Lack of Standardisation Hurts Nugeria’s Non-oil Economy

Despite the renewed focus on non-oil export, following the plunge in oil prices, Nigeria has no functional laboratories for testing and certifying products before export. Experts say that lack of standardisation of made-in-Nigeria products and services frustrates efforts to leverage the non-oil sector to grow the economy. Assistant Editor CHIKODI OKEREOCHA reports

It would go down as, perhaps, the most embarrassing setback in Nigeria’s renewed push for non-oil export. Recently, five containers of beans exported from Nigeria to the Republic of Ireland were rejected and returned by the importers.

The products were reportedly filled with weevil. Consequently, the European Union (EU) slammed a ban on beans from Nigeria. The EU did not stop there. It also warned that if appropriate measures were not taken, it would extend the ban to other products.

For an economy severely battered by crashing oil prices at the international market, requiring urgent stimulation of the non-oil export sector to give impetus to the economic diversification agenda, this was certainly bad news and a major setback.

The Minister of State for Agriculture, Mr. Heineken Lopobiri, admitted this much when he described it as “a national embarrassment”. He, however, tried to calm the anxiety generated by the issue, saying, for instance, that the EU ban is only on beans and that it would expire by June this year.

He said the five containers of beans were returned to Nigeria because weevils were detected in them by the Republic of Island Quarantine Service. He said the containers were exported without the knowledge of the Nigerian Agriculture and Quarantine Service.

Lopobiri hinted that the government would return the Quarantine Service back to the ports to partake in the examination of import and export containers. He added that henceforth, for any agro-product to leave the country, it has to be certified by the Quarantine Service, as this is the global practice in the United States (U.S) and other developed countries.

But it is doubtful if stakeholders and operators in the non-oil export business were swayed by the minister’s explanations. Their fear is that the EU might extend the ban to other products, and this could hurt Nigeria’s renewed export promotion drive.

Such fear is hinged on the plethora of challenges that have continued to hold back the non-oil sector from taking its pride of place as hub for rapid revenue base expansion, sustainable growth and employment generation. For instance, Lopobiri’s hint on possible return of the Quarantine Service to the ports underscored the challenge of inconsistent policy framework and lack of inter-agency collaboration with regards to non-oil export business.

In 2011, the former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, sacked about nine agencies, including the Quarantine Service from the ports to reduce bureaucracy. Now, the Service, including Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) is pushing for a return.

While Lopobiri argues that the return of the Quarantine Service to the ports would allow the Service partake in the examination of import and export containers, the Acting Director-General of SON, Dr. Paul Angya, believes that returning the agency to the seaport would stop the importation of sub standard goods into the country.

However, whether or not the agencies return to the ports, it still does not resolve the more fundamental issue of lack of laboratories for testing and certifying made-in-Nigeria products before export. The lack of quality infrastructure especially laboratories to aid certification of locally produced goods for export market, has continued to erode the competitiveness of locally made products in the international market.

“A quality infrastructure for export trade is vital and a laboratory is the way to go. If we do not have the laboratory to test those products and to verify their standard conformity to the standards obtainable abroad, they cannot be exported overseas,” Dr. Angya said. He expressed concern over Nigeria’s lack of capacity to test and certify products in the country.

The Acting DG, who spoke during a recent working visit to Lagos, lamented that Nigeria still depends on its neighbouring countries particularly Ghana to verify compliance of suspected seized goods. “… because our laboratory is yet to be completed, some of these seized goods have to go for testing in Ghana,” he said.

He, however, explained that the agency is speeding up the construction of this facility to make Nigeria self dependent in testing and certifying locally made products before they are exported. He said the laboratory, located at Ogba, Ikeja, Lagos, is 85 per cent completed and that when completed, it would ensure that locally made products become exportable and acceptable anywhere in the world.

Dr. Angya projected that the facility, when completed, would also aid the Federal Government’s drive for alternatives to oil export by more than 50 per cent. According to him, the laboratory will house about four different kinds of laboratories to help the country test and certify products before they are exported.

“This laboratory is going to house about four different kinds of laboratories, which include the chemical, food and engineering laboratories and it is only when these laboratories are tested and accredited that we will stop taking our products to Ghana for testing.

“Our products will be tested and certified in Nigeria to be exported. I believe that when this laboratory is completed, it will aid the Federal Government’s drive for alternatives to oil export by more than 50 per cent”, he added.

A Quality Management Practitioner and National President of Association of Systems Management Consultants, Mazi Colman Obasi, told The Nation that lack of standardisation remains one of the greatest hurdles before Nigeria’s current efforts at growing the non-oil economy. He lamented that lack of a national quality infrastructure is damaging the nation’s economy and brand reputation.

According to Mazi Obasi, a national quality infrastructure is a system of institutions, which jointly ensure that products and services produced in the country meet predefined specifications. It also provides technical support to companies so they can improve their production processes and ensure compliance with regulations or international requirements. The lack of it, he said, is not only partly responsible for Nigeria’s rising unemployment, but also why Nigeria is not globally competitive.

Hear him: “Until we have many companies that are accredited with ISO 9000 management systems certification, we are not going anywhere; we cannot export anything. Nigeria should work towards having a quality management plan. Not up to 1, 000 companies in Nigeria are ISO certified.”

Indeed, products and services manufactured in Nigeria lack global quality certification. They are denied access to markets in developed economies, a situation that has been a pain in the neck of manufacturers, as their productivity and competitiveness continue to suffer.

According to Mazi Obasi and other experts, standardisation will boost the competitiveness of locally made products at the international market and ensure the global acceptance of products and services from Nigeria. This is particularly true for Nigeria considering the fact that her manufacturing sector is still emerging, depending almost totally on other countries for her supplies of manufactured products.

The nation does not have much to offer other than raw materials and that makes the people the poorest in the world. Cocoa, rubber, shear butter, petroleum, iron ore and other commodities sell cheap from Africa and once the other continent has processed them into secondary or tertiary products like beverages, pharmaceuticals, shoes and machines, Nigerians buy them at a huge cost.

SON, EU move to standardise Nigerian export

Bad as the situation is, the SON and the EU have begun an initiative to establish a code of practice for Nigerian agricultural products for export.

A statement signed by the Deputy Director, Standards Directorate, SON, Mrs. Chinyere Egwuonwu, and Mrs. Irina Kireeva of EU said as part of efforts to achieve the goal, the organisations had concluded plans for a final national training on standards on code of practices for the products.

The theme of the training, scheduled to hold in Abuja soon is Standard and Quality: Unleashing the potential of agricultural products to grow the non-oil export in Nigeria.

The statement said the training will focus on products such as cocoa, beans, shea butter and melon. It added that the event would unveil the result of training facilitated by the organisations focusing on exports on key agricultural commodities.

The workshop, the statement noted, would equip participants with the technicalities of the export market with regard to the issues of development of standards and the engagement of the private sector.

It said the workshop was critical for transforming agriculture in Nigeria and would help participants understand that Africa could feed itself through agriculture and export.

The statement, made available to The Nation, added that the training, organised by African Caribbean and Pacific Countries from the EU’s Technical Barriers to Trade, would lead to adopting modernised and commercial agriculture, which is key to transforming the country’s economy.

Interestingly, agriculture and export are two key segments of the non-oil economy, which government is now focusing on. According to experts, the sector is more inclusive and growth-oriented. It is also more sustainable and characterised by high economic linkages.

The hope, therefore, is that the SON, EU collaboration to standardise made-in-Nigeria products would help unlock these bountiful potentials. – TheNation

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