Danger looms as SON loses war with fake products dealers




… 64% anti-malarial drugs substandard – WHO

‘…N612bn ICT revenue lost annually’

‘… Nigeria, target destination, transit route for counterfeit goods’

…SON failing in its mandate – Reps

… Fake products importation bane of local producers – Expert

Nigerians have continued to question the effectiveness of the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and other regulatory agencies as sub-standard and harmful products continue to find their way into the country’s markets. BENJAMIN UMUTEME takes a look at the scenario in this report.

The menace of fake products continues to be a sore thumb in Nigeria considering the havoc it has wreaked on the livelihoods of the average Nigerian businessmen over the years, even as lives have been lost in the process.

The fight to clean the country of sub-standard products dates back to several decades; however, it appears that the more effort the authorities responsible for stemming this negative tide put in, the more it seems as though they are fighting a lost cause.

Nigeria is ranked among the world’s highest markets for sub-standard goods and from unverified statistics, the country loses a lot to fake products on all fronts.

These products cut across all classes and categories of items ranging from drugs, electrical and electronic appliances and equipment, building materials, tyres and tubes, automobiles, machine spare parts, food and machines to mention a few.

Counting the cost

No sector or sphere of life is spared including the health sector as medical experts have revealed that Nigeria loses N200 billion annually to counterfeit drugs and medicines. Recent studies, which evaluated the quality of drugs globally, revealed that 9.1 per cent of drugs failed the basic quality control tests, with an estimated 16.6 per cent drug failure rate in Africa, representing about one in every six pills.

Further reports by the International Criminal Policing Association (INTERPOL) also revealed that one million people die yearly from fake and counterfeit drug. This is scary considering that the agency which should be in the vanguard of ensuring the right quality of products enter the shores of the country seem not to be up and doing.

According to them, the proliferation of counterfeit medicines continues to not only negatively impact on the nation’s economy, but also the society.

A market survey by pharmaceutical giants Pfizer revealed that 40 per cent of its medicines in the county are sourced from illicit parallel importation (a form of counterfeiting), while a 2011 World Health Organisation (WHO) study found out that about 64 per cent of anti-malarial drugs in Nigeria were fake, adding that the counterfeit drug distribution network is so expansive that over 50 per cent of drugs, foods, and drinks sold in open markets are sub-standard.

“These markets serve most Nigerians, whose low disposable income push safer pharmacies and in turn drugs, out of reach. Number of deaths attributable to the consumption of fake medicine could fall in the ten to hundreds of thousands. Over the years, Nigeria has become a target destination and transit route for counterfeit and pirated goods.

“Foreign and local traders flood the market with cheap sub-standard fakes while local manufacturers illegally imitate products of established brands due to the informal structure of the economy, corruption, outdated legislation, weak policy, and enforcement mechanisms and lack of proper awareness on the dangers of consuming substandard and counterfeit products,” Pfizer noted.

Also, there are fears that Nigeria loses about N612 billion in ICT revenue annually to counterfeiting. In previous reports, the World Bank hinted that $600 to $700 billion was lost annually by global economies to counterfeiters and theft of intellectual property.

The negative effect is that a lot of thriving businesses have been crippled thus forcing those still in business to reduce the quality of their products. Furthermore, goods are also springing up everywhere in the country, most of them without authorisation, especially skin care products, thus depriving the government of the much-needed revenue.

Fake products everywhere

SON has continued to assure Nigerians of its commitment to its mandate of ensuring that only products of the right standards are allowed into the country; however, many Nigerians are yet to feel the impact of their assurances. Apart from the occasional destruction of sub-standard goods that are shown on live TV, not much is seen by Nigerians as they continue to lament the damage counterfeit products are doing to them.

As it stands, no Nigerian can proudly beat their chest and say they have not had an encounter with counterfeiting. Recounting her experience, an Abuja resident, Ruth Kesina, told Blueprint Weekend that there was a time she bought a roll of sachet peak milk from a hawker in the traffic on her way home and that getting home she discovered that it was fake.

“You can imagine the frustration. If I had given that to my children, what do you think would have happened? And we have SON that is supposed to protect us from this kind of thing,” she lamented.

Kesina is not the only Nigerian that has had this kind of experience. It is common knowledge among motorists that the haven of sub-standard products is located at spare part stores.

A motorist, who did not want his name in print, also told this reporter that he had once gone out to buy a part for his car at a popular spare parts market and the dealer brought two different makes of the same motor part and assured him that one lasts longer than the other.

“I had no choice than to pay for the one that he said lasts longer. However, he had not been sincere to tell me and had sold the inferior one for the price of the original. I needed to change the same part after a while.

“The issue of sub-standard products is a very serious one which the government should put every effort in to tackle. People have lost their hard-earned money, and sometimes their lives in the belief that they were buying ‘original’ products,” he said.

