Jonathan Eze writes that the new Standards Organisation of Nigeria Act will empower the agency to do more in the war against sub-standard products in the country.
It is no news that fake products have dominated the market space and even those that are allegedly 'original' are paraded for sale even though they fall below standard. Consequently, there was, without doubt, a need to ensure quality control of manufactured and imported products in Nigeria as the high volume of substandard products either manufactured or imported into the country have continued to have deadly implications on the health of Nigerians and in some cases, resulted in loss of life and property.
It was in the light of this that stakeholders, over the year, have been clamouring for amendment or total overhauling of the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) Act, 2004. This clamour is largely due to the fact that the SON Act, 2004 as it was, did next to nothing in ensuring that standards relating to products are being met. This was due in part to the fact that the Law did not impose strict penalties for offences and also saddled the officers of the organisation with minimal functions and powers.
It was in a bid to cure the 'defects' in the SON Act, 2004 that the Standards organisation of Nigeria Act of 2015 (the "Act"), was enacted. The Act was enacted for the purpose of providing additional functions for the organisation, increasing penalty for violations; and for related matters. The Act also repeals the Standards organisation of Nigeria Act Cap 59 Laws or the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
The SON Act, 2015 maintained, to a large extent, the provisions of the SON Act, 2004. It however added some major provisions to ensure efficacy of the organisation, more stringent penalties for offences and so-on. Some of the salient provisions introduced are as follows:
Additional Functions of the Council
A statutory Organisation can only function to the extent of the ability (Powers and functions) conferred upon it by the enabling statute. Thus, the first thing the SON Act, 2015 did to properly position and equip the Organisation to function optimally was to increase its function.
The Act expands the scope of duties of SON by vesting the Council with additional powers. For instance, the Act has saddled the organisation with the responsibility of evaluation of quality assurance activities, including certification of systems, products and laboratories throughout Nigeria.
Similarly, the organisation has now been empowered to impose fees, fines or penalties on a person who contravenes any import or export surveillance, certification or conformity assessment scheme. They are also, amongst others, given the additional responsibility to undertake registration of all manufactured products distributed, marketed and consumed throughout Nigeria; carry out training and undertake the accreditation of training institutions and organisations for purposes of international standards such as ITU, IEC, ISO, OIML, or Codex, standards or system certification throughout Nigeria; establish a register for National standards, Standard Marks, Certification Systems and Licences into which all matters relating to standards referred to under the Act shall be entered; undertake appropriate investigations into the production premises and raw materials and establish relevant quality assurance systems, including certification of the production sites for regulated products; and administer and enforce the provisions of the Act.
As seen above, quite a number of the additional functions introduced by the Act are to assist the organisation in being more proactive in the prevention of substandard products in Nigeria.
The organisation has also been given an oversight function. The Act provides that for the purpose of uniformity of standards in Nigeria, all regulatory agencies or organisations dealing with matters pertaining to or related to standards shall do so in collaboration with the SON.
Speaking at a stakeholders' sensitisation workshop in Jimeta, Yola, capital of Adamawa State, last week, the SON DG, Osita Aboloma, described the Act as a revolutionary document which has been deployed to carry out massive measures towards delivering on its mandate to sanitise the Nigerian landscape, markets, everywhere, of unwholesome products.
"Let me inform you that the big hauls of seizures which the agency made recently is testimonial that we mean business by harnessing to the fullest the enormous powers which the Act has accorded us, "
According to him, within the last few months, the standards body has confiscated fake and sub-standard products worth billions of Naira across the country, maintaining that it had since embarked on arraignment and trial at the various courts of some of the suspects linked with the impounded goods.
"We are not resting on our oars. We therefore appeal to all to be aware of the Act, comply with its provisions particularly areas dealing with how operators should do the right thing for their businesses to grow," he advised.
He however, stated that the work of standardisation is to grow Micro, Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (MSMEs), promote agro-allied sector, as well as ensure industrial and economic development, saying that this became imperative to engage stakeholders in different sectors of the economy.
