Fakery as a Way of Life

Over time, counterfeited or fake products have become the norm, despite orchestrated noise in officialdom that serious efforts had been made to standardise products that found their ways to the Nigerian markets. What have been the impacts of regulatory agencies, such as the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and the Nigeria Customs Service? So many casualties have been recorded arising from counterfeited drugs and other bad products. In this report, Tayo Adelaja, Head Special Investigations, reports on the havocs done to homes, no thanks to fakery, sub-standards and counterfeiting.

Nigeria has been a dumping ground for all kinds of goods from all parts of the world for a long time. Our markets have become a haven for all manner of goods imported into the nation for sale. The majority of these products are not only substandard but fake.

It thus becomes extremely difficult for consumers to actually distinguish between fake or substandard goods from the supposedly original one. It is so bad that when car owners want to buy spare parts, they either engage the services of a technician or they go along with them to buy such parts in order to ensure that they are not shortchanged.

Reports have shown that among countries noted for massive importation of fake and substandard goods, there is overwhelming evidence that Nigeria ranks among the world’s highest market for phony products and equipment. Proofs of the reports abound all over the place as you can hardly move around without seeing the shameful display of all kinds of poor quality goods and products that litter our open markets, shops, supermarkets, chemist shops and other retail outlets. These fake products extend across all classes and categories of items including drugs, electrical, electronic, household appliances and equipment, building materials, tyres and tubes, automobiles, machine spare parts, food and machines, to mention a few. Both the government and the citizens appear to have been so overwhelmed by this problem that they have almost given up, thereby allowing it to redefine our lives and mentality as well as reshape our culture and destiny.

It is no longer news or strange when a mechanic or generator technician tells you that he will go for a “tokunbo” or fairly used parts instead of new ones because the socalled fresh ones according to them are fake.

According to reports, the reason these substandard goods have flooded our markets and shops is because some Nigerian businessmen ask their foreign partners to lower the quality of the goods imported into the country, so that they can be affordable. However, incessant reports of late from unsatisfied consumers, suggest that they do not get value for the money spent on most of these goods.

Apart from the imported or smuggled fake goods, some manufacturers in the country also deliberately push low quality products into the market either out of the inability to produce better ones or in order to make quick money.

Others just reproduce existing products and move them into the market. In all these instances, the goods do more damage than good. Fake products have been attributed as the cause of many accidents in the country, be it fire, road or collapsed buildings.

One of the features of these counterfeit products is that they are cheap.

According to Madam Fadekemi Ojosu, a businesswoman in Lagos, “Nothing good comes cheap and easy; while this should serve as warning to consumers, reverse is the case as it is actually the major attraction. The result is that some of these products have become very popular with people. With the economy in comatose, literacy level nose-diving, the majority purchase these cheaper products without a second thought of the implications and effects. Traders also capitalise on the ignorance of consumers about some of these products by passing fake goods for genuine ones and getting paid accordingly.”

Reports had it that most of these imported substandard products come into the country illegally from the porous borders across the country and from the ports.

The battle to combat fake and substandard products led to the Mandatory Conformity Assessment Programme (MANCAP) which was put in place by Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) in 2006 to ensure that all manufactured products conform to the relevant Nigerian Industrial Standards (NIS) prior to sales in the markets or export. The scheme aimed at protecting genuine manufacturers against unhealthy practices such as production of sub-standard products, faking and counterfeiting as well as unfair competition in trade. MANCAP was to provide consumers with confidence that products manufactured in the country are fit, safe and meet the intended use. It’s to also ensure that the environment is free from unnecessary wastes and pollution.

Products that are qualified under the scheme are issued with MANCAP certificates and NIS logos with unique identification numbers.

