One of the barometers for measuring the level of economic development and improvement in the quality of lives of the citizenry of a country, is the quality of the standards of goods and services produced and consumed in that country. This is because, standards and other means used in providing quality goods and services for both domestic and foreign markets are critical for the development of any economy, its competitiveness and wealth creation as well as the health of its citizens.
For these reasons, the World Bank and the United Nations Industrial Development Organisations (UNIDO), see these factors as being crucial in economic development and serve as proofs that a government is committed to the welfare of its citizens. The philosophy behind this is that while the focus is on building a resilient economy, the need for quality and standards must not be glossed over as they also serve as evidence of good governance.
It is, therefore, against this backdrop that the first national standardisation strategy unveiled, recently, by the federal government can be appreciated. In furtherance of the government's economic diversification policy, the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment (FMITI), announced the first ever Nigerian National Standardisation Strategy (NNSS) 2020 - 2022.
The strategy ,which was developed by the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), an agency under the FMITI, is designed to identify priority areas to focus on, based on national needs assessment.
To this effect, the SON Governing Council approved 168 new Standards for publication and dissemination to various sectors of the nation's economy in furtherance of the ongoing economic diversification policy. In a virtual meeting, chaired from Abuja by the Permanent Secretary of FMITI, Nasir Sani-Gwarzo, put the Federal Government seal on the new strategy, enabling the SON to identify priority areas to focus on.
Sani-Gwarzo said the document is accompanied by a National Implementation Plan that gives orientation for national standardisation work within the three years duration, even as he identified 658 standardisation projects in key priority areas classified by economic sectors as highlighted in Federal Government's Economic Recovery Growth Plan (ERGP), the Nigerian Industrial Revolution Plan (NIRP) and other related national strategic plans.
The SON Council Chairman described the establishment of the NNSS as an outstanding and epoch- making achievement of the Director General and his management, for which the council gave a unanimous commendation.
On the implementation of the strategy, as stated in the document, apart from the support of the parent ministry, the work programme will be aligned with relevant regional, continental and international standards development organisations to make it relevant as an enabler for Nigeria to enter the global market.
Standards development is demand/stakeholder driven because with improvement in technology and innovation, demands for standards increases. However, there is always the constraint of inadequate availability of resources (human and financial), resulting in the need to focus on national priority areas in order to use the available resources to develop standards on most important topics.
The Director General of SON, Osita Aboloma, who spoke to the media enumerated the 168 standards approved by the council as 64 for Electrical/Electronic products; 53 for Chemical Technology; 47 for Food and Agricultural products; 3 for Civil/Building Technology products as well as the reviewed standard for Hotel and Serviced Accommodation Management System and Rating - Requirements and Guidance for Use. All sectors of the economy are included in the NNSS.
Aboloma highlighted some of the standards as including review of standards for fertilizers, review of existing and development of new standards for the tomato and cassava value chains, adoption of international standards on environmental testing and adoption of international recommendations for renewable energy and hybrid systems for rural electrification among many others.
He assured that the approved standards would be published promptly while awareness programmes will be carried out with relevant sectoral stakeholders, to encourage voluntary uptake of the standards across industries, even as he reiterated that the newly approved 168 Nigerian Industrial Standards cut across various products and services and are of great economic, regulatory and industrial importance for Nigeria.
An analysis of the importance of the NNSS reveals that it would enable the country to develop standards in a most effective way, using available resources in the most efficient manner. It will, also, lead to a more focused approach on standards development activities that offers an opportunity to develop standards in line with national needs based on stakeholders needs and the present government policies towards economic growth just as it leads to continuous availability of required standards that support the implementation of national strategic priorities/plans resulting in sustainable development and economic growth.
It will bring about improved drive in the industrialisation of small and medium scale enterprises (MSMEs) as it supports MSMEs to take advantage of availability of required standards to meet regulatory requirements. It will also lead to increased use of standards by both public and private sectors as basis for regulation to address issues of public policy (health, safety, the environment, among others) and as reference for legal agreements in the form of contracts.
As a country, the strategy will assist Nigeria to increase market confidence, play a meaningful role in the international market, open innovation and bring standards in the daily lives of all Nigerians in order to improve the quality of life.
