What informed the formation of IRSDEUN?
You will agree with me that the production-marketing process is not complete until goods get to the final consumers. That makes us critical stakeholders as suppliers and distributors of iron rods and steel products in Nigeria. On many occasions, we are the ones interfacing with users of these products and get their reviews. One of the major reasons for coming together as a Union is to unite ourselves against proliferation of substandard products which has taken over our markets for so many years and also to ensure effective control of price within reasonable limits.
Since our approval and recognition by the Federal Government of Nigeria, we have been resolute in our commitment to assist the government in fighting circulation of substandard steel products in Nigeria. We have extended hands of fellowship to the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON), the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel and security agencies, among other critical stakeholders, to ensure the surge is nipped in the bud.
What are the challenges facing your Union?
As trade unionists, our first major challenge that bothers us so much is the issue of proliferation of substandard steel products. The second is touting, especially in Lagos State. We’ve had many of our trucks vandalised and employees injured and even killed by touts parading themselves as revenue collectors on behalf of the government.
We have always been responsible in our business dealings. We are ready and willing to pay taxes and revenue, but all we seek is a dignified, seamless and transparent framework for revenue collection, not via harassment. We are, however, grateful for the swift response of Lagos State governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwoolu, to our SOS sent to his office over the issue of touting. His timely response is a testament to his dedication and commitment to ease of doing business in Lagos State and we encourage other state governments to emulate that.
Also, the unhealthy and alien practices of some of these foreigners producing iron rods in Nigeria, with deliberate attempts to force us as distributors out of the market, is a major challenge.
It is really stifling our ability to make a profit. They are killing our businesses with the incessant and unjustifiable increase in prices of iron rods. For God’s sake, a ton of iron scarps only increased by N15,000 and before you know it, they increased price of a ton of the product by N500,000 and that is done to force end-users to buy directly from them, because they’ve seen us as thorn in their flesh for calling on them to revert to producing quality products for Nigerians’ consumption. That’s our only sin.
This is why we call on the government to come to our rescue. We are fighting for this country and it is either the government support us or them. If the production of substandard product continues unchecked, it amounts to our own government aiding them to sabotage our economy.
Do you think Nigeria is achieving progress in the fight against substandard steel products?
I don’t think so, I can say without mincing words that as a country, we have not made progress in fighting against production and circulation of substandard products, not just steel. Hardly would you see any consumer good in Nigeria that has not been adulterated.
However, the case of iron rods and steel products is peculiar. It is not as if these products are adulterated, but virtually all the producers of iron rod and steel products in Nigeria, majority of which are foreigners, no longer produce good quality for Nigerian markets. Whereas, the same companies produce good quality for export, sadly, even to neighbouring countries as close as Ghana. It is, therefore, disturbing, why they think Ghana and other neighbouring countries deserve quality iron rod and steel products from Nigeria, but the people of the host country itself don’t deserve quality steel. If these expatriates value their higher profits more than our lives, we should value our own peoples’ lives more than their economic interest.
Unfortunately, this is telling on the lives of the people, their property and the economy of our nation. These substandard steel products are what government and private businesses are using for construction. It has a negative effect on the integrity and durability of these constructions. In 2022, Nigeria recorded over 62 building collapses across the country. We’ve had incidences of public infrastructure and personal building collapse.
Although, a law that seeks to criminalise production of substandard products in Nigeria had been passed by the National Assembly, however, I think it wasn’t assented to before the expiration of President Buhari’s tenure. I urge the current National Assembly to look into that and ensure such law is passed and gets presidential assent.
What are the challenges you think are responsible for the ineffective fight against substandard products in Nigeria?
You see, the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) has the statutory mandate to ensure only quality consumer goods are circulated in our markets but I honestly believe they are not efficiently discharging that responsibility for so many reasons, especially with respect to iron rods and steel products.
One fundamental thing that is a clog in the wheel of SON progress is influence peddling. A number of the former director-generals of SON are today executive heads of some of these steel and iron rod production companies and have constituted themselves into the untouchables. They use their influence as former DGs to get away with the criminal acts of substandard production, even when some of them are caught with the help of our task force team. We have task force, we go around and alert SON. On some occasions when they respond, they’ve found our alarm to be true, but most of the culprits don’t face any serious penalty.
So, I think the new administration should show a very strong commitment to fighting circulation of substandard steel products. Many lives have been lost to building collapse and billions of Naira wasted.
I also feel that SON lacks adequate manpower and modern technology to effectively monitor not only steel production in Nigeria, but production of consumer goods across sectors. The proliferation of substandard goods is a serious threat to Nigerian economy and should be accorded the all-important attention it deserves.
Another major bane is policy summersault and lack of continuity. I wil give you an instance of a mop-up action of substandard steel products that was supposed to commence on 1st October 2023. A circular was issued in September 2023, to give ample time for all producers and suppliers to clear their stores of all substandard products and seize any such product found to be substandard. But because of the change in leadership of the SON, despite writing to remind the SON of the circular it issued to commence actions in October 2023, nothing has happened till date.
Notwithstanding, I must acknowledge and commend the efforts of the 10th National Assembly in their swift response to the menace. In less than six months after their inauguration, they adopted a motion with respect to the proliferation of substandard products. We are urging President Bola Tinubu to match that with executive action, as a part of his strategy for Nigeria’s economic survival.
Any suggestion for improvement on the fight against substandard products?
Like I’ve said, the SON needs to up its game. Be more upright in its approach and actions. They should operate in such an open manner that enables the common consumer on the street to report substandard products to them and be confident it’d be taken up. There is also the need for review of the law establishing SON, especially relating to the appointment of its top officials. They cannot continue to be used to sabotage the organization by taking up employment in places they had previously regulated while in office. It is a serious ethical issue.