Henry Ojelu

Following the increasing cases of building collapse in the country, the Standard Organization of Nigeria, SON, recently issued a directive asking all cement manufacturers to upgrade their cement quality from the 32.5 to 42.5 grade. The SON directive was hinged on the notion that low cement quality being manufactured by some companies was largely responsible for building collapse in the country.

Some civil society groups were also quick to link the incessant building collapse to the 32.5 cement grade produced by Lafarge WAPCO, United Cement Company of Nigeria (UniCem), Ashaka Cement (AshakaCem), and Cement Company of Northern Nigeria (CCNN). Lafarge and others have since denied the link.

UniCem Cement

UniCem Cement

A public hearing organised by the House of Representatives to find the root cause of building collapse have also vindicated the cement companies. The committee’s finding revealed that there was no correlation between 32.5 cement grade and building collapse.

Not withstanding the committee’s findings, the Standard Organization of Nigeria, SON has however remained adamant on its directive.

The agency specifically directed that cement with strength rating of 52.5R be used for bridges; 42.5R for casting of columns, beams, slabs and for moulding blocks, and 32.5R for plastering only.

Since that directive was issued, only Dangote cement has been able to meet the criteria with its 3X cement brand recently introduced into the market. The company is currently enjoying high market patronage as some consumers no longer go just any cement.

Some manufacturers who felt irked by the undue advantage of Dangote cement have proceeded to the court to challenge SON’s new policy.

Dangote Cement

Dangote Cement

Lafarge WAPCO for instance has dragged SON and the Ministry of Trade and Investment before a Federal High Court in Abuja over the enforcement of the new cement standard. Lafarge’s contention is that it still has a valid license to produce the old cement quality up till 2016 and should not be compelled to produce  to the new standard. Other manufacturers have also filed similar suits.

Some industry analysts have described the new directive as unfair. They pointed out that for some big cement manufacturers in the industry, the sudden policy direction may just amount to little trouble but for others, it would be a big burden. They are of the opinion that the policy was just an attempt to give unfair advantage to a particular leader in the industry.

Accusing fingers have also been pointed to insider abuse as it is believed that a major cement manufacturer may have been privy to the policy considering the short period it took the company to start producing the new grade.

Lafarge Cement

Lafarge Cement

An industry stakeholder, Akin Akinwale told P.M.NEWS Consumers Advocate that the war between cement manufacturers and the regulatory agency is not in the interest of the consumers.

Akinwale stated that since the current cement quality has been absolved of being responsible for building collapse, the regulatory agency should have given more time to cement manufacturers to upgrade their quality.

“The issue is neither here nor their. I believe it just an attempt to give undue advantage to some manufacturers. A committee has said that the current cement is good enough, so why hurry to push a new standard on the industry. Frankly, I suspect foul play here,” he said.

Speaking on the controversy Sola Salako, founder, Consumer Advocacy Forum (CAF) said  that Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) should ensure that consumers have the opportunity of making cement choices, since there has not been any scientific research showing that incessant building collapses were ever caused by 32.5 cement grade.

According to her, restriction of a particular product or brand to plastering alone should be done with adequate proof to all stakeholders and the Nigerian public, so as to create a sense of fairness and objectivity that is required of a regulatory agency.

The consumer protection activist further charged the regulatory body to create a sense of fairness to all so as not to be seen as creating monopoly in the industry adding that consumers were the ones that would eventually bear the brunt.

Reacting to allegation of gaining undue advantage through the policy, Devakumar V. G Edwin, group managing director/CEO, Dangote Cement, said that rather than making anything out of the controversy, his company was only after the best interest of Nigerians.

He added tthat those who felt his company was after monopoly must understand that Dangote cement was not getting any extra concession from anybody.

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