In his words, "We need to use the instrumentality of SON Act NO.14 2015 to attain economic development. We are spreading our tentacles to the states and geo-political zones. Product counterfeiters have no place to hibernate. With the re-invigorated monitoring and enforcement strategies we are putting in place, our dragnet will get economic saboteurs anywhere, anytime," he said.
He pointed out that the theme of the workshop, 'SON Act 2015: Catalyst for economic development' was indeed germane and quite in tune with the current efforts by the federal government to turn around the nation's economy.
"We decided to conduct nationwide stakeholders sensitisation workshops on the Act not only in order to enlighten people on the provisions of the Act but equally to strengthen stakeholders' engagement and collaborations. The positive outcomes and impact of the sensitisation exercises in places where they have been conducted so far have been so encouraging. This forum would therefore not be different in eliciting attention and challenging participants on the issues to be raised by our competent facilitators and resources persons," he stressed.
A Principal Partner of Agbonhese, Agbonhese & Co, Dr. James Agbonhese, in his presentation tagged "SON ACT 2015: Vehicle For Quality and Standard Products" explained that the new Act was a remarkable improvement on the old Act which gave SON extremely limited powers to pursue its mandate.
On his part, the Chairman, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), North East Zone-Alhaji Ahmed Jarma, pointed out that the socio- economic, health and safety implications of the protracted menace of substandard products in the country necessitated the need for a specific date to ensure that Nigeria is totally free from the dangerous reality.
Hence, he stressed that all stakeholders and indeed all Nigerians-must join hands with SON in the national quest that substandard products-whether imported or locally manufactured- are no more in the country's shores and that Nigeria is on the path to sustainable economic growth.
Jarma insisted that the consequences of the prevalence of substandard products in the country are so devastating that nothing short of his recommendation would do.
In Lagos, Aboloma added another angle to it. He stated that its reinvigorated SON Act 2015 is aimed at revamping the nation's ailing industries while also creating an enabling environment to attract both local and foreign direct investments into the country.
He explained that with the proper implementation of the SON Act 2015, the business community and industries would grow, bringing about massive job creation and employment, while also creating a market for certified Made-in Nigeria products globally.
The SON boss stated that concerted efforts are been made to bring back the industries that hitherto dotted the landscape of Lagos, Aba, Port-Harcourt, Ibadan, Benin City, Kano, Kaduna and other cities in Nigeria, stressing that the standards body is currently deploying the use of standardisation and quality assurance to boost Nigeria's industrialisation drive.
Aboloma who was represented by the Director, Inspectorate and Compliance, SON, Bede Obayi, said the essence of Ease of Doing Business initiative by federal government is to drive business and industrial growth across the country, stating that creating an enabling environment would promote steady growth and development.
"With standardisation, we want to ensure industrial Speaking at growth, we need to make Nigeria emerge as an investment destination and hub in sub-Saharan Africa. "We, at SON, want to empower and strengthen the growth of MSMEs. We have already started doing this, we are granting waivers to over one million SMEs on their products registration and certifications. We must endeavour to put in place structures and policies that would enable us to be exporting finished goods than raw materials," he said.
In his words, "Industrialisation would create enough jobs for our teeming population and guarantee development. In achieving these, the federal government is paying due attention to the manufacturing sector. The national clinics for MSMEs operators, EODB, PEBEC, ERGP, among others are geared towards industrial growth."
"Therefore, using the instrumentality of the Act, Nigeria should be able to attain industrial development via standardisation, quality assurance and control as well as monitoring and compliance.
The Act stresses the need for all stakeholders to be involved and carried along in its implementation (hence the need for sensitisation workshops which we have embarked upon. Therefore it is a clear proof of our determination to engage in robust public-private partnership that works," he said.
Also speaking at the event, the Director General, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Muda Yusuf, said issues of non- compliance to standards is an ethical issue, saying that unfortunately for the country the unethical players are crowding out the ethical players.
He however, called on the federal government to support the standards body with adequate funds, saying that logistics requirement across the country is very huge while also stressing that if the funding is inadequate it would hinder SON to deliver its very important mandate of sanitising the nation's market of fake and substandard goods.
"My appeal to government is that we need to scale up the funding of SON because the responsibility is so huge and the budgetary allocation must be commensurate with these responsibilities," he said.