IF NOT for Dr. Ikem Joseph Odumodu, former Director General of Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON), most Nigerians never knew that vehicle tyres have expiry date. Before him, no one talked about tyres and their expiry dates. He communicated to Nigerians how to determine the date a tyre was manufactured using the DOT number.
According to him, a tyre expires after four years, whether used or not. He equally raised the awareness that there is nothing like tokunbo tyre; that once a tyre has been put in a vehicle, removed, and put in another vehicle, it is already substandard, even if the date has not expired. It was from his advocacy that Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) started checking vehicle tyres.
Dr. Odumodu’s tenure at SON brought relevance of the agency into the consciousness of the populace, making it a household name in Nigeria. His dogged commitment to pursue the agency’s mandate to improving life through standardization and quality assurance, which translates to providing standards and quality assurances for all products, services and processes in Nigeria in line with international best practices and ensure continual improvement; targeting to eliminate substandard products in Nigeria, sometimes came with threats on his life but he wasn’t perturbed.
“When I joined SON, the level of substandard product was about 85 per cent. Within four years, I was able to bring it down to about 40 per cent. Is 40 percent right? Not quite but at least, within the challenges we had, it was a good result for me because I was able to have it.”
The Amawbia, Anambra State born pharmacist described Nigeria as a big market for substandard products, largely because of attitudinal behaviour and poverty, which is not good for the country. “Because we have a large population in the lower income bracket, people buy what their income can afford, even when they know that a particular product is the right one. You see a bulb that sells for N500 and they show you that of N50, why would you price that of N50. And within a short time, you change it. At the end of the day, you are spending more money.”
The former SON boss, who served as the second President of Anambra League of Professionals, was born to a pharmacist father and trader mother. His quest for education starting with his primary education took him through four primary schools as he moved with his parents, due to the nature of his father’s job and the pre-war crises.
He started out in education at Maria Regina Primary School, Nnewi, moving to St. Peter’s Primary School, Nnewichi, in primary four, returned to Amawbia during the civil war, where he schooled briefly at St. Matthew’s Primary School, Amawbia. After the war, he left with his parents for Enugu where he finished at St. Patrick’s? Ogbete, Enugu.
He had his secondary education at St. Patrick’s College, Asaba, where he obtained his Secondary School Certificate before proceeding to Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife to read Pharmacy, graduated in 1980, and followed it up with a master’s degree in Biochemical Pharmacology before going for his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme in Birnin Kebbi, in then Sokoto State at a time, Shehu Kangiwa, the state governor died as a result of injuries he sustained on his head after he fell down from his horse while playing polo.
“When I finished my NYSC programme, I got a job at ASTRA Arewa, a pharmaceutical company in Kaduna. I grew up to Assistant Marketing Manager; I went up quite rapidly. But left after six years for Lagos, where I joined The Boots Company Nigeria Limited, another pharmaceutical company; I was there for one year.
There was intense tribal politics there that I had to leave and within one year, I joined May & Baker. When I left Boots, one Yoruba man came to me in Kaduna, and told me a story about how one of my managers at Boots had approached him to initiate his service to kill me. He said the manager and others that wanted to eliminate me told him that they didn’t want me in that company that I was going to upset everything they were doing.” At May & Baker, he rose to become the company’s first Nigerian Managing Director in 1997 and left voluntarily in 2011.
The quest for a new challenge informed his decision to take up the Standard Organisation of Nigeria’s job in 2011. “I was looking for a new challenge when the SON appointment came. The truth is that I never knew much about SON, but when I saw the act of the organisation, I got excited because it is all about standardization and quality assurance. My excitement was also borne out of the fact that Nigeria was awash with substandard goods.”
“What we do here is different from what is obtainable in other climes. A British consumer buys a bulb and knows that it will last for one year. If the bulb doesn’t, he would never buy that bulb again. He would also make so much noise about the bulb. Compare it to Nigeria, where someone buys a bulb and it doesn’t last a year, he will keep changing bulbs. A normal bulb should last for five years. If you buy a 40kv generator, almost by every chance that generator will be 25k. The only time you will find out is to give it a load of 25kv.”
