Nigeria is regarded as an import dependent and consumer nation. We consume less than we produce. Our appetite for consumption and the huge population explains why the country is also considered a dumping ground. In fact, it is believed that you can sell anything in Nigeria with the right marketing and sales plan. As a result, all manners of substandard products are imported into the county. But the agencies in charge of maintaining quality and standards in the country have been noticeable in fighting this narrative. Essentially, the country may not have attained the desired status in our fight against substandard products that are daily imported into the country, but the SON has not been unnoticed in discharging its responsibilities. In the past, the standards agency had officers in the nation’s seaports where they carry out inspection on imported goods. However, their presence did not lead to a reduction in the number of substandard products that are imported into the country.
As part of efforts to promote the ease of doing business at the nation’s ports and in line with the mandate of the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC), the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) last year asked officers of the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) to vacate the ports or risk being arrested. According to NPA, the agencies allowed representation at the ports are Nigerian Ports Authority; Nigeria Customs Service; Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency; Nigeria Police; Department of State Security; Nigerian Immigration Service, Port Health and the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency.
It is no longer news that one of the major factors against the ease of doing in business in the nation’s ports is the multiplicity of government agencies. Apart from the duplicity of effort, many of these agencies are notorious for exploiting consignees. It is basic knowledge that one of the fastest and most effective ways to create a business friendly environment in the port is to trim the number of agencies in the ports. It is on this premise that we strongly commend the efforts by the Federal Government to promote the ease of doing business in the port and the decision to reduce the number of agencies in the ports. However, there have been clamours in some quarters for the return of SON to the ports purportedly to ensure efficient inspection of imported products.
We believe that the return of SON to the ports is tantamount to taking Nigeria back to the old detrimental way of conducting business in the ports. The presence of SON or any of the other evicted agencies at the ports will further add to delayed cargo clearance, which negates the whole drive to ease business processes at the port.
SON must up its game in the manner it fights substandard goods in the society. It must discharge its role without hampering trade and impacting negatively on cargo delivery at the port. There is already an offshore conformity assessment programme called Standards Organisation of Nigeria Conformity Assessment Program (SONCAP), which importers are mandated to pay for. The primary objective of this programme is to ensure that products exported to Nigeria from other countries meet minimum safety requirements and standards. Logically, the more efficient thing to do is to strengthen SONCAP such that substandard products can be detected from the point of export before they arrive Nigeria. It is also important for SON to automate their processes in order to attain greater efficiency.
If we are truly committed to ensuring efficient port operations, then we must stick to reducing the number of agencies in the ports. Those that have been asked to leave the ports should continue discharging their responsibilities to the nation outside the ports. There is no need for SON to return to the ports. Their physical presence at the port did not, and will certainly not reduce the importation of substandard goods.
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