Fight Against Substandard Goods: Customs agents rally SON

Engineer Obiora Manafa, Director, Inspectorate and Compliance, delivering the speech of Barrister Osita Aboloma, Director General of SON

SONCAP portal is working perfectly – SON DG

We have lost over 20 billion to substandard goods – ANLCA

Work with CRFFN members alone, NAGAFF tells SON

By Adegboyega Oni

The fight against importation of substandard goods by the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) has received a boost as customs agents and freight forwarders in the nation’s shipping industry have unanimously pledged to comply with the tenets of the SON Conformity Assessment Programme (SONCAP) on importation of standard goods and products. The customs agents and freight forwarders also promised to educate importers on the need to make compliance their watchword.

Honourable Tony Iju Nwabunike, President, Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Dr. Eugene Nweke, former President, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), and Dr. Boniface Aniebonam, Founder of NAGAFF respectively gave the pledge in Lagos at a recent sensitization organised by the SON to educate its stakeholders on Facilitating Trade through SON’s Automation Service.

Earlier in his welcome address, Barrister Osita Aboloma, Director General of SON, maintained that the SONCAP portal had been upgraded with more benefits and is running efficiently as only those who do not want to comply with the tenets of the SONCAP go about with the excuse that SON’s system breaks down.

The SON boss whose speech was read by Engineer Obiora Manafa, Director, Inspectorate and Compliance, noted that it is wrong for any cargo to arrive in Nigerian ports without SONCAP. He said ‘’it is easier to enforce standards at the point of entry than chasing substandard products in circulation as it requires a lot of logistics and cost to track such goods and products once they are already in the system. Hence it is important for SON to be part of cargo operations in the ports.’’

Aboloma noted that SON as an organization does not derive pleasure in destroying cargo but ‘’it is our primary mandate to save Nigerians from danger of substandard products. We are not set out to destroy business or anybody but to protect and safeguard wellbeing of Nigerians.’’

The SON boss charged customs agents and freight forwarders to join the organization to sensitize their importers on compliance with the tenets of the SONCAP.     

While speaking, Honourable Tony Iju Nwabunike, ANLCA President, said customs agents could not wait further for SON to set standards for them to do the right thing as they have been victims of importation of substandard products and goods. He noted that many customs agents and freight forwarders have lost over N20billion, their hard-earned personal money, used to clear the substandard and fake goods/products unknowingly on behalf of importers which were seized and destroyed by the SON.

‘’Over time brokers have been victims of substandard importation by importers who, in some cases, failed to disclosed to us the actual content or degree of compliance with extant rules like SON Conformity Assessment Programme (SONCAP).

‘’The influx of these illicit products, in addition to being injurious to our national economy, also spells doom for our people.

‘’In view of copious challenges faced in our business, we have taken it upon ourselves to educate importers on the need for their compliance to safeguard lives and avoid losses emanating from seizures and destruction of fake and substandard goods.

‘’This task is daunting but we are not relenting because customs brokers have suffered an estimated cumulative losses amounting to over N20 billion in the last ten years for undertaking to clear goods discovered to be substandard.

‘’Upon seizure of suspected fake or substandard goods after payment of duty, it will be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than or an importer whose consignments were seized to pay you the balance of the agreed sum even after the broker has spent his money on the logistics.

‘’This is just a mild analogy of the costly price we as professionals are paying to achieve standards and build an enduring economy that will be beneficial to all,’’ said Nwabunike.     

ANLCA President who called on the Nigeria Customs Service to integrate the SON into its Nigeria Customs Information Systems (NICIS II) commended the SON for raising the bar higher in the fight against substandard and fake products.

Dr. Eugene Nweke, former President of NAGAFF, strongly advised the SON to deal with only customs agents and freight forwarders registered and certified by the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) as this will help it in identifying who is dealing with and checking of infractions in imports.