The broad objectives of the scheme, according to SON, include ensuring that manufactured products comply with the Nigerian industrial standards prior to introduction into the market; preventing of dumping of goods that are not safe and counterfeited products in our markets and providing reliable records for identification and traceability of all locally manufactured products in the country. Others are to promote investment and trade of Nigerian products through standardization and inspiring confidence in consumers that products purchased will meet intended use. They also include promoting quality awareness and hence wealth creation through reduction of waste in the form of substandard products; preventing the production and sale of sub-standard, and/or unsafe products to consumers thereby protecting lives and property; ensuring that products purchased by consumers offer value for money while guaranteeing safety of life and the environment. It is to provide confidence that only products that meet the minimum quality requirements are put for sale on the Nigerian market.

Product Certification, in general terms, is the process of certifying that a product conforms to the requirements stipulated in the relevant specifications or standards. In Nigeria (SON), Product Certification is carried out through conformity assessment which is an activity concerned with determining directly or indirectly that a process, product or service fulfils relevant requirements. Conformity assessments in SON involve factory inspections, testing, certification, auditing and surveillance, among others.

The Product Certification Directorate is responsible for ensuring that locally manufactured products in the country give the required degree of satisfaction to consumers through compliance with government policies on standardisation and conformity assessment. The purpose is to promote global competitiveness among domestic manufacturers and encourage continual improvement on the quality of products in line with the statutory obligation of SON.

The Directorate was created as an offshoot from the former Quality Assurance Directorate in July 2011. It consists of three units and six sections covering Food Technology, Chemical Technology, Textile/Leather Technology, Civil/ Building Engineering, Electrical/Electronic Engineering and Mechanical Engineering.

The general objective is to promote industrial/economic development by ensuring that made-in-Nigeria products meet the requirements of the relevant industrial standards with continual improvement on the quality of the products while collaborating effectively with all relevant stakeholders to build strong relationship for mutual benefits.

Director General of the agency, Dr. Joseph Odumodu, in a lecture at the Obafemi Awolowo University, in 2012 had expressed worry that the country ranked highest among countries patronising substandard products.

He stated that more than 85 per cent of products in the country’s market were substandard and added that about 80 per cent of these originated from China. He further revealed the complicity of some greedy Nigerian importers in saturating the market with cheap, fake and substandard goods; and the ugly situation is exacerbated by some local manufacturers of products that fall short of international or national set standards.

“Genuine local manufacturers have continued to groan under the strain of economic losses as a result of cheap and substandard products,” Timi Awoyemi, the managing director of TIMSOL Ltd, a packaging company based in Ota, Ogun State, lamented.

“Impacts of the fakery is not limited to economics but has led to threat to life and property. For instance, fake and substandard electric cables have led to deaths and loss of properties from fire outbreaks; and counterfeit mobile phones emit dangerous levels of radiation that are hazardous to human health and can cause injuries and death when they explode.

Awoyemi disclosed that, “Evidence abounds that fake and substandard products are still infiltrating the local markets through very structured and coordinated channels run by some local importers and foreign conspirators at the popular markets such as Alaba International, Trade Fair, Balogun and other markets in Lagos, from where they are distributed to other parts of the country.

Odumodu recalled that when he assumed office as the director general of SON, he “saw a system that was in disarray in terms of the level of substandard products” and subsequently stated that the agency had identified the problems and was handling them with the aspiration of reducing prevalence of inferior products from 85 per cent to 60 per cent in the first quarter of 2013.

He added that the agency aimed at reducing the scourge to 40 per cent by 2014.

The Nigeria Customs Service, not resting on its oars, had made a lot of seizures and arrests in 2012 and 2013. The Federal Operation Unit Zone `A’ Ikeja, Lagos, for instance, recently said it intercepted over N1 billion contraband in 2013. Nuhu Mahmoud, the Controller, Federal Operations Unit Zone ‘A’, of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) disclosed that the figure was about 50 per cent higher than 2012 in terms of duty paid value.

“Goods worth over N1 billion were seized in the 2013 by this unit. Generally speaking, we made 3,553 seizures of assorted prohibited goods valued at N1,294,211 with a payable duty of N227,073,983 and a duty paid value of N1,521,285 between January and December 2013.

