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Using Standardisation And Quality Assurance To Grow Nigeria’s Economy

Ifeanyi Alia

The Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON), the nation’s key regulatory agency on quality assurance and standards has appealed to all stakeholders in the nation’s productive, manufacturing and exportation supply value chains to avail themselves of the agency’s Globally Certified Laboratories services.

The good news is that recently, SON scored an encore following the testing, accreditation and certification of its Food Technology Laboratories located in Lagos, Nigeria, by the International Laboratory Accreditation Co-operation/American Laboratory Association.

This cheering news has a clear implication: it implies that once locally made agricultural produce and other agroallied goods are tested and certified by the SON Food Technology Laboratories,they would automatically become globally accepted. For a long time, Nigerian products have suffered rejections at the international market. Again, we should know that what is not good for export, is equally not good for local consumption.

The laboratories will change the whole history of global market rejection of Nigeria’s exports. According to agency officials With the newly accredited Laboratories, Nigeria is set to go places in terms of export promotion and high investment portfolio. The arrival of the SON’s Food Technology Laboratories indeed brings home the gospel of National Economic Diversification which the federal government has been propagating.

Internationally-accredited Laboratories open a window of opportunities for all and sundry- the government, SMEs, MSEs, producers, manufacturers, exporters, operators in the agroallied sectors and several others. Accreditation has become almost a de facto prerequisite to international trade. Lack of acceptable laboratory test data and certification across national borders has been identified as a significant barrier to trade.

Accreditation of SON laboratories therefore provides assurance for trading partners that SON is competent to test export food products, especially for food contaminants. At the same time, compliance with the World Trade Organization: Technical Barriers to Trade (WTO TBT) agreement thus overcoming trade barriers is assured. Section 6.1.1 of the TBT Agreements states in part that, “…verified compliance, for instance through accreditation, with relevant guides or recommendations issued by international standardizing bodies shall be taken into account as an indication of adequate technical competence.”

An accreditation system can provide importing countries with a cost efficient basis to be confident in the qualities of goods, and an assurance that they satisfy the technical standards of their own regulations. In other words, results from an ISO/IEC 17025: 2005 accredited laboratory in this situation from Nigeria eliminates the possibility of goods being denied access on the basis of inadequate conformity assessment.

Accreditation is beneficial to Government and regulators and promotes Good Regulatory Practice (GRP). Process and activities are adequately managed resulting in an effective quality management system which is fundamental to assurance of consistency, credibility and validity of test results and services. Accreditation improves organizational efficiency through the reduction of waste, time utilization and streamlined management procedures. Accreditation is internationally recognized as a reliable indicator of technical competence.

National economies which have established an accreditation infrastructure are better positioned to build national and international confidence in the quality of products and services which they produce. Increased consumer confidence, especially on an international scale is likely to aid national and regional economic growth. Laboratory accreditation confers national and internal recognition and promotes patronage and economic benefits to both SON and Nigeria. It gives assurance that test results are obtained using properly validated and calibrated systems by staff with the right expertise and therefore offers an easy means to customers in determining and choosing reliable analytical services. Laboratory accreditation confers high respectability both at the national and international levels as an indicator of technical competence. It bestows self-confidence, esteem and prestige to SON and its laboratories services personnel.

The process of laboratory accreditation is regulated and standardized according to international norms with common approaches and acceptability for test reports and certificates issued by accredited laboratories, thus preventing the repetition of tests and analyses between parties/countries and reducing costs. Let us also quickly note that the SON laboratories services will provide a check list that would facilitate the development and accreditation of private laboratories across the country. The agency has since offered free certifications to Small and Medium Scale Enterprises, (SMEs) as part of the efforts to diversify the nation’s economy from oil to non-oil sectors.

