– The Sun News

Clampdown on retailers of imported sugar, pasta, flour

The items still flourish in supermarkets, sales outlets and the open market, can be found in any part of the country and the retailers do not conceal them.

Job Osazuwa

Despite the ban by the Federal Government years ago on imported packaged sugar, pasta and four, importers of the products have continued to manoeuvre their way to remain in business in the country.

The items, in large and small quantities, still flourish in many supermarkets, sales outlets and even in the open market. They can be found in any part of the country and the retailers do not conceal them.

Local manufacturers have always protested that the continued smuggling of the products into the country has posed a hindrance to them, adding that they are merely struggling to stay afloat in the market. It was gathered that the food items are in abundant supply through local production. But their cries seem to always fall on deaf ears.

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While the market is saturated with the local food staple, the imported ones continue to struggle for space in the same market. It was discovered that different brands of these products still line the shelves of big retail outlets and wholesale stores across major cities in Nigeria.

As the importation of these banned products daily inflicts damage on local producers of the same commodity in the country, government has vowed not to fold its arms and watch those promoting such illicit business to continue to frustrate genuine efforts geared towards building Nigeria’s economy.

The Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), on July 31, stormed some supermarkets in Lagos and seized some of the banned products.

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Accompanied by armed policemen and officers of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), the SON team raided several supermarkets, including the big names.

The raid was a directive from the Federal Government, having received complaints from concerned Nigerians on the continued influx of the banned items in Nigerian markets.

The first port of call fo the enforcement team was Addo Road, off Lekki-Ajah Expressway, where packed sugar and pasta were seized in large quantities. The head of sales at the supermarket had pleaded
for leniency from the SON officials. He told the reporter that the company had never sold any unwholesome product to its consumers. But when asked if he was aware of the ban placed on the items by the government, he said the supermarket was not the importer but simply buying from certified distributors.

At a popular supermarket at Sangotedo, Ajah, owned by a foreigner, the SON team seized packets of assorted pasta produced in Thailand. The sales manager explained that the supermarket had always complied with government and regulatory agencies’ guidelines on purchase and sale of its wares. Packed sugar and pasta were also seized from other supermarkets.

Worries have been expressed that the aim of the banned policy was being defeated by the continued influx of the imported products, particularly the St. Louis brand of sugar, which was seized from most of the retail outlets that the SON raided.

The Federal Government has repeatedly reiterated that the ban placed on the importation of packaged sugar five years ago still stands. It has restated its commitment to ensuring that foreign packaged sugar loses its market chain in Nigeria.

In a chat with the reporter, SON’s Lagos State coordinator, Office One, Joseph Ugbaja, said the purpose of the raid was entirely to protect indigenous manufacturers. He said SON was also out to descend on products that were suspected to be substandard.

“Some of these products are under Federal Government ban, but they still find their way into the country through smuggling and other means. We are going to get rid of these products from the market. These products are produced in Nigeria by multi-national and indigenous companies in large quantities. The companies’ products have been tested to be of high quality. So, there should be no reason for the imported ones to remain in the market.

“We don’t want to allow fraudulent businessmen to cripple the economy. The importation of these items is nothing but economic sabotage. It is our responsibility to rescue the situation because the local producers have employed thousands of Nigerians.

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“What we are saying is that importers of sugar, flour and pasta should invest in local packaging facilities within and bring their equipment to Nigeria to produce under the economic recovery plan, and thereby also help to create jobs for our people,” he said.

On how the importers have managed to remain in business and if some unscrupulous government officials were aiding them, Ugbaja said SON was not aware of any connivance. He said the importers could not at any time approach the organisation for such a shady deal. According to him, anyone approaching SON with such intentions would simply be handed over to the police.

“There is no way they can strike a deal with us. We are just like two warring factions. If anyone of them comes to us, we will thankfully delay him or her and invite the appropriate security agents. That is actually making our job easy for us,” he said.

The coordinator regretted that the importers of the products have deployed clever ways to continue to smuggle the banned items. He said some of them go as far as adulterating the original products and reducing the quality. He stated that their aim was to sell at lower prices without considering the health and economic consequences on the people and country, respectively.

Said he: “A lot of sharp practices are going on among these dishonest producers. We are getting to know more of their antics. We equally rely on the information we get from members of the public and consumers. We treat this information with strict confidence.

“This raid is going on simultaneously through Nigeria today, July 31. What we do is to pick certain products at a time, then flush as much as possible out of the market.”

Judging from the feedbacks for the local manufacturers, he announced that the government organisation was making progress in the war against unwholesome and banned products. He said such feedback served as an energiser for SON to continue to do more in safeguarding the local producers’ interest. He urged Nigerians to always forward complaints of any suspected fake product to www. son.gov.ng. He said his men could not be everywhere at the same time, hence, the need for constant information from members of the public.

Apart from information from the public, he said his team routinely does intensive market surveillance. During the exercise, the team goes to the market as typical buyers to purchase suspected substandard items and take them to the laboratory for examination.

On prosecution of suspects, he said SON’s legal department takes it up from there and determines appropriate sanctions on offenders, depending on the magnitude of the offence. He said some of the offences could simply be omission of address, which only needs rectification.

“We don’t destroy products that are fit for consumption when tested. The producer will simply have to pay a certain fine for the default. We also do a comparative test for producers or importers of approved products who are not satisfied with only one result. But in most cases, they don’t contest our report because we don’t just seize products without thorough investigation,” he said.

To act better and cover more areas, Ugbaja asked the Federal Government to increase funds earmarked for SON, and to also boost its manpower.


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Tokunbo David
Tokunbo David

Writer and editor.

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