“This figure represents a significant improvement from the report of the preceding year 2012. Comparatively speaking, it accounts for about 50 per cent in terms of duty paid value and other variables. It is important to say that consequent upon the ban on rice importation through the land borders, the command beamed its searchlight on some volatile areas, particularly the waterways, which have been identified as flashpoints, with a view to blocking all loopholes and supply chains,” Odumodu said.

He noted that a strategy was adopted in the case of foreign frozen poultry products and all of these strategies provided the unit the necessary impetus to raise the standard of the anti-smuggling over the period.

“Additionally, the zone recorded some landmarks in seizures, which include: 65,563 bags of parboiled rice valued at N327,815,000 with the Duty Paid Value (DPV) of N360,596,500. A total of 399 seizures of foreign poultry products with DPV of N270,591,600; seizures of general merchandise with DPV of N383,96,033.

“The zone also intercepted 24 used tyres with DPV of N29,761,825 and 408 of vegetable oil with the DPV of N66,207,500. The unit apprehended a total of 217 suspects in connection with the seizures during the period under reference. A good number of them are still being investigated by the legal unit while others have been prosecuted in line with legal requirements.

“This unit has re-strategised in its operation modalities to ensure remarkable result for 2014 in order to justify the confidence which the customs management reposed in us. We have, therefore, put all necessary measures in place for effective synergy with the critical stakeholders, including the host communities where we operate and other relevant security agencies for the actualisation of our operational goals and objectives,” he added.

Another unit of the Customs in their report also made progress in curtailing the activities of the importers of fake products and substandard goods into the country. The Federal Operations Unit (FOU) of the NCS, Zone ‘C’ in Owerri also recorded 200 seizures of contraband goods worth N1.88 billion in 2013.

The Controller of the zone, Victor Dimka, disclosed the figures while addressing newsmen in Owerri early this year, saying the zone made 56 seizures with duty paid value of N1.05 billion in 2012.

He explained that 31 arrests were made between January and December 2013, with17 cases still in court.

A breakdown of the seizures in the period under review showed that 2,801 bales of second-hand clothing worth N529.5 million, the highest so far in the zone, were seized. Other items seized are 114 vehicles valued at N355. 3 million, 609 bales of printed wax worth N269. 8 million, 18,594 cartons of imported poultry products valued at N208.3 million and 3,619 cartons of vegetable oil valued at N97.78 million, 115,732 pairs of imported footwear with value of N155.9 million and 1,611 pieces of used tyres valued at N17.78 million, among others.

In his reaction to the staggering figure from just two units of Customs, Awoyemi said, “I’m not surprised at the figure quoted. It is better imagined when the grand total is collated. The figure is just for the unlucky ones apprehended; can you now imagine the numbers of fake and substandard goods in our system?”

“Until recently, fake drugs were almost everywhere in the country, sometimes sending people to their untimely death. NAFDAC under the able leadership of Prof Dora Akunyili launched a war against it and this has helped in reducing the prevalence of fake drugs in the polity.

“It seems that in order for government agencies to get results, they have to be very tough with those that don’t toe the line. The danger in substandard goods suggests that such steps are necessary. The Customs should step up their monitoring role because of the huge sub-standard products imported and brought in through the port. People should be able to go to the shops and buy a product knowing that it is good, instead of worrying about fakes. This was how it used to be, and it can still be so with more efforts by the authorities,” Dimka added.

In explaining their relationship with NAFDAC in relation to speculations from different quarters that NAFDAC as a sister agency is more effective in their roles than SON, Odumodu said that NAFDAC is not really a sister agency to SON because SON’s mandate is primarily to elaborate standards and to ensure that those standards are enforced.

“We elaborate standards for everything including what NAFDAC regulates. NAFDAC is a regulatory agency, we have a two-step approach; we are a national standards body for Nigeria and anything that relates to standards comes directly under the auspices of SON,” he said. Enunciating further, he noted, “However, because the law has empowered you to write standards, you must also be involved in enforcing those standards otherwise it will be difficult. For example, on standard for tyres, even if you buy a new tyre and put it in your house or maybe in your shop; after four years it expires and you cannot use it again.

