Tuesday, May 06, 2008

And now for a true story..

..that suggests the prevailing organisational culture still at work within the banking sector in Nigeria. The story was recounted this lunchtime, by a friend who heard the story directly from the man involved.

Our man had just been appointed the senior legal adviser to a well-known Nigerian bank. During his first week at work, he was in his office around 6pm, when one of his team, entered his room and closed and locked the door behind her. Before his shocked eyes, she stripped off in seconds, and completely naked, walked towards him. Stunned, he asked her what she was doing. She pointed to his desk and said, 'this has been serviced many times.' Horrified, the guy ran out of his room.

One has to ask, what exactly had been going on for the woman, without any questions, suggestions, dialogue or prompting, to undress herself in this way. What form of sexual/behavioural conditioning had she been subjected to? Did her former boss assume droit de seigneur upon all his female staff?

Put alongside the story that new female marketing recruits are given condoms as part of their induction pack (which unfortunately seems not to be an urban myth), we start to see the ugly reality for many women in the corporate workplace in Nigeria.


Anonymous,  5:53 pm  

A condom as part of the induction pack??? When are Nigerian women going to stand up for themselves?

As for the guy who ran away, good on him. He may just have escaped from AIDS, Gonorrhea or something.

Alaye Scoro 6:25 pm  

You really expect us to believe the guy didn't say a word in the few seconds that it took her to strip. I mean honestly, the guy was asking for trouble just there.
I'm sure his desk had many a projectile he could have lobbed in her general direction before she was able to unhook her bra.

Anonymous,  7:36 pm  

Jeremy, do you consume palm oil? If so, you may want to read this:


Palm oil merchants desperate for huger profits, introduce poisonous colorings into this key essential commodity, EMMANUEL MAYA follows the trail



In Nigeria, product adulteration is a multi-million-naira industry. And for years, mindless profiteers have made a killing, preying on popular consumer brands. Illegal as the activity is, it is also a turf business. While some are busy mass-producing fake cigarettes and detergents, it would appear that the hardest hits are foods and beverages.

It was bad enough when the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) began a few years back to unearth unwholesome foods like fake fruit drinks, beer brewed in the backwaters of Lagos, Benin and Port Harcourt, low quality soft drinks, bread enhanced with potassium bromide- a chemical known to cause cancer, loss of hearing and kidney failure- non iodized and insufficiently iodized salt.

More horrors were to come as industrial salt appeared in local markets as table salt. With the same viciousness, tins of cassava flour were sweetened with sugar and passed off as baby milk; and sacks of carbide were employed to ripen green fruits like mangoes, bananas and pineapples only to precipitate gastro-enteritis, stomach ulcer, nausea and diarrhea.

If all of these are not enough nightmares for consumers and regulatory agencies alike, what will amount to a back-breaker has come in the form of a substance called SUDAN DYE. Until recently, the red dye was only used in the petroleum industry to colour solvents, petrol, oils, and waxes. It is also used to colour floor and shoe polishes. Somehow, unscrupulous traders have discovered additional use for this substance as well as another route to easy wealth by practically forcing the dye down the throat of millions of unwitting consumers. Sudan dye is now used to adulterate palm oil, to enhance its bright red colour and to increase quantity.

The perception is that colour intensity is an indication of quality. So, the more red the palm oil is, the more attractive it is to buyers and the more likely for buyers to buy.

Thus far, four types of Sudan dye have been detected in food products around the world, in particular Sudan1 (Sudan Red) and Sudan IV (Scarlet Red). It has been reported that the dyes cause tumours in the liver or urinary bladder in rats, mice and rabbits.

A new scare

The fear of Sudan dye in the food chain comes close to the global scare of bird flu. Indeed, if anybody harboured fears of the presence of the dreaded dye in palm oils sold in Nigeria, such was confirmed when a batch of palm oil exported to the United Kingdom was found to have been contaminated with the substance. The product, from its label, was traced to a certain Farm Industry Limited (full names withheld) located in Surulere, Lagos. The discovery led to a food alert because Sudan dye is considered to be a genetoxic carcinogen which means they can cause cancer by damaging the genes, and its presence, at any levels, is not permitted in foodstuffs for any purpose.