SON, others helpless?

Many Nigerians have said SON, the agency charged with regulating the standards of products, has not been up and doing in the discharge of its primary responsibility. They argue that with the rate of influx of counterfeit goods in the country, the agency and other regulatory establishments could be said to be ‘sleeping on duty.’

In spite of claims by these agencies that they have been working tirelessly to rid the country of sub-standard goods, the reality speaks to the contrary. However, these agencies have records of achievement regarding efforts made (and being made) to rid the country of fake products.

Some of these achievements include the interception of fake phones worth N2.7 billion in 2013 reportedly imported by unscrupulous businessmen into the country.

Also, in 2014, stabilisers and other items valued at N5.5 billion were imported and destroyed by SON; just as the agency in January this year impounded two container loads of imported used tyres in Port Harcourt, Rivers state.

The agency intercepted and seized the products as they were being off-loaded into a warehouse at the Ikoku Motor Spare Parts Market in Port Harcourt, the Rivers state capital.

Similarly, the organisation recently revealed that in the last nine months, it had confiscated sub-standard tyres and other products worth hundreds of millions of Naira across the country. During the period in question, it also arrested no fewer than 10 manufacturers of fake products in Kano, Ibadan, and Lagos.

This is as the director-general of SON, Farouk Salim, has vowed to tighten the noose around the necks of importers and manufacturers of sub-standard goods.

Salim pointed out that the enforcement activities of the organisation had been increased to discourage the importation of sub-standard goods into the country.

 Health experts’ take

However, health experts are worried that the influx of fake drugs into the country was endangering public health. According to them, fake drugs are responsible for the growing number of cases of hypertension, heart failure, stroke, and other illnesses in Nigeria.

There have been reported cases of patients who no longer respond to genuine antibiotics as a result of resistance induced by previous intake of fake antibiotics. But not all fake drugs in Nigeria come from abroad. Unscrupulous local manufacturers are also involved in the racket.

An expert, who asked not to be named in print, told this reporter that, “When people are taking fake or substandard anti-hypertensive drugs, their blood pressure will continue to rise because what they are taking is rubbish, until they go down with stroke or even die.

“Some of these fake drugs contain nothing. Some of them contain chalk, milk in capsules, and some of them contain little of the active ingredients.

“The fakers are very smart. They know for instance that a drug like chloroquine is bitter and that if they don’t put a little chloroquine in their fake chloroquine, people will know that it is not chloroquine. So, instead of the 200mg chloroquine that should be in the tablet, they will put 41mg. That is what we have been getting from our analyses.”

Lamentations

Nigerians from all walks of life have not ceased to decry the harm fake products continue to cause. Some of them while speaking to Blueprint Weekend noted that a great number of lives have been lost as a result of fake products’ use.

Only recently, the House of Representatives lamented the growing influx of fake and substandard products into the country. This is just as they urged relevant authorities to curb the trend.

‘It’s a menace’

In a motion brought before the House of Representatives by Chike John Okafor, he noted that the influx of fake drugs into the country is an indication that SON was failing in its mandate. He was also worried that recurring cases of building collapse has been linked severally to the use of sub-standard building materials and most vehicular accidents have been attributed to sub-standard mechanical parts and tires imported into the country.

Okafor said, “SON is failing in its mandate to investigate and enforce the standard of quality products in the Nigerian domestic market and to create value for money for products manufactured in or imported into the country.

“The overwhelming number of fake products including electrical, electronics, household appliances and equipment, building materials, and automobile parts has become a menace in the country.

“The proliferation of sub-standard products creates a disincentive to investments and local production, which negatively affects the country’s economy as foreign investors and Nigerian entrepreneurs who contribute significantly to the economy are closing down due to their inability to compete with fake and substandard products dumped into Nigeria.

“Counterfeit goods are dangerous to health as people died as a result of using substandard products in the country.”

According to the legislator, “Goods produced or imported into Nigeria should be of a standard that does not put lives at risk, encourages local industries and foreign investments into Nigeria and provides value for money.”

Turning blind eye

For the chief executive officer, Cutix Plc, Mr. Ifeanyi Uzodike, the bane of local manufacturers continues to be the importation of sub-standard products into the Nigerian markets. He noted that sub-standard cables imported from other countries flood the nation’s markets, and are sold at very low prices, whereas indigenous companies that manufacture durable cables suffer low patronage “because some regulatory agencies look away while importers get past the nation’s borders.”

According to him, “We have the capacity to produce better cables here in Nigeria, but substandard cables are imported into the market and sold at a cheap rate, thereby hampering the operation of indigenous companies.

“We should ask ourselves how these cables get into the market. There are people who should guard against the influx of these substandard products in the market, but what are they doing?”

Except SON and other agencies change their approaches in tackling the issue of sub-standard products they are already fighting a lost battle.