“We work with NAFDAC when it comes to food and drugs because that is their specialty. Some people say there is overlapping of functions and I tell them “no, there is no such thing”. I give you an example: if my people go to Abeokuta and see a company that is brewing snaps under a very clear unhygienic condition. Would you want them to come back first to inform NAFDAC that something is happening there? We seal it right away and inform NAFDAC to follow up because it is their job. So, because we understand the technicalities and we are involved in enforcing standards, we can do practically everything.

“We work in collaboration with other government agencies such as NCC for telecoms, Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Agency (NERC) on generators, etcetera. We are everywhere because it is a very wide scope that we have to work in. Nigerians are poorly informed. Maybe, I should also say something about the Consumer Protection Council (CPC) because somebody may say we are doing CPC’s job or CPC is doing our job. In any system, you have the supply and demand end. We are responsible for the supply end of the economy, while CPC is responsible for the demand end. But we meet at a point. The market is where the exchange process takes place.

“For example, if you want to buy an electronic product, you go to the market. You pick up a product whether SON certified or not, CPC has informed consumers or not. So, at the end of the day, I also have a responsibility to the consumers because that is one clear way to measure whether Nigerians are appreciating the imperative of standardisation.

“Sometimes, I work into a shop and watch Nigerians shop. Have you ever observed that the average Nigerian does not read what he is buying? He takes even products that do not have expiry dates and keeps throwing them into the basket.

“But as you look on, maybe in a shop in Abuja, you see one coloured man, not even a European, maybe a Chinese or Indian. He picks up a product and takes his time looking at the label as if he is going to take an exam on what he is reading. Why? He comes from an environment where people understand the imperative of standard. The standard is that every product must have an expiry date, it must be so labelled, and the label must be clearly legible and so on.

“For example, there are bulbs that are meant to last for 100 hours; and then a Nigerian takes it and puts in his house. 100 hours is just about four days. Then after four days, it goes off. Meanwhile, the producer has met the standard because he already told you ‘this bulb will last 100 hours’. And you take it thinking it will last you for six months. Sorry; it is because you didn’t read the label. It’s about information and that is why we are going back to the basics.

“Today, I am happy that the awareness level for tyres is over 60 per cent. We may not run adverts on it for a while, only reminder adverts because everybody already knows. We do walks and we had one in Awka recently. We pick people with bad tyres and it is usually done with public transports. They tell you ‘we can’t afford new ones’.

“Talking about affordability; I saw an old woman trying to fix tyres to her car. And I said ‘mama this tyre is not good’. She replied, ‘my son, don’t worry God will see us through’. She went ahead to fix the tyres. I won’t drag her down out of the car, all anyone can do is to inform people but at the end of the day, the consumer is the one to take a decision. We as consumers are the ones who must take responsibility for our lives, for our safety and for the performance of the products that we buy.

Still on affordability, I also did a study with bulbs. I selected 20 consumers who do not live in the same part of the country. I asked each to designate a portion in their homes and go to the market, buy any type of bulb and put there. Anytime it burns just replace another. At the end of three months, I asked them how many times they had changed the bulb. Some bought bulbs that cost N100.

From the results we found Nigeria spends about N500bn annually on bulbs. A normal bulb may cost N500 and Nigerian standard allows for 1000 hours, which is three months.

We found out people actually double the amount they need on bulbs. We did not factor in the cost of travelling to buy them, just the inconvenience involved and even the accidents that could happen when you are trying to change. Substandard products do not cost any less, just that people are not informed. We need to do a massive advocacy on consumer rights, knowledge and most importantly, standards. If people do not understand standards, then we would be wasting our time,” Odumodu said.

Uche Joe Anigbata, a public affairs analyst based in Lagos strongly urged the Federal Government to reverse the decision in which SON was removed from the ports.