These SMEs/MSEs therefore   owe it a duty not only to continue to identify, collaborate and synergize with SON, but also to make effective use of the agency’s laboratories. There is no need cutting corners in this business since SON now provides the leeway for the robust and continuous development of SMEs in Nigeria. Furthermore, there is also the crucial need for the SMEs, and others to key into the SON Food Laboratories by making their products available for testing at minimal cost, depending of course on, the time they would be ready to develop and have their own standard Laboratories. Nigeria is a big country with huge potentialities; the approved SON Laboratories are just a stepping stone by the Organization to make its campaign of Made-in-Nigeria-for the –World, a huge success.

Again, SON is not resting on its oars; it has since started the development of Standard Laboratories across the country. For the benefit of doubt, the agency’s ultra-modern Laboratory at Ogba, Ikeja, Lagos which promises to be the hallmark of Quality Assurance in Nigeria is expected to be commissioned and inaugurated in June 2015. The state of-the-art fourstorey- building-32 laboratories complex would further improve the agency’s testing capabilities, accuracy and timeliness of services with a view for greater efficiency and effectiveness in delivering SON’s mandate to all stakeholders. Again, SON has almost completed the construction of Engineering Laboratory at Enugu, South-East, Nigeria even as it has its TextilesLaboratory at Kaduna, North-West, Nigeria.

The sum-total of all these efforts is to ensure that quality assurance and standards conformity assessment criteria become the hallmark of the nation’s economic revitalization and diversification efforts. There is no gain-saying that the accreditation of SON’s Food Laboratories will bring to an end the rejection of Nigeria’s products Worldwide. Nigeria, according to statistics, received the highest rejects at the global market (103) in 2012/2013 among African countries last year. The Federal Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr. Olusegun Aganga disclosed at the recent launch and commissioning of the SON’s labs that the years of rejection of Nigeria’s products at the international market were gone: “We can no longer export blindly, things have changed. We can now analyse, test, and standardize our exports in line with international standards.

We do not have to deal with discounted fees for our cocoa, cashew and other cash crops by the international community anymore. The Laboratories represent an enabler that would make our products competitive at the global market”. SON Food Laboratories, according to experts, represent a watershed in Nigeria’s Backward Integration Policy as well as promotion of local Industries. Granted that the new SON labs meet world stand   ard, Nigeria’s products have a smooth sail Overseas; they would not be rejected or subjected to re-testing anymore.

There is bound to be increased confidence in the market place for Nigeria’s food exports, as the accredited Laboratories have since launched Nigeria into the league of internationally recognized and respected Laboratories across the globe. Again, the development would increase consumers’ confidence in Made-in-Nigeria products, and implementation of the World Trade Organization’s Sanitary and physiosanitary, SPS and TBT Agreement.

There is also the Buy-Nigeria Campaign which the agency has equally since embarked upon that translates to ensuring that Nigeria’s products meet international standards as to boost their patronage both locally and internationally. Public outcry over the level and prevalence of substandard products, (particularly imported goods) has been on for some time now.

However, following the SON’s continuous campaigns, seizure and evacuation of fake, adulterated and counterfeited products dotting the entire landscape of the country, the prevalence has been reduced from 90% in 2011 to about 30% as at late last year (2014). Now, trade barriers posed by lack of acceptability and standard laboratories for test, data and certifications will vanish following the agency’s Infrastructural development programme as exemplified by the Food Laboratories. Globalization has since broken barriers especially in trade and investments.

The SON labs would serve government agencies involved in exports at no cost while the private sector operators would pay a token fee to access the facilities. Once again, therefore all those involve in agricultural produce and operators in the nation’s agro-allied sector need to make effective and maximum use of the SON Food Technology Laboratories. It is a good step towards business success, economic diversification and boost.

There have been issues of poor quality of products created by low level of technology and lack of quality control. As for Agroproducts, the problem of rejection begins at the farming level, through seed variety selection to farming methods and management. Low marketability of agro-products also arises from lack of proper preservation and technology.

The SON Food Tech Laboratories would address perishable and traceability problems which normally confront agricultural and food products. Public and private sector operators are therefore set to take a giant leap forward concerning the quest for global competitiveness of Nigeria’s local products. We are in for a glorious era hence operators should feel free to seek the assistance of SON for enhanced growth and profitability

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