Shocking! This simply describes the statement by the Standards Organisation of Nigeria’s (SON) Acting Director-General, Dr Paul Angya, that the organisation had no opportunity of verifying 90 per cent of products imported into the country from September to December, 2015. Angya, who disclosed this in Lagos during a two-day capacity-building workshop organised by SON for media executives said this was due to the three-month window that the organisation provided for importers to enable them register on the Nigeria Customs electronic platform, Nigeria Integrated Customs Information System (NICIS).
According to him: “The NICIS platform allowed all stakeholders in the maritime sector to view data on shipment. But, because the World Trade Organisation required that we should allow time for importers to register on the NICIS platform, we left a window of three months between September and December (2015) and issued them Electronic Provisional Clearance Certificate as an alternative. EPCC permitted importers to bring in their goods without the mandatory SON Conformity Assessment Programme certificates”.
If Nigerians are still stunned that there ever could be a situation which will allow goods imported into the country not to be verified, Dr Angya compounded the befuddlement. “But when this window of opportunity was created, criminal-minded importers took advantage of the situation and brought in substandard products which they were able to take out of the Nigerian seaports without the SON’s verification …”
In a nutshell, this explains why goods imported into the country within the period had no SON verification! Dr Angya says the importers are now threatening his staff for closing the platform.
There are a few questions for the acting SON boss. One, he said the organisation gave a three-month window for the importers to enable them register on the NICIS, adding that they shut down the platform in July, 2016. So, what had been happening between December 2015 and July 2016 when SON said it finally shut down the platform? Secondly, did it not occur to SON, ab initio, that unscrupulous importers were going to abuse the privilege? Third, has Dr Angya stopped to ask himself whether it is possible for any good to enter into other serious countries without verification on account of a WTO requirement? Is the organisation saying there are no better ways to achieve the objective other than the one it chose?
It would seem to us that the SON is crying wolf now for reasons other than the genuine desire to prevent substandard products from entering the country. Otherwise, it would not have suspended (or shirked) its responsibilities for the reason it gave for months, only to turn round now to accuse some importers of threatening him and his men. If indeed, this is true, SON has itself to blame. How could it have allowed people bring in goods into the country without certification for months only to want to stop it when they are already used to it? SON’s action is akin to shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.
We sympathise with Dr Angya who claimed that his “officers who are all graduates and engineers chase trailers on the highways like touts, risking their lives to jump on trailers to try and catch them”. This is crude and primitive. But the solution does not lie in what we are afraid the SON boss is asking for: that his organisation be returned to the seaports to further compound the proliferation of government agencies there again. This is one of the reasons many importers bypass our ports: too many government agencies there means their paying more for their imports, without the proceeds getting into government coffers.
Indeed, it was because of the proliferation of government agencies at the ports that the number was pruned to make room for efficiency. We should not return to that inglorious past. SON can do its job from outside the ports. The Nigerian Shippers Council and other agencies are doing just that. If SON has capacity or logistics problem, Dr Angya should say so and let these be addressed.