He said, “If government can really identify the gravity of the fake and substandard goods, estimate its size and multi-dimensional nature as well as correctly weigh its multiple socio-economic costs and effects on Nigerians and the economy, it would certainly discover the urgent need to return SON to the ports.”

The cankerworm called fake and substandard goods is seriously eating deep into the fabrics of Nigeria with major consequences. Lives and property are lost due to building collapse and fire outbreaks occasioned by substandard electrical and building materials. Substandard tyres and other fake motor spare parts have sent many people to their untimely graves.

“Nigerians are not getting value for their money because it is spent on substandard goods that cannot stand the test of time. On the average, Nigerians may be spending about five times more money and time maintaining these products because of their poor quality.

“Added to these, is the undue pressure that substandard goods bring to bear on the environment. As a result of the high frequency of replacements caused by the use of poor quality materials and considering the fact that we have a poor recycling culture, our environment is always littered and over-burdened with replaced and unusable parts. The chain effect of environmental pressure and pollution as a result of this problem as it relates to our farmlands, marine and aquatic life, blockage of our canals and drainage channels calls for serious attention on the part of government,” Anigbata explained.

He decried the rate of dumping substandard goods in the country, adding that it was creating a disincentive to production and investment, thereby negating the whole essence of the protection of infant industries. He said many Nigerian businessmen and women who risk importing quality goods are fast closing down because they cannot compete with the fake products dumped in the country from Asia.

According to Anigbata, “a typical scenario is where a Chinese company manufactures a product for a Nigerian at a relatively fair quality and almost at the same time produces the same product for another Nigerian importer at a reduced quality. Due to low consumer awareness, these products get into the Nigerian market and sell at the same price, making the man that insists on bringing in quality goods to incur losses. In some cases, these foreigners play the role of importers, wholesalers, retailers and clearing agents at the ports, thereby jeopardising our national interest.

“Where lies the survival of Nigerian businesses if Chinese and Indians with their Nigerian collaborators are allowed to perpetually flood our markets with fake and substandard products at large, medium and small scale with impunity. SON has synergy advantage in the port. Other security agencies like the Police, Navy, Air Force, State Security Service are at the ports. The Customs, Immigration, Quarantine, NAFDAC and NDLEA are visibly at the ports.

“Bearing in mind the enormous problem posed by this growing economic ailment, SON needs to be present at the ports in order to nip these nefarious activities in the bud. It can also tap the advantage of their cooperation in the pursuit of its tasks at the ports by working closely with them. Such cooperation is not the same when SON operates outside the ports.

“The geographical size of the country, the poor consumer awareness and the obvious security challenges make it difficult for SON to confront the problem in the open market,” he said.

Anigbata pointed out that though SON no doubt could have come under criticisms while at the ports due to poor quality performance, lack of integrity and transparency in the performance of its duties, the poor enlightenment and training on the economic importance of its task for the staff on how to achieve zero tolerance on the issue of fake and substandard products, especially on such life threatening items as electrical, tyres, building materials and other items were responsible for the apathy.

“Considering the circumstances of the Nigerian situation, system and environment, can SON achieve any reasonable measure of success in fighting this ill if it does not operate within the nation’s sea and airports? The answer is no. Government should therefore, as a matter of urgency, put the necessary law in place in order to return SON to the ports”, he insisted.

Barrister Clement Udegbe canvassed for more education on the purpose and objectives of SON when he said that, “The work of SON needs to be known by all and sundry through more education, campaign, and more information to the consuming public. The cooperation between SON and the consumer protection agencies needs to be enhanced in the interest of the people. SON on its part cannot continue to treat symptoms by destroying the importers’ goods alone, which only impoverishes Nigerians.

“The battle must now be carried beyond our borders to China and Asia. Our President visited China with a very powerful delegation recently, and a top parliamentary official from China also visited Nigeria too. They should be telling themselves the truth about the need to start punishing exporters of fake and substandard products to Nigeria,”Barrister Udegbe counseled.