By Toyin Falola
I am writing from Lagos, where no day passes that you won’t hear a reference to fake productions. To buy any form of medicine, you must check that the pharmacy store nearest to you does not deal in fake products. The clothes you wear to check the store may be fake, and the saleslady may be wearing a fake Brazilian wig. Is there really a fake Maltina drink?
In a world dominated by consumerism and rapid production, the market is not always as transparent as it seems. The need to meet the demands of the masses as quickly as possible, in addition to the need of many to make wealth, has seen the rise of counterfeit or substandard products across the markets. This increase in counterfeiting and continuous patronage have raised critical questions about the integrity of the manufacturing process in Nigeria and the choices consumers make. The proliferation of goods and products is a menace that has eaten deep into the fabric of daily existence. Questions on trust and authenticity have long been removed as they serve no purpose in the bustling urban centres and rural marketplaces. This shows a socially acceptable denial of its existence, hence the boom that meets proliferation in the country.
Recently, Nigerians took to the Internet in their numbers condemning the unethical proliferation of consumables across the country. The outcry came as a result of the coordinated raids by the National Drugs Law and Enforcement Agency NAFDAC on sites and warehouses where these counterfeits are manufactured and distributed across the country. The raid by NAFDAC on the sites and warehouses was strategic and time-bound as it came at a time when preparations for the usual ember sales were in full gear. The raids were part of the agency’s drive to reduce counterfeits in the country. With a growing population, Nigeria has a large market for business. The high rate of consumerism makes the country a hotspot for large scale productions and distributions. The distinctive social classes and placements of ethnic groups make it necessary to have diverse products for different members of society.
In all fairness, counterfeiting is a global phenomenon. It is an issue that transcends the borders of a single country and has heavy effects on the sustainability of businesses and economies around the world. These products range from normal household edibles and appliances to automotive spare parts, luxury goods and technologies in some climes. As a result, the effects of counterfeiting have a direct impact on the lives of every member of society.
Counterfeiting is a serious problem. The potential economic losses for businesses, likeable health and safety risks for consumers, and concerns for governments in enforcing intellectual property rights make it a subject of high priority for concern agencies who seek an end to this social problem. Although estimates and calculations vary, in 2022, aside from being responsible for 2.5 million job losses globally, Forbes has it that counterfeiting may have become the tenth largest economy in the world with an annual sale between $1.7 trillion and $4.5 trillion, just a little higher than Canada’s GDP and fourth-largest economy after Germany. These figures are massive and exceeded the earlier predictions by the Organization of Economic Cooperation Development (OECD) prepared in 2016, stating 991 billion dollars worth of counterfeits sales in international trade, double what was obtained in the sales of counterfeits in 2013 globally.
The Nigerian market is saturated with low-quality, substandard, fake, and illegal products that often have a close resemblance to or mirror authentic goods. A large portion of goods and other consumables sold in the country are fake. These goods are easily accessible at low cost and to the country’s population. The motivations for counterfeiting amidst the arguments for the justification of these acts are multifaceted. It can be viewed from three perspectives with emphasis on the actions of the counterfeiters (manufacturer), the end users and the government as an institution.
To start with, the essence of the business itself is to make a profit. The profitability of business ventures is a high motivator for likeable investors who seek channels where more money can be made. Without a doubt the heights in which manufacturers go to make profit and cut losses have played out continually over time. Away from counterfeiting, genuine business owners naturally would employ resources at their disposal to drive traffic and sell more. There are cases where machineries are employed to quicken production rate and deliveries. Here, the drive to make more profit comes at a price of which honest manufacturers pay handsomely to get results.
On the other hand, the reverse is the case for dishonest manufacturers. They want profits without making the momentous efforts needed. Hence, seeking dubious ways to achieve high profitability and sell for optimal prices is needed to stay afloat. One way through which this is achieved is through cost reduction. Cost reduction in itself is not a bad idea. However, in the case of counterfeiters, it involves the use of less stringent processes, the use of cheaper and substandard raw materials, and a reduction in quality to produce goods. Apart from this, manufacturers often attribute their acts to the uneven disadvantages in the purchasing power of the populace. They see themselves as underdogs who have come to bridge the gaps between the average Nigerian and the elites who can afford genuine products at high cost.
