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ALARM BELLS FROM OUR PORTS

By NBF News
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The recent directive of the federal goernment for the immediate withdrawal of personnel of several government agencies from our ports was one that set me all aquiver with apprehension. The reason? Just the little matter of the truly frightening consequencies it portends for Nigeria and all that we hold dear as a nation.

Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is reported to have made the pronouncement during an inspection visit.

Many agencies are affected by this order but perhaps of more immediate concern to yours truly here, and which has to do directly with the health and well-being of Nigerians relates to three of the agencies – the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency(NDLEA), the National Agency for Foods, Drug Administration and Control(NAFDAC), and the (Standards Orhanisation of Nigeria (SON).

These three bodies clearly stand out by reason of how important the services they provide are.

The NDLEA has made tremenduous progress in recent years in confronting head-on, the hydra-headed menace of illicit drug-trafficking and consumption in the country. The drugs problem had constituted a massive black eye for Nigeria until quite recently when it was begining to look as if this battle is one that could actually be won.

This has also had the effect of cleaning up, to a considerable extent, the hitherto thoroughly sullied image of Nigeria worldwide. The Agency has been able to do this through the intruments statutorily available to it – dissuation, interdiction and, where neccessary, dishing out appropriate punishment.

It is pertinent to observe here that most arrests by the NDLEA have occured at the ports.

NAFDAC, for its part, has become a household accronym in Nigeria. So much so that this writer once overheard a five-year old child described an eighteen-year old young man who was behaving rather irrationally as not having 'a NAFDAC registration number'! That is how much the consciousness of NAFDAC and what it stands for has caught on amongst us – thanks in large measure to the Amazonian former Director-General of the Agency Professor Dora Akunyili, and the continuing impressive work by her successor, the equally intellectually savvy Dr Paul Orhii.

The case of the SON is not unlike those of the other two.

It has been my privilege to work closely with the Organisation in the past, an interaction that has quite brought it home to me in vivid relief, the kind of fire this nation has been playing with, vis a vis the quality of goods that have been inundating this country. The immediate past Director-Genral of the SON. Dr John Ndanusa Akanya, with the experience garnered over years of consulting for the United Nations Development Agency(UNDP) well and truly raised the bar with regard to formulation of Standards. There were barely four hundred Standards when he took over as the DG. Today there are thousands of well-researched,professionally-formulatd, stakeholders -accepted, Standards to guide us. And all of them benchmarked against ISO specifications where neccessary.

Now the erudite former boss at May and Baker Dr Joseph Odumodu has taken over and already is tightening even more stringently the measures already in place to ensure that your interests snd mine are better protected.

The war being fought by the SON is one spread over a myriad battlefrojts, the most troubling being what it calls 'life-danger products'. By this it means those products that could exact a hjgh toll in human lives should anything go wrong. Consider the possible consequencies of allowing the circulation of such products as sub-standard automobile tyres, electric cables, steel rods(for building) and, (I shudder just to think about it)'refurbished' cooking gas cylinders!

SON has even gone further to introduce the generally acclaimed SON Conformity Assessment Programme(SONCAP) for imported goods and the Mandatory Conformity Assessment Programme (MANCAP), for locally manufactured goods – all in a bid to enhance its ability to deliver on its mandate. Of course it is common knowledge that we experience ucommon difficulties in transacting business at our ports, but, cutting off your nose has never been known to be an option if you are looking to improve your face.

The argument that over seventy signatories are required to clear goods at our ports as against one for a port in Denmark; five in Benin Republic and three in Ghana, is simply untenable. We only need to ask ourselves the question: how many Dannish, Beninoise or Ghanaian businessmen go to foreign manufacturers and specifically ask them to drastically lower the standard of goods they intend to import into their countries for the consumption of their countrymen, and sometimes their brothers and sisters(sometimes even their children), for the hollowness of that argument to necome apparent.

The fastidious and very hardworking Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Maritime Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi(incidentally my member of the House) and his Committee are definitely spot on in going for a second look at this obviously ill-concidered directive.

Attamah writes from Lagos.