we declared our intention to collaborate with manufacturers, and the dealers were advised to educate consumers as well as SON operatives on the unique features of brands they deal on. The need for training of dealers was underscored while the stakeholders were advised to adopt the relevant standards with available ISO or national standard marks. Operators are to collaborate with SON on capacity building for staff and laboratory enhancement. Several other meetings were also held with other groups like Textiles Manufacturers Association (NTMA), Onitsha and Nnewi markets. What are you Targets and Programmes for 2012? We shall build on the gains of 2011 this year. Our primary target remains to achieve a further drastic reduction in the level of substandard products in the country. In 2011, our study revealed that SON achieved a total reduction of substandard products by about 25 percent. However, this reduction was reflected in the quality of products that were imported into the country between April and November 2011. In terms of awareness, we achieved only 15 percent level among consumers surveyed. Not much was however achieved in the level of substandard products on sale in various markets in Nigeria . This year, our target is a further 30 percent reduction in the penetration of substandard products in the country, both in terms of influx and circulation. Our strategy will be to build on the current collaborative efforts with other government agencies like Nigeria Customs, Consumer Protection Council, Nigeria Police and other relevant bodies to achieve the ideals of the President Goodluck Jonathan transformation agenda. We have worked out the logistics and for us, this would mean among others, the opening of more states offices and strengthening of the existing ones. It would also mean a reappraisal of our internal capacities, manpower, processes etc for greater effectiveness so that the agency would be able to meet her targets. We hear of complains in some quarters about used vehicles; what is your agency doing about this? The federal government policy for used vehicles prescribed only age restrictions. We shall not attempt to change that. However, as a result of several complaints from a cross section of Nigerians, we have elaborated standards for used vehicles where we have specified safer levels for a number of hazardous chemicals that are injurious to health and or the environment. When this new policy commences, we shall work with NESREA, NAC and Central Bank of Nigeria to ensure full compliance. All over the country, we have different kinds and grades of used vehicles with killer emission levels, and this we have to reduce at acceptable levels of safety. To some people, these emissions may seem innocuous, but when you do the chemical analysis, you find that several Nigerians are inhaling fumes of very dangerous dimensions with dire health consequences. We observe that there are critical issues of substandardisation in the manufacturing sector; could you pleas give us an update on meeting standards with regards to manufacturing? We shall review the Mandatory Conformity Assessment Programme (MANCAP) to meet with the present day reality for manufacturing for Nigeria markets. At the end of the day, it would further help in sanitising the sector and giving every genuine player opportunity of a fair playing ground. One major element of this review is to focus on the processes, input material, people skills and internal systems rather than on finished products quality. We shall facilitate collaboration to improve industrial capacity and products’ quality standards in MANCAP. We believe our initiative will assist build the capacity of the indigenous entrepreneur and help the course of the Federal Government’s economic reform programme. We just concluded the review of the SON Conformity Assessment Programme in December 2011 as part of the measure to check the incidence of substandard products. The new measures will lead to a more robust IT gateway with risk management profiling for importers and their consumer products. We shall implement the changes within the first quarter of 2012. Aside big businesses, do you have intention of helping to support small businesses in any way? One of our major projects in 2012 is to build capacity with Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises. There are well over 10 million MSMEs in Nigeria and they are essentially critical to job creation in this economy. We have discovered that most MSMEs have the genuine intention to manufacture quality products but lack the capacity to do so. SON shall identify 250 MSME’s and work very closely with them to certify them towards ISO 9001 (quality management systems) and ISO 22000 (food safety management system) at no cost. The outcome of this collaboration will be better, sustainable quality products in a system that cuts off non-value adding activities. We would be collaborating with the Nigerian Association of Small Scale Industrialists (NASSI) and the Nigerian Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (NASME) in this regard. What is the next step in the battle against substandard? We continue to intensify the Zero Tolerance Campaign against substandard products. This year, we are going to take it to the Eastern and Northern parts of the country, as well as the Middle Belt area. Is it not comforting to some degree that the average Nigerian, at least in the Lagos-West area now talks or is more conscious about the issue of substandard products in the country? In fact, at the level of consumers, some are beginning to realise that they have a responsibility to ensuring that they buy quality and can deliver on the things they promise to deliver.