The belief that they serve the market needs has further reinforced the proliferation of items in their numbers. Brands like Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Versace have had their products proliferated and sold at ridiculous prices. It might interest you that clothing accessories from these brands that cost hundreds of dollars would be seen on the streets of Nigerian cities hanging in roadside shops seeking for as low as ₦5000. Justifying counterfeiting through the production of low-cost goods readily available to the average Nigerian is extreme. That the average citizen who cannot afford genuine products gets to use the brands and styles is an injustice to the effort of genuine businesses that seek to produce long-lasting, durable products. What, then, becomes of the efforts and research that’s left to the winds due to the exploits of counterfeiters? Should their efforts just go to waste??
Moreso, consumers play a major role in the continued proliferation of products. Several factors have played out to show the impacts of their action in the acquisition of fake products. Naturally, humans seek social approval through their actions at all times. The urge to belong and stand outs has pushed many knowingly into the acquisition of fake products for social status. These factors make them more susceptible to buyers who, in return, pump more fake into the market. As it is, this trend makes it seem that counterfeit producers understand the psychology of intending consumers better than genuine producers. At times, the allure of getting a price advantage while acquiring products surprisingly draws a large percentage of adults into buying fake products. The excitement that marks the feeling of having a significant bargain makes many look away from the fact that such products have been dubbed, coupled with the possibility that manufacturers ride on the ignorance of prospective buyers to sell substandard using popular brand logos.
With respect to this, government institutions, on their part, have also contributed to the menace of fake products in the areas of weak regulations and enforcement of production and patent rights laws. Although the government has laws in place for this, they are not being enforced as expected. The weak enforcement and soft landings provided for convicted manufacturers have emboldened others or continue these acts in an enabling environment with zero risks. This could be because Nigerians for long been fans of foreign products and have never had a cause to patronise the local market and, as such, may not understand the plight of the numerous consumers who have faced the realities of counterfeit drugs, edibles, electronics, and technological devices. It is very rare to have Nigerian politicians utilise public products and services as they are quick to travel abroad for their needs when the need arises. Hence the lacklustre attitudes towards sensitive matters like border control, massive public awareness campaigns, stiffer legislations for convicted manufacturers and synergy with international organisations to mitigate the continuous increase of fake products in circulation. However, it can be argued that not all counterfeits are hazardous. However, let us explore the pharmaceutical industry as a case study. In 2020, the World Health Organization declared that about 70% of drugs available in Nigeria are second-rated. This is a major concern in a country with poor health care where the elites pump millions into medical tourism to the detriment of state-run hospitals and medical centres. Would this have been the case if medical tourism was outlawed except in extreme cases and everyone, irrespective of their status and position, was made to use these healthcare facilities across the country? Would our healthcare system still struggle to see the light? Imagine a Nigeria where everyone is subjected to the same goods and services. Would the government still have allowed proliferation to thrive?
With these questions in mind, it’s important to understand the adverse effects of counterfeit in Nigeria society. At first, sales of counterfeits undermine the genuineness of locally produced goods. Locally produced goods have a hard time competing with fakes that have been produced with less quality resources and made available cheap thereby stunting the growth and development of the local market. Aside from this, counterfeits affect the profitability and sustainability of genuine brand owners whose products have been dubbed. These brands spend more in safeguarding their intellectual properties while fighting to keep their customer base, as the unsuspecting consumer may not be aware of the fakes and thus lose interest in the brand in general. Also, counterfeiting can lead to health complications and deaths in cases where edibles are consumed. Also, the use of counterfeit may encourage an unideal affinity for fake products, and people become so accustomed to using both fakes and originals alternatively that it becomes difficult to tell which one is genuine. Notably, counterfeiting kills the zeal for innovations and research.
To mitigate the effects of the proliferation of goods in the country requires coordinated efforts from concerned stakeholders. Government institutions should take the lead in proffering long lasting solutions to these social problems. Stiffer legislation and regulations should be enacted to deter perpetrators from these acts. The public should also be educated on the frivolities of acquiring fakes, especially when they are items they can do without. An enabling environment should be made available to drive innovative thinking to aid the development and production of genuine and standard products in the local markets. The nation’s entry and exit points should be manned well to ensure quick interception of counterfeits while being transported into the country.