By Ogueri Akachi

The Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) has reaffirmed its commitment to protecting consumers and boosting economic growth through standardisation in the Iron and Steel industry.

Reacting to criticism from the Iron Rod and Steel Distributors Employers Union of Nigeria (IRSDEUN) regarding the alleged inefficiency of SON in preventing the circulation of substandard products, Mrs. Foluso Bolaji, Director, Public Relations, SON, restated that the agency has been proactive in ensuring that only products that meet required standards are allowed in the Nigerian market.

Contrary to the claims by IRSDEUN, SON said, it has conducted investigations and implemented stringent monitoring mechanisms to combat the proliferation of substandard iron rods and steel products. She added that the agency rejects the notion that it has been lax in its regulatory duties.

According to SON, strong enforcement in the sector has made it impossible for the steel distributors to pressure manufacturers to produce inferior products for their own selfish gains, adding that the era is now over. In a related development, the agency has entered a Memorandum of Understanding with STEELMAN, an association of Steel Manufacturing companies, highlighting the commitment to quality assurance in the industry.

The MoU outlines guidelines for member companies to follow, including the appointment of compliance overseers and provision of accommodation for association representatives within company premises for effective monitoring.

These measures demonstrate a collaborative effort between regulatory bodies and industry stakeholders to uphold quality standards.

In light of these developments, SON further refuted the allegations made by IRSDEUN and urged stakeholders to refrain from spreading misinformation that undermines efforts towards quality assurance in the iron and steel industry.

‘‘The organisation remains steadfast in its commitment to safeguarding consumer interests and promoting economic development’’.

Bolaji, therefore called for constructive engagement and cooperation from all stakeholders to effectively address challenges in the industry.

According to SON, it should be noted by all and sundry that the work of regulating and monitoring quality and standards of products and services in circulation remains by no means a gargantuan task.

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SON is a parastatal under the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, with the sole responsibility of ensuring that products, either locally manufactured or imported meet standards and quality benchmarks.

Apart from setting standards for products and services, SON certifies products in required Nigeria accordance with required Nigeria Industrial Standards, monitors and enforces adherence to the stipulated standards. Through surveillance compliance and enforcement exercises, the agency regularly mops up fake and sub-standard products that are in circulation in markets across the country.

Contrary to allegations from certain quarters recently, that seemed to insinuate that the agency appeared derelict or lethargic in its duties, the action work of the body still goes on uninterrupted in all sectors. The recent reports of the agency not doing enough in the steel sector, allowing sub-standard steel products to be in circulation in the markets remain a smear campaign by unscrupulous agents and counterfeiters. Those who circumvent the due process and cut corners would always give false or wrong impression to the general public. How can a steel company manufacture and label its fake products with an unknown company not registered and regulated by SON? It is a serious infraction of Manufacturing Best Practices.

In other climes, such an offence would get serious repercussions, with the offenders duly punished according to enabling acts. The vexed issue of building collapse across the country necessitated SON to beam its searchlight on the Building and Construction Industry meant to arrest the ugly situation.

Investigations show that Vital stakeholders fora and sensitization were held by the SON across the geo-political zones in recent times to enlighten and sensitize operators on best practices as well as benchmarks for products conformity requirements criteria.

In the steel sector regulation regime, SON has been enforcing new rules for steel production. All new and existing steel companies are required to produce their iron bars/ rods to meet minimum requirements using optical emission spectrometer. Following the acquisition of SON’s Mandatory Conformity Assessment Programme Certification by most steel companies in the country, the quality of locally produced steel products improved tremendously. The sensitization programme in the steel sector by SON was principally meant to make local steel companies vibrant, position them to producing quality steel bars as one of the ways of checking the incidence of building collapse across the country.

For the purpose of traceability and quality control, the agency also stipulated that every steel rod in circulation either locally made or imported must bear identification marks. The SON equally embarked on a verification exercise of the steel sector with on- the-spot assessment visits to some steel manufacturing firms in Lagos, Ogun and other states.

The Steel Companies visited and assessed by SON team included African Foundries Limited, Universal Steel Company, Sankyo Steel Mills Company Limited, Phoenix Steel Mills, Monarch Steel Mills, Metal African Steel Production Limited, Real Infrastructure Nigeria Limited, African Steel Mills (Nig.) Limited as well as Sunflag Nigeria Limited, among others.

The verification exercise, according to the Inspectorate and Compliance Directorate, SON, was prompted by complaints that some of the companies were producing steel products without identification marks on them as well as mixing imported steel with local ones. Some of the steel companies had been sealed up by SON for non-conformity to standards requirements.

According to the statement from the office of the Director General, SON, Dr. Ifeanyi Chukwunonso Okeke, the agency would continue its monitoring and enforcement exercises on steel products in circulation as well as make operating steel companies comply to strict adherence to stipulated standards. It added that all sub-standard steel products in circulation will be seized and their dealers if caught would be arrested and prosecuted