…As SON uncovers producers of fake shoe polish, dye
By Job Osazuwa
Officials of the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) stormed the busy Idumota Market in Central Lagos recently, accompanied by armed mobile policemen, with the sole obkective of uncovering producers of fake Kiwi liquid polish.
Daily Sun gathered that the organisation was able to track down the suspects after some voluntary information from some patriotic Nigerians. Complaints from the real producers also served as useful tips, it was gathered.
On the fateful day, the reporter was part of the team that went on the raid. Dosunmu Street, the heart of booming trade of faked producs, was the first port of call.
One of the SON’s staff that went ahead of others had disguised as a customer and feigned interest in buying some cartons of Kiwi dye from one of the distributors. The distributor was excited and began to negotiate the price. But he told the ‘buyer’ to wait behind so that he could quickly place an order from the major distributor whose shop was located outside the market.
But when the “strange customer” asked him to lead him to the main warehouse, the trader quickly changed his tone. He said he didn’t know where such a number of goods could be available. All efforts to convince him further proved abortive until the spy called for the assistance of the policemen in the team.
As he was moved to one of the vehicles dedicated for the operation, the middle-aged man swore that he had never sold fake products. He pleaded to be let go so that he could return to his “legitimate” business.
Another man, who appeared calm, was also led into the waiting vehicle. The new man assured the first suspect that there was nothing much to worry about in the raid. He claimed he was neither a manufacturer nor an accomplice to those in the illicit business.
“Different producers and dealers bring products to us from all over the country and our duty is to buy and sell. We don’t even know some of them,” the first suspect said.
As the raid continued at Idumota Market, some members of the SON team had moved to the Family Support Programme, Model Market (Oja Oba), Adeniyi, Lagos, where the mini company producing the fake product was located. It is hidden and nothing could make anyone suspect that such a huge, thriving business was going on there.
The owner had dedicated two shops to the business; one for mixing of the chemical and the other for packaging the finished product. The entire production processes, from mixing, bottling, capping to labelling, took place on the premises. There were about six workers on hand that particular day. One of them quickly made phone calls to different people, including the owner, telling him that there was fire on the mountain.
A closer look at the cartons showed “Kilometre 22, Badagry Expressway, Lagos,” as the factory address.
Head of SON’s consumer complaints unit, Lagos, Mr. John Sunday Usara, informed Daily Sun that the wrong address was a diversionary technique to make it impossible for the authorities to trace the factory and owners.
SON seized all the 26 cartons and some pieces of the fake product, which were ready for distribution to markets within and outside the state.
The owner, it was gathered, had worked with Edodum Investment Company Limited, the original producers of Kiwi Dye, but left six years ago to establish his own outfit. Investigations showed that the busted producer had gone to the Corporate Affairs Commission to register his company as Kiwl Chemical Leather Dye. But he had since been producing Kiwi, not Kiwl.
One of the staff of the authentic producers of the product, who begged not to be named, said his boss had met the suspect on several occasions, pleading with him to desist from such acts. He said he had also advised the suspect that he could continue the business but use a different name and logo, but all to no avail.
Said he: “The issue has been on for years, but the man has been boasting that nobody could do anything to him, that he was connected to influential people in the society.
“My boss took pity on him some years ago and employed him as one of the marketing directors when he had no job. Having known all the market terrains, he left and began to make his own.
“It got to a stage that sales became so low for us that we had to relocate to Ogun State. This man is supplying all the states that he knew while he was with us. He is even expanding his territory. Immediately people see the name Kiwi, they would not bother to check whether it is the real product. The man is using the name and logo to make money while the original owner’s business is sinking.”
Having taken the goods away, SON sealed the two shops and invited the owner to its office for further action.
Coordinator of SON, Lagos office, Mr. Ugbaja Joseph, declared that the organisation would not look back in ensuring that the market was free of unwholesome products.
He said: “The core mandate of SON includes, but not limited to, setting standards and getting rid of substandard products from the market, ensuring that the makers meet the quality requirements of our standard. For today, we are focusing on shoe and leather dye.
On how soon the organisation would win the war against fake products, he said: “The war against adulterated products is a gradual process. It is an endless thing.
“With the present condition of our economy, people want to cut corners. That is one of the reasons they engage in such acts. Sometimes, too, they want to maximise profit at the expense of people’s health. It is our duty to protect genuine manufacturers from counterfeiters so that they will continue to be in business.
“There are numerous challenges in clamping down on perpetrators. Nigerians are not good at complaining to the appropriate authorities. They take whatever they see. But if you buy a product and you are short-changed, giving you less standard, you are supposed to complain to SON and then we take it up from there. We don’t really get cooperation from the public. We are like quality policemen. We also get some information on our own but we can’t be everywhere at the same time. Each information given to us is treated in strict confidence so that we don’t end up endangering the lives of those who volunteer to give us information.”
When asked if there was a reward for whoever leads the organisation to discover a fake producer, Joseph tasked every Nigerian to display patriotism. He said the joy that one derived in helping to save a life could not be monetised.
“We might not necessarily give you 5 per cent if you blow the whistle because we are looking at substandard products. Are we going to give the person 5 per cent of such product, which may further endanger the whistle blower’s life? The reward is that you are a patriotic Nigerian; you are helping humanity by saving lives,” he said.
For SON to work better, the Lagos office boss asked the federal government to increase the budgetary allocation to the organisation to enable it to purchase equipment and train its staff.
He lamented that the influx of substandard products was having a huge toll on the economy, pointing out that Nigeria was losing billions of naira through the work of counterfeiters.
“The economy is almost at a standstill. The people who are supposed to produce these things and generate employment are not allowed to do that because of counterfeiters. Even those that import substandard products end up killing our local industry, thereby creating unemployment for our youths. That is counter-productive,” he said.