By Odimegwu Onwumere

He prefers to be called by his business name: Denchax Enterprises. But his real name is Ugo Eke. He is a Port Harcourt-based petty electrical materials dealer, which is known in Nigerian parlance, as roadside trader. It is his first time to travel to Lagos. He used to buy his wares from the roadside at Onitsha in Anambra state.

On return from one of his business trips to Lagos, he realised that virtually all the wares he had purchased in Lagos were fake. He got to find out when his customers started complaining and returning to him, some of the wares they had bought. Denchax Enterprises said that his choice of going to Alaba International Market, Lagos was born out of advice one of his friends gave him to try Lagos. According to him, his friend told him that Alaba International Market is the biggest market in Nigeria for electrical appliances and that he would get a better bargain, thereby guaranteeing him better profit.

What was supposed to turn in favour of Denchax Enterprises, turned out to be his bitter ordeal in the hands of his furious customers. He, however, does not say that the Alaba International Market is wholly a place for the sales of fake electrical materials, but that he was unlucky to have bought from unregistered importers.

“Registered importers tell a prospective buyer the differences in the items and allow the buyer to make his or her choice,” said Denchax Enterprises, who also said he noticed that 80 per cent of the fake wares he bought were the ones that originate from China. Many of his customers who came to his business stand to lay their complaints or bring back the damaged items like switches, lighting, cable, fuses, kettles, irons, batteries and chargers they had bought said that the fake articles were blatantly hazardous, and nearly caused fire outbreaks.

Findings are that these fake products are categorised as unfit products in their countries of manufacture, but due to the economic situation of Africa, which has made it a dumping ground for rejected goods; these substandard wares find their way into various African market. These substandard electrical appliances come in vessels and, most times, their documents are forged to deceive law enforcement agents. In the North, South, East and West African countries, China ships in counterfeited electrical materials into Africa, through free-trade ports, such as Dubai.

The importers of substandard electrical wares do not want to give up on the business given the high margin of profit accruable from there. It is estimated that the value of counterfeited electrical products is in the region of US$250 billion per year while the World Customs Organisation identified counterfeit products destined for 140 countries. Worldwide, counterfeiting alone, costs the electrical products industry US$600 billion each year. As the counterfeiters are perfecting ways of beating the regulatory agencies, so the agencies are perfecting ways of stopping them in their track.

Joseph Odumodu, the director general of Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) said last year that SON was promoting a new standards policy, which when it comes on stream would help in curbing the preponderance of fake products in the market. “We are currently promoting a new national quality policy; Nigeria does not have one; the policy is to help to put Nigeria on the same pedestal with the rest of the world. Every product that is tested and certify by the body would be accepted in any part of the world. The Minister of Trade has approved the setting up of a National Accreditation Service to take off in March. It will be responsible for the accreditation of all testing facilities in Nigeria, but the first thing to do is to link up with other international accreditation bodies and meet the minimum requirement for the endorsement of such bodies,’’ he said.

Odumodu added that all products in the Nigerian market will be projected to have an electronic registration code, to enhance easy identification of both the manufacturer and the importer. He also said that improved collaborations with relevant authorities in order to achieve this objective, was in top gear.

Against the backdrop, a BBC report quoting Darren Olivier, head of brand enforcement and a director at Bowman Gilfillan attorneys in Johannesburg, said: “Africa has become a dumping ground for the world’s unwanted goods. Indeed, with the rising number of direct trade routes between Africa and China, together with porous border controls, outdated legislation and weak enforcement mechanisms, the continent has become fair game for counterfeiters – and the recession has made it worse.”

SON in April 2012, made a seizure of substandard electric cables worth over N450 million at the Alaba International Market Lagos, which came after a previous spasm made about two weeks earlier of nine truckloads of substandard electric cables worth over N200 million, with fake SONCAP certificates. Findings are that since the body started what analysts called “intolerance to fake electrical materials”, some of the dealers of counterfeit electrical materials have been relocating some of their warehouses to more remote areas to avoid SON’s inspections.

In South Africa, the country has feared that counterfeit electric wares that do not pass South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) tests, flood the country. According to Dr Michael Grant, a South African electric equipment manufacturer CBI-Electric senior electrical engineer, bemoaned that such fake materials “burn when loaded below the rated current and fail breaking capacity tests but also endanger South African lives.”

Grant decried how the “counterfeit circuit breakers and earth leakage devices” that look almost indistinguishable to CBI-Electric’s low-voltage equipment are fraudulently stamped with the company’s name. His fears were that the devices were meant to protect lives, but 100% of all counterfeit goods failed all rating tests. Grant, nonetheless, called on all the local manufacturers such as individuals, electricians, contractors, electrical installation companies and industry in the South African economy to stick on to stringent international standards for electrical devices.

The story is the same in Tanzania. A Tanzanian public affairs commentator, Simbarashe Msasanuri said that The Tanzania Solar Energy Association (TASEA) revealed that substandard and counterfeit solar panels were being sold in various shops dealing with electrical appliances in a place like Kariakoo, Dar es Salaam. Eng. Mathew Matimbwi, TASEA executive secretary, according to Msasanuri, was quoted as saying that, after receiving many complaints, they carried out investigations and realised the existence of counterfeits in some shops.

“Early before the raid, the TFDA impounded 14,032 tin of counterfeit food items weighing 452,09 kg. The TFDA director general told a press conference in Dar that the items were discovered in 28 shops in Kinondoni, 25 in Ilala and 12 in Temeke…” reported Msasanuri, who apparently blamed the contributing factors fuelling the prevalence of fake goods on the market, to Tanzania’s free economy, globalisation, capitalism and laxity on policing.

African countries are warned against counterfeit electrical products. Electrical wholesalers are advised by stakeholders to play a leading role by being vigilant. Such organisations in the fight against counterfeit electrical products like the Trading Standards Officers, SON, TASEA, SABS and many others, are constantly on the lookout for fake products.

It was observed, according to an account, that the electrical sector all over the continent is rarely considered as immune from being counterfeited and this could have serious health and safety implications. A UK-based organisation BEAMA – which is the independent expert knowledge base forum for the electro-technical industry for the UK and across Europe, said on its website that Africa should refuse to trade in counterfeit/non-compliant products and fight together against the trade in counterfeit electrical products and the proliferation of products not complying with standards.

BEAMA further admonished that constantly raising awareness of counterfeit electrical products is essential, with electrical contractors, petty dealers and engineers avoiding buying from unauthorised distributors and unauthorised websites.

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