Accurate measurement, otherwise known as legal metrology is very important in ensuring that all trade transactions in all sectors of the Nigerian economy are accurate, fair and legal, in line with international best practices.
It is a global demand. The international base standards of the kilogramme and meter are defined and maintained by the International Organisation of Legal Metrology (OIML) based in Paris. Nigeria and most other nations are members of this body, and one of its functions is to verify and certify national base standards at regular intervals. These are in turn kept in custody by the Weights and Measures Department of the Federal Ministry of Trade and Investment.
It was interesting sitting in that Transcorp Hilton Hall last December in Abuja, listening to M.S. Sidi, assistant director, Legal Metrology (Weights and Measures Department) of the Federal Ministry of Trade and Investment, reeling out the profile of his department. It was a fine rendition, good to the ear and engaging.
Metamorphosis of Weights and Measures unit
He started off with the history of the department. Sidi established the department’s metamorphosis from when the traditional system of weights and measures was applied in trade transactions of colonial rule in Nigeria, through 1917 when this was replaced by the imperial system of weighing and measuring by an ordinance promulgated by the then Governor General Lord Lugard. This was when it was handled by the Nigeria Police Force and thereafter transferred to the Federal Ministry of Commerce and Industry in 1960, as a division in accordance with the recommendation of the Commission set up to probe the export of short weight graded cocoa bean from Nigeria to Liverpool.
It is now a department (no longer a division) in the Federal Ministry of Trade and Investment.
Qualities in Weights and Measures function
In principle, metrology, which is the science of measurement, and legal metrology that provides regulations for the control of measurements, has fine qualities that you cannot write off. But there is a caveat. We will come to this later. First, let us go through the qualities as provided by Sidi.
Legal metrology is critical of fair trade and also provides protection of public safety, the environment, consumers and traders; it is essential for economic development because it provides confidence in the domestic trade, confidence in imported goods and products, and facilities acceptance of exported goods and products; the intricate and most network of services, suppliers and communications upon which we all depend, relies on metrology for its efficient and reliable operation.
Furthermore, many physical and chemical measurements have an immediate impact on the quality of the world in which we live; trade between countries often involves huge amounts of money, therefore a small error in measurement of, for example, flow rates and quantities of oil and gas, can represent significant amount of money; everyday, consumers, traders, industries, government regulators and collectors of taxes and duties, make decisions based on measurement results, and these affect economic and personal wellbeing of the society.
There are more: Government’s role is to give society the means to establish confidence in measurement results so that traders and consumers can make informed decisions; from a consumers point of view, a kilogramme of rice must be a kilogramme of rice and no less; a motorist needs to trust the volume delivered by a petrol pump, and a mobile telephone user needs to trust that one minute airtime must be one minute and no less.
How Weights and Measures Department is faring
Excellent stipulations these are. But do we see them; do we experience them in practice? Are those mandated to ensure adherence to the legal demands listed here doing what they are expected to do? The answer is ‘no.’
There is a litany of cases to draw on. Let us go through them. These are interesting cases that affect all of us. First, are that which has to do with fuel pump and their meters? Across the country, motorists are short-changed with impunity by operators of fuel stations. They get away with their crime because it is difficult to prove since the accuser cannot easily re-measure the volume of fuel pumped into his tank.
But many have come to prove this with purchases made with Jerri can. Right in the neighbourhood of BusinessDay in Amuwo-Odofin Local Government Area of Lagos State, this practice goes on unchecked. Yet, Weights and Measures Department personnel make their rounds on fuel filling stations! Same thing goes for domestic gas purchases. You buy a 12.5-kilogramme cylinder gas, which should last you for a month but lasts you for two weeks. Manipulated metres are responsible.
The Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) has become renown for ‘crazy bills.’ The bills are indeed crazy because the figures they carry far outstrip actual consumption by individuals. Yet, there are meters! Should innocent consumers be victims of PHCN’s psychosis? Shouldn’t Weights and Measures Department be concerned about this?
Foodstuff and measures
One very important area is that which concerns weights and measures in the market. This has to do with foods of all categories – rice, garri, beans, beef and dairy, etc. Like Sidi put it, “from a consumers point of view, a kilogramme of rice must be a kilogramme of rice and no less.” But is this what the case is in the market? Definitely no. How can the Weights and Measures Department ensure compliance? Big question.
Scales and bonded commodity warehouses
Let us come to the issue of scales in bonded commodity warehouses. Sidi spoke of Legal metrology as being critical of fair trade…. He said “it is essential for economic development because it provides confidence in the domestic trade, confidence in imported goods and products, and facilitates acceptance of exported goods and products.” But how often do the Weights and Measures Department ensure that scales in bonded warehouses across the country, in Lagos, Port Harcourt and Warri, in particular, are in good order?
It is not enough to collect rates charged on these scales as it is being done now, the department must also ensure the scales measure accurately. When they do not, the international business community will lose confidence in Nigerian business people and dealings.
In fact, this is a problem in commodity supply chain. When weights declared are wrong, payments for consignments are discounted and such hiccups impact negatively on transaction time. All said, the problem encountered as discussed here, creates loss in business confidence, locally and internationally. Traders and consumers withdraw their trust.
Over to you, Weights and Measures Department!