Audu Yusuf just moved to a new three bedroom flat in the Aso C community of Nasarawa State, about 10 minutes away from the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). He got an electrician said to be among the best in the area to wire the house and connect to the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC) power source.
Three months after, Audu’s property narrowly missed being gulped by fire when the central wire from the electric pole sparked off flames. It took the intervention of neighbours who quickly isolated the wire to save the structure.
On a closer examination after the fire incident, it was found that the wires used for connecting the entire building were below standard.
Narrating his ordeal, Audu said: “The electrician said the 1.5 millimetre and 2.5mm cables he used were among the best at Mararaba Building Materials Market in the state.
“After the fire, I took samples of the wires and went to the market and nearby electrical material shops to enquire, and I was told that the wires had weak insulators that could barely resist heat,” he said.
Audu’s disturbing experience about house wiring is one among the many sad tales our reporters heard resulting from the prevalent use of substandard electrical materials, during an investigation across communities in the , FCT, Nasarawa and Niger states.
Laboratory tests reveal weak wires, materials
Daily Trust sampled different brands and thickness of electrical materials and subjected them to various tests. The materials include energy saving and incandescent bulbs, extension boxes, and wires selected across shops and markets located mostly in slum communities of the FCT, Niger and Nasarawa states.
In the local markets, the 1.5m square millimetre (mm2) and 2.5mm2 wires said to be ‘NOCACO’ and ‘Cutix’ by the retailers, were formally tested using state-of-the-art laboratory tools at the Zonal Inspectorate Office of the Nigerian Electricity Management Services Agency (NEMSA) in Abuja. The office is in charge of electrical materials, networks and structural inspection, testing and certification in the FCT and Niger State.
The officials at NEMSA office provided extensive insights into the failure of the many unbranded type of conductors and wires, and why they are termed substandard.
The synthetic material called the insulator is one of the main parts of electrical materials especially wires. “If the insulator is not thick, there could be holes and that could cause electricity leakage in the conductor. You can have energy loss and electrical accidents that would result in fire and cause huge damage,” an official noted.
So when such substandard materials are used and such structures have good circuit breakers or switch gears, they trip off when leakages are detected but with faulty breakers, they result in shocks and even ignite fire, the stated.
It was gathered that there was prevalence of counterfeit electrical materials in the market. For instance, some products of the Northern Cables Processing and Manufacturing Company (NOCACO) Limited, wire and cable, sold mostly in FCT markets are said to have been counterfeited.
“Even the prices are different; those in the satellite towns are cheaper but you will notice that most of these wires and cables do not have clear inscriptions on them. They are all imported from China and when they are brought into the country, they will be putting name on them. This also applies to the extension cables, bulbs and batteries,” a field inspection officer revealed.
The test results showed that materials of the sampled cables lacked strength. They were first subjected to the ‘physical test’ before the electrical device test. One of the standards for durable wire or cable is that the conductor must be wrapped in an insulator, a synthetic material that is strong and cannot be peeled easily, and it must be heat resistant. However, that was not the case with the tested cables.
“They can be bent and cut off with the fingers easily as the insulators are not thick enough; that affects the conductors inside because they create holes which could trigger energy loss or melt when there is higher voltage level of electricity,” the report said.
“The other problem with the wires is that they may not take up to the voltage designed for them because of the poor insulators. During the testing, we ensure we add more voltage level to the wires and some of them melt,” the revealed.
NEMSA also said some wires were made of steel instead of copper which was expensive. “The dealers coat them with copper colour; this is because it is cheaper to produce the cables with steel. However to detect this, if you peel the insulator and scratch the wire, you would see that rather than remain brownish (copper colour), the inner part begins to reveal that it is stainless steel.
“To also detect such, we advise builders to use magnet on the wires; if the magnet attracts the wire, then there is an element of steel on it instead of conductor,” the testers said.
The wires subjected to test were however confirmed to be made of copper.
A comparison of the brands with the actual samples of wires of CUTIX, NOCACO and NIGERIA WIRE proved otherwise. There was huge quality differentiation in terms of the insulator strength and the thickness of the copper conductors.
While the tested wires passed the leakage test conducted at that moment by the technical enforcement agency, the thickness of the insulators of all the wires was described to be below standard and may not withstand the pressure of heat from continuous current flow or system disturbance, the report further indicated.
Chinese made bulbs reign in Abuja, Nasarawa slums
The bulbs were put to use for at least three months to observe their durability as scripted on them. However, among the seven brands of energy saving bulbs, five of the low cost versions, sold for N200 to N300, failed.
Two others, sold for N500 and above, were active beyond the two months test period.
