SON without Odumodu
Except the Buhari administration thinks and acts fast to appropriately fill the gap created with the sudden removal of the Director General, Dr. Joseph Odumodu in the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), the success recorded so far by the agency in the fight against counterfeit industrial products in Nigeria would be a waste and we return to square one. You don’t stop the fight when your enemy is determined to launch more deadly onslaughts. Odumodu succeeded in making SON a household name, which was not the case before.
Product counterfeiters have become even more daring and are not leaving any stone unturned in their determined effort to rake millions on the skull of Nigerians. Everybody, without exception, is a potential victim. One can be caught up with adulterated food, drink, medicines or building collapse and a host of other avenues through which fake products get around us daily.
It is advisable that Dr. Odumodu should be allowed to complete the critical product standardisation laboratories he was building to give Nigeria edge over product counterfeiters. Without Odumodu and the zeal and passion he has demonstrated, everything would come to an end and we lose a historic opportunity to move forward in product standardisation. We are in a country where there is no continuity in governance; projects are abandoned once the initiator is not there.
It is amazing that more than five decades after independence, Nigeria has no product standardisation laboratories and most of our export products don’t meet international quality standard and are not acceptable outside the shores of Nigeria. I was living in Nairobi, Kenya in mid-90s, when some business guys were importing Nigeria’s star beer (mini and big bottles) into Kenya and the products were seized by that country’s customs on the ground that the beer did not meet international standard.
The guys who imported the beers suffered huge losses. But Nigeria is the headquarters of the faceless “international union of product counterfeiter” and also the world’s largest dumping ground for second hand goods.
The war against product counterfeiting is like the war against corruption; it is a matter of life and death. Not every person can do it. Only those with passion, who are willing to sacrifice, can be appointed to do the fight. Consequently, not every civil servant or political appointee could be assigned to fight vicious counterfeiters, which is the job SON and NAFDAC are doing. While it is within the power of the president to hire and fire, that should be done with circumspection in the national interest. Unless the interest of the country is not the priority and not considered, those doing a good job should be allowed to at least complete the task they have at hand.
Consider the numerous building collapses that have wreaked havoc in different parts of the country in recent times with Lagos as the epicentre, which were attributed to the use of substandard building materials manufactured or imported by counterfeiters. Consider the collapse of the six-storey building in Lekki, the other day, that killed 35 people or the six-storey The Synagogue Church building in Ikotun-Egbe in 2014, all in Lagos, in which some 115 people perished, including 84 South Africans. Apart from the billions that have been destroyed in the ugly incidents, The Synagogue Church infamy tarnished Nigeria’s image before the international community. The matter is still pending in court, even as different litigants affected by the disaster keep suing the church.
While corruption and product counterfeiting are on the same scale as “weapons of mass destruction”, the other thing that can be compared with product counterfeiters is Boko Haram. The two groups are engaged in a war of total extermination of the citizenry. They don’t care who dies as a result of their cruel actions.
Whereas Boko Haram came out openly to confront the Nigerian state and its people and have snuffed life out of over 10,000 people since 2009, counterfeiters and manufacturers of substandard products, on the other hand, are engaged in a more sadistic and silent destructive war against the people. They have maimed, killed and exterminated uncountable number of innocent people since independence. While some people may escape Boko Haram onslaught, everybody is at the mercy of product counterfeiters.
For instance, one may unknowingly take a medication to get well but instead dies or suffers debilitating effects from its adverse reaction. Another person may be sleeping or relaxing in a building and it collapses over his or her head. Yet another person may buy fake vehicle spare part that puts the person and members of the public in harm way on the road.
While Boko Haram is a relatively recent development, product counterfeiters have over the years ravaged all of us. As far as I can remember, product counterfeit started in the 1960s, shortly after independence. I started hearing about Aba Made or Igbo kpuru (counterfeit) as a child during the war in the 60s. The counterfeiters gained enough ground and graduated from local to international merchants because there was no government intervention.
Today, product counterfeiters have factories running in China, India and many Southeast Asian countries from where they ship fake products to Nigeria. Consequently, it would be suicidal for Nigeria to play politics over who heads SON and NAFDAC, the two agencies leading the fight against our common enemies. The way nothing was done to curb drugs and food counterfeiting for 43 years until Mrs. Dora Akunyili came to wage a ferocious war against the perpetrators is the way nothing was done to curb fakers of industrial products until Dr. Joseph Odumodu took control.
Before now, Nigerians did not know the difference in bags of cement in terms of quality and use. It was the SON’s battle under Odumodu that exposed the whole truth to the public. Thus, for the first time in the history of this country, cement bags now bear labels that denote their quality and construction use. Unlike before, people now ask and look at the quality mark inscribed on the bag of cement before purchasing.
Finally the introduction of four new logos including SONCAP and MANCAP to certify imported and locally manufactured products is a revolution. Only a man like Odumodu can implement these anti-counterfeit initiatives in the public interest.
This column will be on break for some weeks