By Uche Usim
JOSEPH Odumodu, the Director General/Chief Executive Officer of the Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON), is constantly in battle mode as he endlessly slugs it out with unrepentant importers and producers of substandard products in the country.
Though, the agency has declared zero tolerance for substandard products, he insists there should be some innovative and electronic ways to deal with the perennial challenge, hence the launch of some e-commerce products aimed at both promoting legitimate trade facilitation and checking corruption by reducing human contacts with officials of SON in course of importing and exporting goods at the ports.
Odumodu, who has brought vibrancy to SON, said the integration of its electronic certificates (e-certificates) into the Nigeria Integrated Customs Information System (NICIS) for the processing of SONCAP Form M and the Pre-Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR) has made its services as seamless as possible.
The SON boss, who spoke on the sidelines of a recent stakeholders’ sensitization seminar in Lagos, said the target of the Agency is to reduce substandard products from its current 40 per cent level to 10 per cent before the end of the year.
He speaks more about SON’s activities.
Yes! SON’s services are fully automated. We have integrated our e-certificates with the Nigeria Integrated Customs Information System (NICIS) for processing SONCAP Form ‘M’ and PAAR. This innovation, primarily, drives home our organisation’s service delivery capabilities. What we as an organisation has done concerning developing trade portal and NICIS covers a lot of critical areas. By this, I mean: converting all SON Certifications and certificates to electronic format, online transmission of certificate to trade portal/NICIS by consignee for Form ‘M’ and Pre-Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR) Consignment processing at the comfort of the person’s office, eliminating direct contact (visits to SON office for certification processing); providing HS Codes regulated by SON and the requirements for regulated products on www.trade.gov.ng/son as well as setting up a Customer/Consumer Helpdesk at Apapa, Lagos and Abuja.
With these and more coming, I can say change has come to the import community. SON has automated all its services. There’s now an electronic interaction between Customs and us. We’ll work with all relevant stakeholders. With electronic system, we’ll eliminate human contacts and automatically, that reduces tendencies for corruption. There may be a lot of people within the system and outside that don’t want this system to work but we must spot them and excise them. This is the time to embrace full ICT in importing and exporting just like we see it overseas. No need for the crowd around the port. Africa can become one boundary where goods move around without hindrance. It goes beyond us and Customs. The painful thing is that Africa accounts for less than 3 per cent of global trade. That aside, intra-Africa trade is just 10 per cent. In other words, an African country will prefer to do business with a country in Europe or Asia than its next door neighbour or with each other. People now create bottlenecks. We’ve become fully import driven doing less exports and we can change that by creating the right business environment. We must look inwards and address that. China, Korea and other countries did same. Interestingly, Nigeria has a good population of young people but if we don’t engage them positively, it will spell doom for the country. When we open up more Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs), it can absorb most of these young men and women.
The battle against fake and substandard products is an ongoing one. When I came on board as the DG, we decided to look at a number of areas that could help us deliver on our mandate as well as improve the economic fortunes of both the State and its citizenry. In doing so, we did not lose sight of our primary task of reducing to the barest minimum the incidence of sub-standard products circulating in our markets. It is heart warming to state that today, the volume of such products has dropped from 80 per cent to 40/35 per cent and courtesy of our operation flush, we are determined to bring the percentage down to 10 per cent by the end of the year. This, however, requires the co-operation and collaboration of all of us because as it is said in the International System, threat to one is threat to all, hence, the need for collective security. All life danger products must be eliminated completely from our shores and environment because they remain unsafe to lives and property even as they are disincentives to investment, employment and economic drive.
I read in some papers that SON wants to come to the ports, but that is not true. The fact is that we are not even seeking to come back to the ports. However, we seek to know what is being imported into the country to know if they meet the right standards. This issue of substandard products is a serious one. It has killed a lot of local industries as they have to compete with, perhaps, cheaper but substandard products. Again, we’re not relenting in the battle to rid our country of substandard goods. Interestingly, before the end of the last administration, we got more mandate to strengthen our work. Today, I can enter any place and remove any product that’s substandard. To evan make our job easier and to help importers, we now plan to designate certain ports for certain products. For example, Apapa port will be the only port for cables. If we see it anywhere else like in Seme, or even Tin can that is nearby, we’ll remove and destroy without even court mandate.
We will keep sensitizing stakeholders on the need to work within standards and even embrace ICT fully because it is the base of today’s business. That is why this sensitization seminar on the integration of SON’s e-certificates in NICIS is, indeed, germane and apt towards our renewed vigour to put in place a system that works for the overall benefits of all stakeholders, who, in this case, are the government, importers, exporters, diplomatic community, operators in the nation’s industrial and commercial sectors, among others.
The immense benefits of the automated system towards concerted efforts at trade facilitation include: providing easy access to information on products regulated by SON, (consignees can confirm if a product is regulated by SON through any online platform – Computer, Tablet and handheld devices – by visiting our website. Another benefit is the implementation of strong document authentication system using different methods and electronic signature for all sensitive electronic documents (e-Product Certificate & e-SONCAP Certificate, is transmitted electronically to NICIS through activation on our website. With the new innovation, you get instant notification of regulatory status of any product during Form ‘M’ and PAAR consignment processing. It eliminates the need to apply for paper SON Product Certificate/Import Permits which is later uploaded during Form ‘M’ application; Consignee simply needs to put the certificate number of the ‘activated e-Product Certificate’ on the ‘attachment’ section of the form. It ensures that consignee sources product from reputable source prior to approval of Form ‘M’ and eliminates the need to apply for paper SONCAP Certificate which is later uploaded during PAAR Consignment Processing; consignee simply need to input the certificate number of the ‘activated SONCAP Certificate’ on the ‘attachment’ section of the form. Allow consignee to submit SONCAP Certificate for assessment and issuance of PAAR prior to arrival of the consignment at the ports.
With the automation, there is that assurance that all documents submitted into NICIS have been reviewed and verified by SON, thus eliminating documentary fraud. You don’t have any need for double-checking. There is also a vital point which is protecting Nigerian consumers from substandard products by ensuring that only consignment that has passed through the Mandatory SON Conformity Assessment Programme (SONCAP) is allowed into the country.
Source : SunOnline