Daily Trust found that most of the energy saving bulbs sold across shops in the surveyed areas especially in the suburbs, were all produced in China. Some of the brands include LEOMAX, NOMI, and ECOMIN. The incandescent bulbs were SINOWORLD, PIILI and JUNGSRAM.
Five of the energy saver bulbs that failed gave a warranty of lighting for over 6,000 hours (about 250 days or eight months). Most of them failed before they clocked three months (90 days with average 10 lighting hour daily).
The extension boxes of ZVT and Royal brands were also from China. Two of them had their insulators snapping off after taking the prescribed maximum load of 1000 watts that consist of electronic appliances.
The ECOMIN energy saver bulb brand had two year warranty, still from China. It was lighting after the three months test period when majority of the other brands failed. However, it was among the bulbs that sold for over N500.
Electrical accidents: 329 cases recorded in 46 months
The Managing Director of NEMSA, Engr. Peter Ewesor, describes electricity as ‘a humble servant but a bad master’. At several occasions, he had insisted that electrical accidents and electrocutions don’t just happen, but were caused mostly by use of substandard materials and aging networks among others.
Records on electrical safety and accidents from NEMSA show that 329 electrical accidents were reported between 2015 and 2018. The accidents further resulted in the death of 453 persons.
Of the figure, 113 deaths occurred in 110 accidents in 2015; another 140 persons died in 124 accidents in 2016. There were 95 accidents in 2017 which resulted in the death of 113 persons. From January to October 2018, NEMSA reported 87 deaths recorded in 82 accidents.
Dealers seek incentives for local wires, materials
Some electrical materials dealers who spoke to our reporters across the surveyed areas admitted that most of the wires and cables they sell are imported.
Daily Trust reports that electrical wires are not among the prohibited list of items under the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and its import is not banned by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS).
Ugochukwu Okoro, who runs an electrical shop in Gwagwa, a suburb in the FCT, said he buys the wires from a large importer in Abuja. “They tell us that some of the wires are imported and that they have the right quality with local brands like NOCACO, CUTIX and Niger Wires.
“If you stock the real NOCACO, only few people will buy it because of the high price. While a metre of these unbranded ones go for N250, the real NOCACO is from N400 upward. Customers will run away if you tell them that,” he explained.
Mr Yusuf Bulus also runs a shop in New Nyanya in Nasarawa State and he shares similar views. When our reporters requested for a single metre of NOCACO, SUNRISE, COLEMAN AND CUTIX brands, Bulus became suspicious saying he learnt the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) was raiding places dealing in substandard materials.
He however relaxed after confirming that it was just to get samples for the wiring of a building nearby. Asked why there was no branded f NOCACO, COLEMAN AND CUTIX, except Sunrise, he said, “When customers ask, we tell them they are the same thing. But if you want us to sell the branded NOCACO, it is expensive. Customers can place orders for those and we bring them.”
Some of the dealers confirmed that the home-made cables were the best in terms of meeting the International Standards Organisation (ISO) quality. “Maybe government can look towards subsidizing the local brands because they are expensive and customers run away from them. They are made of copper and have durable insulators,” Mr Matthew Okoh, a dealer in Abuja said.
Quack electricians worsen safety issues
A further survey of some electricians showed that there are more quacks than the licenced professionals. Electricians who are professionals are registered with the Licenced Electrical Contractors Association of Nigeria (LECAN). They also obtain several kinds of certifications from NEMSA which include category A to D and renewable for a period of five to 10 years.
A Directory of NEMSA Certified Electrical Installation Contractors accessed by Daily Trust shows there are 3,383 duly licenced contractors. However, more than 70 percent of the licences have expired as at November 2019.
Analysis of the directory indicates that 284 licenced electricians practice in Lagos (Oshodi) zone of NEMSA, 242 others practice in Abuja zone covering FCT and Niger State.
“Your category of licence and certification determines the level of power voltage you can work on. There are those who can work on high tension, others are low tension, and residential electrical works,” a NEMSA official said.
At least 10 electricians were reached across FCT and neigbouring Nasarawa State, to quote for a three bedroom structural electrical project in Mararaba area of Nasarawa State. However, none of them was found in the NEMSA directory.
Although the electricians differentiated the thickness of wires and the brands, they all preferred to quote for the building using the prevalent ‘unbranded’ wires in the market, saying the rates are lower and preferable to clients than the branded local wires described as costly.
A few still insisted they were quoting for NOCACO brands and presented samples but those samples do not have any brand name on them. “They usually peel off the names from the company, but that is NOCACO,” Moses Yakubu, an electrician in Masaka town of Nasarawa State insisted.