The NNSS 2020-22 becomes relevant, now, when viewed against the backdrop of the fact that Nigeria has signed the agreement to participate in the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). The continental free trade is expected to accelerate intra-African trade and boosting Africa's trading position in the global market by strengthening Africa's common voice and policy space in global trade negotiations. Intra-Africa trade has been historically low: 16.6 per cent of total exports in 2017, compared with 68 per cent in Europe and 59 per cent in Asia, pointing to untapped potential. The agreement is seen critical for growth and job creation for Africa and its 1.27 billion people.
Nigeria stands to gain from this continental initiative. It means that manufacturers in Nigeria can produce goods locally and get them across borders to sell in markets beyond Nigeria, without having to pay any duty. The cornerstone of the AfCFTA is the promise for zero tariffs for over 90 per cent of goods traded between African countries.
Tariffs by design are set to inhibit freedom of goods, making it less competitive for exporters with a high cost of production when compared to locally made goods. By eliminating them, businesses in Nigeria can reduce the cost price of their goods, thereby making them even more competitive across markets.
Already, the government has increased the power of SON to carry out its statutory functions. For instance, the SON Act of 2015 enacted for the purpose of providing additional functions for the organisation, increasing penalty for violations; and for related matters is already in place meaning that the agency does not have any problems regarding enforcement of standards.
But Nigeria needs to take a critical look at her quality infrastructure. For NNSS to yield positive results, it is very necessary to make a critical assessment at the nation's quality infrastructure as part of the part of NNSS 2020-22, if its objectives are to be fully achieved. Nigeria needs to strengthen her quality infrastructure to prepare the country for AfCFTA and global competition.
For instance, Nigeria needs functioning testing laboratories to avoid going to Ghana and other neighbouring countries that have functioning laboratories, to test local products for exports. Also, metrology, the science of accurate measurement, which provides critical support to all other arms of the national quality infrastructure project, namely standards development, conformity assessment, testing, accreditation among others, needs to be put in place. Metrology ensures accuracy of measurements in industry, trade and commerce, hence it is very imperative. With it, equipment and measuring instruments calibration in Nigeria can be obtained faster than when all secondary standards of measurement were only traceable to foreign metrology bodies.
SON, currently, owns a National Metrology Institute (NMI) in Enugu that works to ensure that accuracy of measurements in industry, trade and commerce is being expanded to all parts of Nigeria to promote rapid industrialisation through standardisation. The organisation has also expanded its calibration capacities to Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt in order to bring its services nearer to stakeholders across the country and ensure great reduction in turnaround time.
It was gathered that NMI has developed capacity in primary standards of measurement in volume, flow, pressure, length and dimension, mass, force, temperature, electrical and metrology in chemistry amongst others for traceability of all secondary standards of measurement in Nigeria and the West African Region.
Now, many large-scale industries across Nigeria patronise NMI in the periodic calibration of their weighbridges, testing and measuring equipment to their benefit in ensuring accuracy, thus meeting requirements of applicable Nigerian Industrial Standards (NIS). SON, therefore, wants the organised private sector bodies like the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), the National Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA) and others can encourage their members to patronise the NMI for efficient calibration services and quicker turnaround time.
As part of the effort to upgrade the quality infrastructure in the country, the agency said it has been working in collaboration with other Ministries, Agencies and Departments of government as well as development partners to develop the National Quality Infrastructure to cater for the free movement of goods and services in Africa.
Its Director General enumerated some of the National Quality Infrastructure projects already delivered by SON as including a NMI nearing completion in Enugu, international accreditation of SON laboratories, its training and management systems certification services as well as on-going automation of all services to stakeholders. These he said, are aimed at promoting the ease of doing business in and with Nigeria.
With regards to unforeseen developments, the Director of Standards Development at SON, Chinyere Egwuonwu, said the NNSS and the associated work programme are living documents and will be constantly updated and improved to ensure that they remain in line with current conditions and stakeholders' expectations.
She added that the success of the NNSS depends on continued input from all stakeholders, active participation of the key stakeholders (in both public and private sectors) in the development of the planned standards, adequate funding for the national standardisation programme and the uptake of the resultant Standards by the business community and policy makers.