By Gboyega Oni:
Has Standards Organisation of Nigeria Conformity Assessment Programme – SONCAP – become ineffectual on restraining and containing fake and substandard goods from gaining access into Nigerian market? One begins to doubt the efficacy and veracity of the instrument – SONCAP with the way and manner the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), of recent, is recording and showcasing seizures of such items. In spite of this, influx of such illegalities is still on the rise.
Why? SONCAP is an import instrument designed by SON to certify and facilitate importation of standardized goods and curtail infraction which importation of fake and substandard goods represents. Greed, to get rich quick; importers feigning ignorance of the statutory laws, and organised syndicates feeding fat on fake and substandard goods at the expense of Nigerians account for the misnomer, says Engineer Beye Obayi, Head, Inspectorate and Compliance, SON in an exclusive interview with PortNews at Apapa, Lagos.
Obayi said for the fact that some fake and substandard goods are still finding their ways into the country has not cast doubt on the veracity of SONCAP in performing its statutory mandate of standardization and containing of such items from getting to unsuspecting Nigerians.
According to him, these acts have not in any way whittled down the potency of the instrument (SONCAP), saying SON is continually going after the greedy importers, their customs agents and godfathers of the syndicates and seize their items.
On the allegation that officials of SON do compromise in the seizures of fake and substandard goods, he said the organisation has procedures for release and confiscation of goods, noting that SON was not interested in seizing goods or destroying the economy of the nation as officials follow SONCAP procedures duly while discharging their statutory operations.
“We shall continue to seize fake and substandard goods and arrest the perpetrators without compromising procedures as some unscrupulous stakeholders wont to claim that procedures leading to seizures were compromised.
“We have procedures in our operations. If we suspect any product, we carry out testing and if it is okay, we recommend to the management for release. If it fails testing, we recommend to the management for action and we carry out the decision of the management accordingly. SON, an organisation, is not interested in seizing goods or destroying the nation’s economy; we follow procedures while carrying out our operations.
“We have to correct and sanction erring importers or agents involved in such infraction. SONCAP is meant to ensure that goods coming to Nigeria are of high quality and fit for consumption by Nigerians,” Obayi said.
On an allegation that staff of SON, in connivance with some unscrupulous importers/customs agents, were recycling old SONCAP reference numbers and use them for clearing new imports, he said the onus is on the people who alleged to prove the allegation.
He said “the allegation cannot be proved; I do not know where they get their information. Onus is on them to prove. Our staff do not engage in such act.”
Speaking on the challenges facing the organisation, Obayi said many importers deliberately provided fake addresses in their import documents with the intent of evading sanctions for their misdeeds. And, according to him, this makes it difficult for officials of the organisation to trace them but we get them at the end.
He added that some importers do blame their customs agents for advising them to circumvent SONCAP extant law when they are caught, citing a case of an importer in Enugu who imported substandard tyre and was arrested saying his customs agent advised him to circumvent the law.
He charged importers against use of unprofessional customs agents who do not have names to protect, calling on them to use professional customs agents to clear their cargo rather than using quacks.
Advising further, he reiterated the need for importers and customs agents to be transparent in their declarations. Obayi also charged leadership of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) and National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) to weed out bad elements among their members, to stamp out quackery in the profession by making names of their registered members public.
He said importers and customs agents were taking advantage of the absence of the agency in the ports to perpetrate import infractions but admitted that they were on top of their action restraining substandard goods getting to Nigerians.
He said since 2011 when they were told to move out of the ports and that whenever their services needed they would be called upon, asking “who calls who? For this to be effective, it has to be spelt out. SONCAP originates from SON, and who will do the job better than SON? It is about putting our priority right. “We are not desperate to be in the ports but our team can leave our office for ports to inspect containers (goods) that have been listed for inspection by SON may be on common electronic window platform.”