Expert says fake cables threaten lives, property
The Vice President of Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Dr Johnson Somadina Anene, told Daily Trust that electrical cable counterfeiting could lead to loss of lives and property.
Dr Anene, who is also the Chairman of Shelter Aid Organisation, said, “There should be adequate punishment for anybody found indulging in such criminal act.
“Substandard electric cables can cause fire outbreak in buildings. That should be discouraged and condemned in totality,” he said.
NEMSA reacts, to retrain electricians
MD of NEMSA Peter Ewesor at the Otis Anyaeji Annual Lecture in Abuja confirmed the safety challenges in the power sector. He said one of the major causes of electrical accidents remained the use of substandard materials along with aging networks and poor engineering.
“We have been lucky because we don’t have 27/7 power supply. The day Nigerians start having 24/7 power supply for long there will be accidents because the conductors are bad,” the Chief Electrical Inspector of the Federation (CEIF), warned.
He also told Daily Trust that to stem the tide of quack and poor quality works, NEMSA was working on a retraining programme along with the National Power Training Institute of Nigeria (NAPTIN) for members of the LECAN who have been licensed by NEMSA.
He said that was because many electrical contractors and workers have been certified, but they need continuous training and retraining to promote safety and technical standards in the power sector.
Local wire, cable firms decry counterfeiting
Daily Trust found about four local wire and cable brands reckoned to be of standard. However, dealers of electrical materials across the surveyed markets expressed their concerns over their affordability.
There is the Northern Cables Processing and Manufacturing Company (NOCACO) producing since 1980 in Kaduna. NOCACO on its website said it produces and supplies cables that meet national and international standards as well as specific customers´ requirements across Kaduna, Abuja, Kano, and Sokoto states.
Cutix Plc was started in 1981 with its machines specified, installed and commissioned by members of Cutix staff which is 100% Nigerian. Although it is based in Nnewi, Anambra State, it has its sales outlets in Abuja, Lagos and other parts of the country.
The Nigerian Wire and Cable Plc has been on since 1974 in Lagos and is reckoned to produce quality wires and cables. There is also Coleman Technical Industries Limited (Coleman) which has existed since 1996. It has offices in Ogun, Lagos, Abuja and other parts of the country.
An official of NOCACO at its Abuja outlet, who said he was not authorised to speak, confirmed cases of cloned products mostly by dealers importing products from China and other countries.
“We are not law enforcement agents, so there is little or nothing that we can do about that but we always report these to the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON),” the sales official said.
In an interview with Daily Trust, the Customer Relations Officer of Cutix Plc, Mr Oguonu Nzube said, “We are actually aware of cases of counterfeiting. We started the fight from home because our head office is in Anambra State. In recent times, we have made some arrests with the help of the Nigeria Police and we got information that led us to some places where we recovered some of our suspected cables and we handed the suspects to Police.
“We are also working in conjunction with SON and the Cables Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (CAMAN) but there are still challenges,” Nzube noted.
On the high cost of the local brands, Nzube said the cost of production and labour in Nigeria is very high. “In our factory, we run power generator for about 18 hours daily for production. When you put it on grid supply, it trips off along the line and once it does that, production is cut short and we even produce tonnage of scraps which is a huge loss. That is a factor.”
He said the company has done a downward review of the products’ rates to compete in the market. “Right now nobody can say Cutix cables are very expensive in the market because we have reviewed the price downward while retaining quality,” the Cutix spokesman said.
SON: We’re seizing, destroying ‘fake’ electrical materials
When contacted on the trend of cloned and counterfeit electrical cables in circulation, the Head of SON’s Public Relations, Bola Fashina, said its surveillance led to the arrest of a businessman and his remand in police custody for importation of 13 containers of substandard electric cables at the Federal High Court Ikoyi, Lagos just in November.
Fashina said electric cables are classified among life-endangering products under SON regulatory purview. He said the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) has been cooperating with SON by referring all such imports to it for quality verification.
The organisation lauded made-in-Nigeria cables for their quality, saying it was due to years of collaboration with the Cable Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (CAMAN).
Its nationwide market surveillance in September 2019 revealed that several imported electrical cables contravene the Nigerian Industrial Standards requirements.
These breaches include performance, safety and labelling requirements and cloning of locally certified brands of electrical cables.
SON said it convened a forum of the electric cable stakeholders (manufacturers and importers) in Lagos to explore avenues for greater collaboration.
The agency re-emphasized its preparedness to implement the provisions of Act No. 14 of 2015 to prosecute all standards infractions and to seize, destroy and fine offenders.
This investigation is supported by the Daily Trust Foundation and MacArthur Foundation.