Nweke maintained that SONCAP has to be flexible to facilitate trade and be rigid to stop substandard goods while calling for transparency and equity in the process just as he stated that SON has a role to play on the standard of port access road by collaborating with engineers handling the roads.

Leaders of electronics importers and marketers from Alaba International Markets at the event pledged to work with the SON to keep with the SONCAP tenets and educate their members on the danger of fake and substandard goods.

Dr. Boniface Okechukwu Aniebonam, Founder of NAGAFF, advocated for the return of the SON to ports as the best solution to influx of substandard and fake goods and products into the country. Aniebonam who directed his address to the Alaba importers said they were brain behind continuous inflow of substandard goods into the country because of their failure to comply with the SONCAP and obey the law.

‘’Traders and importers are the major problem; they have to be compliant and obey the law. We need to do things right differently. Why SON not being in the port? SON has to be in the port to checkmate the flow of substandard goods into the society. Education is the best solution to the problem of substandard goods,’’ he submitted.

Prince Ozo Chukwurah who represented the CRFFN said the SON has to be diligent in the way it demands for samples on all cargoes for examination, saying ‘’this is too much.’’ He assured that customs agents and freight forwarders were ready to comply with the tenets of the SONCAP.

Mr. Kabir Mohammed, Director in the office of the Director General of SON, maintained that SON would continue to demand for sample as long as importers fail to provide correct information on their imports, saying that if any SON officials take more samples than necessary or permitted such officer should be reported to the SON management.

‘’We will continue to pick sample if your information are not accurate. If you don’t want us to pick sample on every consignment, kindly provide correct and genuine information in your documents. If any SON staff takes more samples than he or she is permitted, customs agents should report such officer to the SON management,’’ Mohammed said.

Making a presentation on Facilitating Trade through SON Automation Service: SONCAP Perspective, Engineer Francis Onyeji, Head, SONCAP, noted that the upgraded SONCAP portal comes with a lot of benefits than the previous one as it gives importers opportunity to track their applications, monitor import permit for Form M application. While noting that the upgraded facility reduces human contact to stop corruption and offers automated TIN verification, Onyeji advised importers and customs agents to take advantage of the upgraded facility to facilitate their trade.

In his own presentation on Facilitating Trade through SON Automation Service: Ports and Borders Perspective, Director of Ports and Borders, Engineer Yahya Ahmed Bukar said the automation of services by SON is the best way to facilitate compliance and seamless cargo clearance, charging customs agents and freight forwarders and other port stakeholders to support the organization in its efforts to sanitize the system to end importation of substandard goods and product in the country.

Engineer Bukar who took time to explain to stakeholders the procedures involved in the automation system noted that ‘’there won’t be any seizure and destruction of consignments if we can comply with the standard.’’

Speaking on the importance of compliance, Engineer Obiora Manafa, Director, Inspectorate and Compliance, called on importers, customs agents and freight forwarders to comply with the import guidelines and avoid document falsification, noting that SON only seizes or destroys cargoes that do not meet the set standards.

Manafa sounded it loudly that the Act that set up the SON empowers it to go miles to rid the society off substandard goods and products. ‘’Our Act gives us power to stop, arrest and even come to your warehouse and shops for substandard products. We don’t go outside our Act but do things rightly to protect Nigerians.’’

While advising exporters to approach SON to get their products certified before export, Engineer Manafa said the essence of the sensitization was to get stakeholders aware of the importance of standards and stop the losses arisen from product destruction. He noted that since the organization commenced sensitizing its stakeholders, the level of compliance has increased.

R-L: Engineer Yahya Ahmed Bukar, Director of Ports and Border, SON; Dr. Increase Uche, NAGAFF President; Engineer Obiora Manafa, Director of Inspectorate and Compliance, SON and a top officer of SON
L-R: Hon. Tony Iju Nwabunike, ANLCA President, and Dr. Eugene Nweke, former NAGAFF President
Dr. Boniface Okechukwu Aniebonam, NAGAFF Founder

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