Dr. Paul Angya is the Acting Director General/Chief Executive of Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON). In this interview with Economic Confidential Editor, EWACHE AJEFU, he speaks on consumer safety and protection in addition to industrial development and national economic prosperity…
How has it been so far at SON?
Well everything is new; old but new, in the sense that our institution is as good as the leadership – that includes the dynamism. We have come to the office with new zeal and determined effort. And having been in the system as a staff for a period of about seventeen years, and been an architect of most of the strategic plans; and knowing the challenges of the institution, I have come to the office with the desire to turn around the fortunes of the SON. Of course, over the last few years, and most recently, there have been some kinds of backsliding by the organisation in terms of delivering on its mandate.
There are some institutional and policy challenges, especially on some complaints about substandard products and goods coming into the country and rising to intolerable levels. Apart from that impunity was beginning to creep in by our importers and dealers in products. And our coming in at this time is with the desire to change things for the better.
No doubt it requires a lot of hard work, initiatives and strategies to rescue the nation from the prevalence of substandard products and its concomitant negative consequences, namely national economic collapse with the attendant loss of jobs and closure of industries. Employment and loss of foreign exchange earnings are part of the consequences.
In the short time we have been here, we have engaged critical sectors like the standardisation, manufacturers, steel rolling industries, architects, block moulders, builders, importers, maritime sector as they are responsible for imports of products whether quality or substandard. We have sought to turn around these apart from enlightening them and read the riot act to them. We have also conducted awareness programme and sensitisation across the various states of the federation.
In the course of these duties, we have carried out raids on dealers of fake and substandard goods, sealed and shut down factories, seized substandard products coming from overseas, and strengthening existing programmes like the offshore conformity assessment (SONCAP) and the internal certification programmes (MANCAP). We are taking a look at the staff welfare, and paid them promptly in line with their conditions of service. There have been stagnated and long overdue promotions which we have rectified and I can assure you that staff are now bubbling with zeal and enthusiasm. So, we have brought a lot of new initiatives to bear on our assignments and results are already showing.
NAFDAC and SON’s seeming conflict over overlapping functions
Well, I keep telling people, like recently we had an engagement with Nigeria Association of Optometricians and they were seeking partnerships to sanitise the sector, like the optical equipment, eye glasses, lenses and even drugs being imported into the country are substandard and needed the assistance of SON. I told them that it was a good opportunity to let the world know the basis of cooperation between standardisation, medicines and drugs. And people keep asking about the relationship between NAFDAC, SON and for those who are not educated will look at these things as confusing. For those who are mischievous, they do this deliberately. But I keep telling people that there is no confusion.
Standardisation is an all-encompassing subject and touches all aspect of life. And believe me standards are the core of life. Everything about life depends on standards. Even the creation itself is about standards, including the foetus being carried by the mother. Even business agreements must be based on standards. So, it is not different from foods and medicines.
So, the law establishing SON empowers it to look at standards involving both foods and medicines and what have you. So, the responsibility of SON is to define standards and make specifications. It is from our own that NAFDAC draws their own parameters and regulate those same products. So, it’s a symbiotic relationship. One leads to another. You need an egg before you can have a chicken. So, SON is the foundation of NAFDAC existence. The difference is that NAFDAC is restricted to food, drugs and chemicals only. So, anything about standard is regulated by SON and touches almost everything in life. So, SON is an octopus.
Most of these institutional conflicts are largely driven by the egos of individuals and that is how it has been, especially during the reign of President Olusegun Obasanjo where NAFDAC was making complaints about other agencies, not particularly SON, but also NDLEA, NESREA and others infringing on their mandates. So, the administration then set up a committee to review the position and came out with solutions. We were charged from SON to make our positions known. SON’s position was accepted by government and went to operate our business as usual. Such incidences no longer flare up with better understanding. We both clearly understand our symbiotic relationship and Nigeria is better for it.
Clientele’s response on products’ certification
I can assure you that the response is fantastic. There is growing demand in product certification because we have created such much awareness on the benefits of standardisation and certification. The agencies that have certification are reaping the benefits because this would give them a certain level of confidence and guarantee especially on what they produce. This will also show in their profit margins, apart from integrity and reputation in the market. On the SMEs, certification will promote them in terms of initiatives promoted by government on both national and international arena in the area of funding. Now, as we speak, whether it is national or global thinking, any business that wants to assess any type of funding must be certified. This is because if you don’t have it, you can’t fly. Our certification is receiving both attention and commendation.
Products seized, destroyed in last 12 months
Our statistics have shown that over the last twelve months, there have an increase in the number of products that have been seized. Even our annual report is not yet out, but I can tell you that over N1.6 billion worth of goods were seized and destroyed. These include substandard tyres, electrical cables, iron rods, LPG gas cylinders, electronics, cookers, motor spare parts, fire extinguishers, and several others. So, over a period of twelve months a lot have been done.
Focus for SON
Going further, we want a society where substandard products no longer threaten their health and the economy of the nation, where people will imbibe the concept and tenets of standardisation. I want to deliver a society that would be able to produce a product that conforms to standards and attract both to national and international community. I want a situation where quality infrastructure are put in place so that Nigeria products are tested and certified overseas and I want to deliver on our mantra of made in Nigeria for the world!
A Nigeria product that would be manufactured and sold anywhere in the world is my concern for now. I want a situation where Nigeria would not be derided anymore and seize to be a dumping ground. In fact, I want to assist the country in diversifying her economy from relying wholly on oil to exporting both agro and manufactured products and conform to standards.
Relationship with international development partners
We have a lot of development partners and standardisation partners. You know standardisation is a global thing. You can’t catch it and pin it down to borders. For you to sell, you must sell to somebody and anyone producing must do it according to standards. So, we have standard organisations in the national to regional, sub-regional and international; several United Nations’ agencies like UNIDO, UNICEF. Then we have USAID, DFID, WHO, Food Codex an arm of FAO making food standards and the secretariat resides in SON. And all these are working on different projects and initiatives with us. Right now UNIDO is involved in a project to grow industrial capacity for the country and trade with the outside world.
The way forward is for an enlightened citizenry. We need an enlightened citizenry because no matter what and how we have done and citizens cannot receive communication that standards are the core of life, the nothing yet. They must embrace standards and identify products that are of standards. And where they cannot identify standards, they should seek assistance and imbibe the quality culture and demand for them. People must be prepared to stand up for their rights and in that regards you must be prepared to make sacrifices so that you can get value for your money.
For us, as an agency, the way forward is education and enlightening the people. We have established standards clubs in primary and post primary schools and working to develop a curriculum on standardisation, quality and regulation to be taught in tertiary institutions so that it will not be like an alien concept when our children grow up and it will be part of our lives. It would be more difficult for people to engage substandard products in the midst of enlightened citizens. That is the way to go.