A recent undercover survey has revealed that Nigeria’s porous borders and the poor capacity of Nigerian consumers to differentiate between quality and substandard tomatoes paste products are the biggest factors, challenging the success of Nigeria’s indigenous tomato paste industry.
A recent visit to the border town of Seme and Cotonou in Benin Republic revealed that there were huge warehouses heaped with imported tomatoes brands like Super Mum, Leya, Toma, Ginu, Bonjour, Fam Stew and many others. All the 12 warehouses visited eagerly offered to deliver in Nigeria any quantity of any brand chosen within two days if seventy per cent down payment was made. A top distributor in Cotonou, Fedinand Ababio, showed us packed consignments he claimed would be delivered to Nigeria that night.
With Nigeria’s economy dominated by substandard and cheap tomato paste smuggled across the borders, tested local brands like Vitali, Ric-Giko and Sonia are left to fight for the life of their local firms.
Another survey has equally revealed that the yardstick used by most consumers to pick their preferred tomato brand is the level of “thickness” and “redness” of the paste. In a chat with 22 housewives and caterers in three different areas of Lagos, all those who had preferred brands used this erroneous yardstick in making their choice.
Recent findings revealed by National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) show that there is need for massive consumer education in the area of knowing a tomato paste brand that is healthy to avoid the present trend of self-poisoning that is going on in the country.
NAFDAC officials recently visited 27 main markets and four major supermarkets around Lagos and picked 330 samples of tomato pastes for laboratory analysis. The results for 314 were later released. Out of 314 released, 286 of these tomato pastes, originating from China, representing 91.1 per cent, were found unsatisfactory in terms of tomato content. Only 28 returned satisfactory, even though both satisfactory and unsatisfactory tomato pastes had the same red colour.
The red colour in most of the tomato pastes imported into Nigeria indicates an addition of colorant, which is prohibited, dangerous to health and shows that Chinese companies are merely adding colour, rather than the raw material called concentrates, into tomato pastes imported into Nigeria. These colouring stick to veins, arteries and vital organs and accumulate to cause cancer, hypertension and other diseases.
Another revelation is that the majority of the imported tomato pastes in the country do not contain lycopene, thereby exposing millions of Nigerians to cancer and other deadly diseases.
Lycopene, is a free radical-fighting antioxidants. Free radicals are damaging molecules that float around in the body disrupting cells and promoting disease. Antioxidants, such as lycopene, destroy free radicals so they can’t attach to your cells and wreak havoc on the immune system.
The deception is completed by reducing the content of tomato concentrates and filling up the space with starch to boost thickness.
Nigerian consumers, effectively deceived by these con importers, cannot sustain genuine local producers like, Chief Eric Umeofia, President/ Chief Executive Officer of Erisco Foods ltd. Erisco has a 450,000 metric tonnes per annum capacity plant in Lagos, equipped to steer a tomato paste revolution in the country and end the annual wastage of over 75 percent of fresh tomatoes across Nigeria. The company has promised to create thousands of jobs for Nigerians as long as the Federal Government supports and protects her $150 million plant.
Disturbingly, activities of nefarious tomato paste importers, supported by an ignorant consuming public are almost bringing the local tomatoes industry to its knees.“We have huge stocks of finished products worth billions of naira in our warehouses which we are not selling due to dumping of these dangerous and substandard brands of tomato paste from China that are cheap and filled with starch and colours,” the president of Erisco Foods explains.
“We have the capacity to employ over nine thousand Nigerians in our Lagos factory alone if government protects tomato paste industry,” he further said.
Umeofia also revealed that with about “one thousand containers of tomato coming into Lagos port every week. Nigeria is losing $1billion to tomato paste importers every year.”
The President of Erisco Foods spoke further on the plight local producers of tomato paste: “About two months ago, our tomato plant almost closed down. We couldn’t sell our tomato because of the fake ones in the market. NAFDAC refused to do its work. Luckily, the federal government said no product that can be made in Nigeria will have foreign exchange allocation. That was when our business started to rise like Lazarus. Now, we have recalled all the staff we sent away and are employing more.
“By the time this product saturates the market, Nigerians will realise what we’ve done for them. It is about creating a standard, and letting everyone work based on that. That way, the economy will be better. We want to use our own tomato to develop our economy. We will create jobs. It touches my heart to see graduates applying for casual work here. The day I almost died was the day I signed to retrench people in this company because of lagging sales.”
Stakeholders berate banks for multiple charges
COMMENTATORS have blamed abuse and neglect for the consumer protection narrative in Nigeria, compounded lately by the influx of fake and adulterated goods, leaving end-users in a precarious situation.
However, over the years, successive governments have responded to pockets of complaints from consumers by enacting requisite laws. Diverse regulatory agencies with supposedly specialised manpower and knowledge to protect buyers or people who use the services of certain businesses. Some of those agencies include, Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON), Nigerian Communications Commissions (NCC), Consumer Protection Council (CPC), Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) etc., were also set up to address the issues but yet nothing has changed.
While some analysts have attributed this predicament to most consumers in the country being ignorant of the existing laws that protect them, others have laid the blame on the doorsteps of the various regulatory agencies.
They argue that if these institutions charged with the responsibility of redressing issues raised by end users, lived up to their responsibilities, the average Nigerian would not be at the receiving end as they would at all times seek to guard against exploitation of consumers, reduce risk of exposure to harm from the usage of goods and services as well as provides a platform for the consumers to seek redress in the event where these inadvertently happens.
As if admitting its shortcomings, the Director General of one of the regulatory agencies-The CPC, Mrs. Dupe Atoki, in an interview with pressmen last July cited paucity of funds as the major reason why it has been unable to effectively carry out its mandate as an umpire.
Atoki said: “I do not like talking about it because the term ‘lack of funds’ has been bastardized; everybody talks about it whether they are funded or not, so nobody listens to you when you say you do not have funds
“When the president (President Muhammadu Buhari) settles down and look at our budget, he will discover that it is not even enough to run the generator of some huge corporations in one year. It is that infinitesimal and abysmally low, almost nonexistent.”
Nevertheless, observers opine that in recent times the trend seems to be changing with the proliferation of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) seeking to enforce the rights of consumers as entrenched in the various acts establishing the said agencies. A typical example of such NGOs is Consumer Advocacy Foundation Of Nigeria (CAFON) led by Mrs. Sola Salako.
It will be recalled that on March 1, CAFON in collaboration with Coalition of Nigerian Consumer Protection Associations, CNCPA, had called for boycott of banks across the country over excess charges.
According to reports, as a result of the “No Banking Day” campaign, Nigerian banks’ average daily earnings dropped by 24% on Tuesday, March 1, forcing certain banks to return some excesses charges on transactions carried out thousands of its customers recently.
Asides rallying account holders to protest against indiscriminate bank charges, analysts add that the action also sparked off a national discourse of some sort among stakeholders, some of them groups who over time have served as opinion molders.
One of such groups, the Brand Journalist Association of Nigeria (BJAN), in a bid to deepen the conversation, penultimate week organized a Symposium in commemoration of 2016’s “World Consumer Day”.