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Push for SON’s return to ports gathers steam

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Freight forwarders claim they have lost over N20 billion to clearing substandard products at the ports. They have renewed the call for the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) to return to the ports. They argue that SON’s absence at the ports makes  the monitoring of the influx of substandard products difficult, MUYIWA LUCAS reports.

Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) Director-General, Mr. Osita Aboloma said there is need for the Federal Government to return the standards body to the ports just like other government agencies.

Speaking at a stakeholders’ forum in Lagos, Aboloma, represented by the Director, Inspectorate and Compliance Department, Obiora Manafa, the DG assured the stakeholders that the agency’s automation had since been completed.

He therefore urged importers to perfect their documentation and SON Conformity Assessment Programme (SONCAP) before cargoes arrive in the country. He appealed for the support of major freight forwarding associations in the fight against substandard products, saying that since the agency started its sensitisation, compliance level has increased.

Aboloma explained that it is easier to fight the influx of substandard products at the point of entry rather than chasing them once they have entered the country because of its attendant logistics. “This is important because for us at the enforcement unit of SON, it is very difficult for us to chase substandard products across the country as far as the product has left the port because, immediately the product leaves the port, you don’t know the destination. The product can be in Kano in the next one day, it can be in Port Harcourt in the next two days, it can be in Enugu, it can be in Aba, it can be in Osogbo. So, you don’t know the direction the product will get to immediately it leaves the port,” he explained.

He added that it could cost as less as a thousand times efforts and logistics to stop the product when it is about leaving the port or inside the port than when already in the open markets.

The SON DG said over 75 per cent of the imported products come via the seaports and waterways, making it difficult for the SON to ignore the maritime sector operators in the quest for zero imports for substandard products as well as the Federal Government’s Ease of Doing Business (EODB) Policy.

Aboloma assured participants and stakeholders in the sector that the mission of the SON is not to destroy peoples’ businesses or sources of livelihood but only to protect Nigerians from the hazards of substandard products.  ”This is our key mandate and primary responsibility,” he said.

Justifying the routine activities of the organisation aimed at promoting quality products in the country, Aboloma revealed that so far this year, SON has destroyed N480 million worth of substandard mobile phones, while towards the end of last year, the organisation destroyed 5, 000 fake gas cylinders valued at N51.3 million.

Over N20 billion lost

Corroborating the need for SON’s return to the ports, the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) disclosed that over the last decade, her members have lost more than N20 billion to fake goods imports.

ANLCA National President, Mr. Tony Nwabunike, who spoke on behalf of his members, lamented that his members had been badly hit by non-compliance of importers, whom he accused of failing to disclose to their agents the actual content of their containers or degree of compliance with the rules like SONCAP.

To this end, Nwabunike said the association has taken it upon herself 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. He contended that destroying investment channelled wrongly towards fake and substandard goods may look harsh, “but preventing death, injuries and pains of buying poor standard imported items is a great humanitarian task. For the latter, I commend SON for saving lives.”

“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 10 years for undertaking to clear goods discovered to be substandard. This is because upon the 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 for 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,” he explained.

He also called on the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to integrate SON into Nigeria Customs Information System (NICIS II) as a means to enhance trade and promote ease of doing business at the ports.

Lending his voice to the debate, a former President of National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Eugene Nweke, urged SON management to ensure collaboration with the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) to educate stakeholders on what is expected of them and the need to comply with standards.

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