At Standard Organisation of Nigeria, Dr. Odumodu faced a number of challenges but he didn’t allow it overwhelm him; always finding a way around it. “Initially when a substandard good is seized, it requires that the agency leaves the goods, goes and procure a judgment from the court before we can move it and often before that is done, the goods would have travelled. The agency went to the National Assembly and got a new rule that enables us to take the goods before taking any legal action.”
While the legislative arm at a point helped the agency to further its goal, the executive threw up a challenge. “While we were carrying out our mandate, the federal government announced we should be removed from the ports.
The ports were where you can inspect what was coming in and you can stop it. When I tried to get that reversed, it wasn’t possible. What I did was to station my people on the roads. When the goods leave the ports, customs officials were only involved in revenue generation, and I was after quality enforcement. Since they don’t ask for quality check and release the goods, we make sure we stop the goods.
I had a few scuffles with the leadership of Nigeria Customs. I made it clear to the Comptroller General of Customs at that time that as he had a mandate, so I’m to deliver on mine. The fact that we were outside the port and had to chase goods that have been released from the ports wasn’t an easy task.”
Even while Dr. Odumodu faced external challenge, there were always forces within the agency that plotted to thwart his effort. He had instances where staff of his agency approached offenders to collect money behind him which he never approved; knowing the harm such product would cost consumers.
There were instances where dealers of substandard products would contribute millions of naira to bribe him and he always turned them down. ”I kept a straight profile for every job I did. I refused to collect N20 million, N30 million or any other amount.
If a person dies from using a substandard product, from a building that collapses, from an accident on the road or any food stuff consumed that shouldn’t be taken, the blood will be on my head. I stayed away from such things. Some people felt that I was stupid. It wasn’t for religious purposes. I felt it falls against all standards of decency. Those were the kind of principles that guided me and it helped me. Anywhere I go, once I call my name, people say “that man is different”. Imagine it was the other way round.
“A cable by standard is supposed to be 95 per cent copper to be a good conductor of electricity without increase in temperature. Nigerians would go to China and give a specification for 50 per cent copper and 50 per cent iron and ship to Nigeria. If you wire your house with that cable, it can go up in flames and you wouldn’t know where it came from.
Same goes with other products that could cause loss of lives. Why would somebody bring such products to kill people? These things informed my decision on how I carried out my job. On life threatening issues, I don’t compromise; once something can kill somebody, I don’t bend the law to suit somebody.”
Besides enforcing standards, Dr. Odumodu focused on revenue generation for the agency. But had to curb goods corruption militating against that. “SON was getting N1 billion but the enormity of work wasn’t a N1 billion thing. I also found that the act backing us mandated us to charge for services that we rendered to the public. For example, if we come to your place to inspect your facilities, you have to pay us for the service. When you bring substandard goods, we seize it and fine you on it. So what I did was to tweak the charges that were more substantial.
“To curb corruption, I introduced e-payment for our transactions and that skyrocketed our revenue from N1 billion to about N6 billion within a month. And of course, the law allows us to spend part of what we generated and return the balance to government. And that’s what we did that helped to develop infrastructures in the organization.
“For the first time we did certification service- through the International Standard Organization (ISO). SON was the local representative in Nigeria. Before that time, we certified others but the organisation has no certified process. One thing I also achieved was to bring in experts from abroad to look at our process that they meet international standard, so that it will be easier to certify others. I must commend the new SON’s DG because he built upon it.”
The former SON boss believes that diligence and hard work, besides God’s grace is the only way anyone can succeed. “I always tell people that they must work hard. You must focus on what is important. Work with people that want to work and forget about others. Always do ordinary things in extra ways.”
Dr. Odumodu, who since leaving the public service has taken to agriculture to educate and engage more people to be productive is a man with a robust family life. He asserts that life is about leaving a legacy.“You must try to do something that must make people remember you. Every one of us came to this world for a purpose. You must try and discover yours and when you don’t, try and find something that will make you different from others; make a difference.”
Dr. Odumodu asserts that his wife is so supportive and understanding. “She is my best friend. I consult her before I do things. Initially, when we got married, most things she tells me, I wouldn’t do it so that people wouldn’t call me woman wrapper but overtime, I discovered that our different perspectives adds depth of dimension to the marriage. She is not troublesome and not the fashion crazy type that must wear the trending dress. We are cool with each other. If I come again, I will marry her. One way I demonstrated that which everyone knows is that everything I own is also in the name of my wife. ” He is married to Gloria Odumodu with six children.
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