Outgoing SON DG from the lens of industry watchers

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By Edward T. Dibiana

He is apparently not known for podium hugging, or self-adulation. Those that know him closely opine that his philosophy of life supports the maxim that one’s work should do the talking. But his name seemingly evokes fear and anxiety in the underworld of counterfeiters and merchants of fake and substandard products, on account of the crippling damages their criminal enterprises have received under his leadership.

In the past four years that he held sway as the Director-General of the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), Barrister Osita Anthony Aboloma, has led an reinvigorated SON in a relentless, fierce war against rogue importers and manufacturers of substandard and life endangering products in Nigeria.

But his remarkable outing and stellar leadership as the DG of SON, will in the coming days, come to a glorious completion as he  will hand over to his newly appointed successor, Mr. Farouk Salim, by the end of this month, after a four-year term of office that began in 2016.

Many industry watchers have described  Aboloma’s term of office, as very eventful, anchored on apparent “uncompromising, firm, invigorating leadership, that has produced several positive innovations and laudable results, evident in SON’s enhanced service delivery and zero tolerance in the fight against fake and substandard products.”

SON has also, in the time under review, received several key international certification recognisations, accolades and awards from both local and global institutions. Just recently, SON’s Governing Council  commended the management for its efforts that SON attained International Accreditation for its Management Systems Certification (MSM), which it described as “worthy feat for national capacity development”, which was rightly attributed to the astute leadership of the outgoing DG.

A consumer rights advocate, Bamidele Philips, while appraising SON’s activities under DG Aboloma, in an February 2020 article in Yes International magazine, wrote: “strong institutions are built on courage, patriotism and the strong will to make bold moves that will lead to the common good of the people. For a country to live her dreams and aspirations, public officers saddled with the responsibility of standards must not only be patriotic, single-minded, dedicated but also courageous.

“In spearheading the new dimension to the drive for standardization, industry watchers are agreed that the Director-General of the agency, Osita Aboloma, inspired a new regulating regime with the zero tolerance for counterfeit products in all spheres. This visionary leadership has added to the organization’s renewed vigour at executing the powers of seizure, confiscation and destruction of poor quality products both in the factories and points of sale. This firmness of purpose would not have taken place without stepping on powerful toes. And he did step on powerful toes of big cartels of counterfeiters.

“Despite this arduous task of taking frontally on these criminal elements that care less about good of society and their fellow citizens, SON has consciously remained on the side of the law and the people in the discharge of its duties. The amended SON Act No14 of 2015 which overrides all other previous enactments provides unquestionable legitimacy to the regulatory organization’s activities of confiscation and destruction of substandard products.

“The organization under Aboloma is also providing latest information and current trends on global best practices in standardization so that goods manufactured in Nigeria can compete favourably at home and outside. To achieve its objectives, SON in addition to other laudable efforts is deploying technology and other mechanisms to mitigate the menace of fake products in Nigeria…”, Philips stated.

Some of the regulation tools, alluded to by Philips, include the SON Conformity Assessment Programme (SONCAP) for importers to ensure that whatever they import is in conformity with the nation’s standards from the country of origin and the MANCAP scheme, a detailed guideline for local manufacturers to ensure quality and standard in the production process.

Also writing in The Nation of February 20, 2020, in an article titled, “Regulatory authorities and consumers’ plight”, a development journalist, Auwal Abubakar, stated, that in order to give “further bite to  its regulatory powers and essentially protect Nigerians from fake and life-endangering products, the agency has started taking the fight against manufacturers and importers of substandard products to key origins of such products.

“Bent on crushing these substandard products cartel, SON DG Aboloma in July 2018, officially requested for the blacklisting and prosecution by Chinese government, of seven companies responsible for the importation of many substandard products in Nigeria from China.

“These companies according to the DG, were among those identified to have ‘persistently circumvented Nigeria’s import regime by their deliberate refusal to comply with the Standards Organisation of Nigeria off-shore Conformity Assessment Programme (SONCAP).”, Abubakar reported.

Aboloma had stated in a letter to the Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria, that the activities of these companies “have impacted negatively on the perception of the Nigerian people on the quality of goods and services from the Peoples Republic of China.

“And unless immediate steps are taken to arrest the situation, incurable reputational damage would be done to the Government and People of China. We are of the view that every step necessary should be taken to prevent them from jeopardising the excellent trade and cultural relationship between the Government and Peoples of China and Nigeria,” he said.

The names of the companies were given in the letter as: “Awulu Investment Nigeria Limited; Doncas Associate Nigeria Limite; Britto International Commercial Industrial Limited; GNCSP Global Services; Ike and Sons Enterprises; Kumara Global Limited; and Chudon Global Impex Limited.”

This development, Bola Fashina, SON’s spokesman, disclosed, as earlier reported, had started yielding positive results. The deal would ensure that factories in China reject orders from Nigeria that do not meet the approved Nigerian standards.

But by far, one of the most potent mechanisms put in place by Aboloma, that has remarkably led to huge success stories in  the fight against substandard products is the setting up in April 2018 of a rapid response team (task force) code named: Surveillance, Intelligence and Monitoring (SIM), to lead the agency’s  war against rogue manufacturers, importers and sellers of substandard products.

Among other responsibilities, the SIM unit,  led at inception by Mr. Suleiman Isa, a deputy director, was charged with, “Intelligence gathering on substandard, fake and life endangering products throughout Nigeria; data collection, collation, analysis and retention; maintenance of risk profile and register of substandard, fake and life endangering products.”

As published by The Cable, in an earlier piece in October 2019, titled “contending with influx of substandard products”the unit also carries out quality assurance activities and strategic raids/enforcement/regulatory operations to reduce incidences of influx and sale of substandard and life-endangering products on the directives of the DG, SON.

“This proactive move to strengthen the core objective of SON, by launching a frontal attack against perpetrators of substandard products has continued to record unprecedented results, when numbers  of impounded substandard products and prosecution of culprits are considered.  Just last year alone over N300 billion worth of substandard products were confiscated and many culprits, including foreign nationals, prosecuted.

“And serving justice to perpetrators of fake and substandard products appears to be the hallmark of the renewed commitment in the fight against fake and substandard products by the Aboloma-led SON.

“From Lagos to Onitsha, Katsina to Port-Harcourt, Calabar to Ilorin, SON war against substandard products is raging with noticeable renewed vigour and uncompromising diligence and commitment.” The Cable article stated.

Some of the frequently impounded substandard products as reported by The Niche in November 1, 2019, in an article titled, “Substandard products and the hammer of justice”, include: substandard Tyres or motor Break Pads, that could cause road accidents; substandard iron rods that usually result in building collapse; fake cooking gas cylinders and electric wires that could explode and lead to domestic fire incidents and avoidable casualties; adulterated engine lubricants that could potentially damage motor engines, among others.

Constitutionally established to ensure standards of products and services in Nigeria, SON under Aboloma has taken the fight against substandard products beyond rogue factories, warehouses, markets to the courtrooms in search of justice against those criminal elements, in line with SON Act 14 of 2015, which empowers the agency to prosecute offenders of  Standardization infractions. As he exits the stage at SON, it is hoped that the agency  will continue to uphold fidelity to its core mandate without compromise.

Dibiana, a development Journalist, wrote  from Abuja.

Barrister Osita Aboloma, outgoing DG, SON.

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