By Miriam Humbe
In the wake of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak in the Wuhan province of China starting in late December 2019, and into January 2020, the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Council, (FCCPC), in executing its mandate, recently shut down some stores in Abuja belonging to Chinese business men.
The stores were alleged to have stocked expired food items with outrageous expiry dates and sold same to the consuming public.
It was also discovered that some of the products sold at one of the supermarkets had 2089, 2073, 2037, 2018 and 2019 outrageous and fictitious expiry dates respectively.
In spite of various government regulations, it is curious therefore, how these items find their way into the country, possibly through the seaports, and are transported to their destinations for onward sale to the consumer.
With some of the nation’s regulatory authorities at the seaports and land borders, it becomes curious to ask; how is it possible for substandard consumables, particularly edible foods to find their way into the markets thereby shortchanging the consumer.
Panda supermarket, which is reportedly a Chinese Supermarket where imported seafoods and other animal meats from the Asian country are sold illegally in the Jabi area of Abuja, was reported to have been shut down by the federal government agency.
The exercise was spearheaded by the FCCPC’s Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Babatunde Irukera, in line with the agency’s mandate to safeguard the consuming public in the wake of the news of the staggering figures emanating from the outbreak of the coronavirus in China.
The Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission Chief Executive, Irukera, on his tweeter handle, disclosed that the supermarket was shut down as a precautionary measure to the outbreak of coronavirus.
The tweets read: “FCCPC inspected Panda Supermarket; Jabi on credible reports that it discriminated and had a concealed area for Asian nationals. Allegation confirmed, seafood and animals imported illegally from China discovered,” the tweet read.
“Store closed in abundance of caution considering coronavirus. Products with expired and irregular shelf life were also discovered at Panda Supermarket, Jabi, Abuja yesterday.
“Regulatory activities to remove all offensive products from the Supermarket continues,” he said.
But the urgent need to have a standards regulatory body at the nation’s seaports cannot be overemphasized.
Established by the Act No.56 of 1971, the Standards Organisation of Nigeria is the sole statutory body that is vested with the responsibility of standardising and regulating the quality of all products in Nigeria.
The Standards Organization of Nigeria Conformity Assessment Program (SONCAP) was introduced in 2005 by the federal government to address the concern of unsafe products entering the country.
This assessment conformity scheme requires all imported products, whose standard specifications were declared compulsory by SON, to be inspected for conformity to the relevant Nigerian standard before release into the Nigerian market.
The SONCAP is a mandatory scheme introduced by the federal government of Nigeria to ensure the quality and standards of all imports of regulated products into the country.
Upon assumption of office of the now ministers of Industry, Trade and Investment, Otunba Richard Adebayo, and Ambassador Mariam Yalwaji in 2019, the SON management led by the Director General, Osita Aboloma laid a request before the Ministers of the need for the SON to be present at the nation’s seaports to executive its mandate.
Aboloma enumerated the organization’s major challenges as including its absence from the seaports to undertake quality verification and prevent the influx of substandard and life threatening products.
He said the recent revalidation of international accreditation of the SON Food Technology Laboratories for biological and chemical testing with increased scope of parameters are aimed at supporting the economic diversification agenda of the federal government and timely for the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade agreement (AfCFTA).
Other areas pointed out to the Ministers include:
International accreditation of the SON Management Systems Certification Service, as well as the International recognition for the SON Management Systems Training Services.
Operation of 42 SON State offices and 6 Regional offices across the nation for daily factory inspections, market surveillance, awareness creation as well as receiving consumer complaints and feedback for investigation and resolution.
Automation of its processes and introduction of electronic product registration to reduce human interactions and turnaround time, electronic demand notes and receipts including for ports and border operations.
Sustained fight against influx and circulation of substandard and life-endangering products through the setting up of a rapid response squad and diligent prosecution of standards infractions with capacity support from the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation.
Support for development and growth of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises through active participation in the Nationwide Clinic being organized by the office of the Vice President, 50% on purchase of standards, testing, certification and import permits for raw materials and machinery under the off-shore Conformity Assessment Program.
SON’s Director of Operations, Mr. Dauda Yakubu explained that this is standard practice the world over, as nations’ standard bodies man their seaports to prevent having to chase counterfeit goods which may have found their way into the markets.
Efforts by the SON to ensure the consumers’ safety appeared to be yielding results. A Federal High Court in Lagos recently ordered the remand of an Indian, Omkar Shinde and two others for allegedly forging Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) products registration documents.
The two others Chucks Okeke, Shittu Adedeji and a company, Everchem Paints Nigeria Limited, along with Shinde were arraigned before Justice Saliu Saidu on a three-count charge of forgery.
Senior State Counsel Olofindare Adeleke alleged that Okeke and Shinde, an Indian, and Everchem Paints, forged 15 SON receipts on February 12, 2020 at Close 6, House 4 Satellite Town, Lagos, and at 110/114 Oshodi Apapa Expressway, Isolo.
He said the defendants committed the alleged offence “with Intent to use the false documents as genuine”.
Meanwhile, the SON has also through its Management Systems Certification Service has enjoined its current and potential clients to provide objective assessment of its service delivery to enable promotion of continual improvement in its service delivery in the Nation’s interest.
Director General, SON, Osita Aboloma made the call during Clients’ Forums held by the SON MSC in Port Harcourt, Rivers State and the Civic Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos.
Aboloma spoke through the Director, SON MSC, Engr. Felix Nyado. He enumerated the objectives of the Clients’ forums scheduled for Port Harcourt, Lagos and Abuja as opportunity to receive undiluted feedback on the performance of the SON Management Systems Certification Services for improvement in its service delivery to customers and other stakeholders.
He disclosed that the SON MSC Department commenced certification in 1994 with one client, but has evolved over the years, certifying 426 companies to various Management Systems Standards, including the Quality Management System (QMS), Environmental Management System (EMS), Food Safety Management System (FMS) and the Occupational Health and Safety Management System (OHSMS).
He stated further, “As a standardization body involved in Conformity Assessment (CAB), we have continued to ensure that our certification processes and schemes are in line with the requirements and guidelines set out by the IAF and Conformity Assessment Committee (CASCO) of the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO). We have demonstrated this competence by having our certification accredited by the National Accreditation Board for Certification Bodies (NABCD), India”, he stressed.