Despite investigation by the appropriate authority in that country, the agency was unable to know the UK importer or obtain details of distribution outlets. The only information obtained was that the palm oil from Nigeria appeared to have been distributed through direct van sales, where retailers who sell African or African-Caribbean food products are the main clients.

From pictures widely circulated to assist investigation, it was seen that the offensive oil was packaged in a glass jar with a red screw top lid. On the front of the jar is a label with a yellow background and green border. The words ‘PURE NATURAL PALM OIL’ are in red lettering at the top of the label. Beneath these are the words ‘… INDUSTRY LTD’ in dark blue lettering with the manufacturer’s address in black lettering. The minimum durability date is in the bottom left hand corner of the label in black lettering with the size in litres also in black lettering in the bottom right hand corner of the label.

Given the number of consumers in the UK who are directly or indirectly using palm oil, the widespread anxiety over the palm oil from Nigeria was understandable. Oil palm is a crop that provides multiple outputs and it is the only plant whose fruit produces two types of oil - palm oil and palm kernel oil. Palm oil is an input in industrial production of non-dairy creams, ice-cream powder, salad dressing, fat spread and chocolate. It is also used as a substitute in the formulation of soaps, detergents, margarine and baking fat. Because palm oil is a rich source of vitamins A, D and E, it is indispensable in the pharmaceutical industry.

The Nigerian connection in the Sudan dye scare was reinforced when another brand of oil was found to be adulterated. It was sold in opaque plastic containers with a white screw- top cap. It came from Nigeria, this time from another foods industry (names also withheld). Each container bore a white paper label framed in green with the name of the manufacturer written in green text, followed by the words: Top Quality Palm Oil, Product of Africa. The label also displayed the weight of the product (1kg), the expiry date (02.06.06) and the price. The same brand of palm oil was found to be sold in an identical plastic container without any label.

It was gathered that a more frightening twist was added to the whole business when it was discovered that palm oil was not the only medium through which Sudan dye was finding its way to the dinning table. Apparently to find out the degree of contamination of the food chain, a total of 149 local authorities across the UK carried out tests on foods between December 2005 and March 2006. Sampling was carried out randomly on spices, sauces and oils at a variety of premises - including ports, warehouses and retail stores.

Out of 893 samples, six were found to contain illegal food dyes. Sudan 1 was found in one sample of food mix from an unknown country of origin. Sudan IV was found in three samples of palm oil from Ghana, and Sudan II was found in a ground red chili product and pepper soup mix, both from Nigeria.

With the contamination also traced to Ghana, the Sudan dye business turned out to be a cross-border affair. The brands of palm oil from Ghana later found to have been adulterated were namely: Blue Bay, Golden Sun, Jumbo Zomi, Tropical Sun Zomi, and those distributed by MacPhilips Foods Limited.

In March 2005, following the incidences in UK, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Afrocan Direct Imports Inc. issued a food and allergy alerts warning the public not to consume the Heritage brand palm oil and Zomi palm oil both imported from Ghana. Food alerts are ways adopted by regulatory agencies to inform the public about problems associated with food, and in some cases, providing details of specific action to be taken. Both in the UK and Canada, a growing list of palm oil products were pulled from supermarket shelves on a weekly basis by the countries’ food watchdogs. And apparently to protect her robust export in palm oil, Ghana compelled the affected dealers to product withdrawals and to display point of sale notices in their retail outlets in London.

Local threats

In the wake of the alarm triggered by the detection of Sudan dye in oils which came in from Nigeria, the fear was rife and indeed has remained so of the level of contamination, if any, of local consumption. In search of Sudan dye and its patrons,Saturday Sun visited three major palm oil depots in Lagos; namely the Mushin market, Mile 12 and Ile-Zik. There were also attempts by the reporter to locate distributors of the dreaded dye.

Expectedly, initial efforts met brick walls. Virtually all the traders spoken to at the Mile 12 and Ile-Zik markets pleaded ignorance of the subject. They claimed the name Sudan dye sounded rather strange, insisting they could never identify the substance were they to see one. However, one of the dealers implied that sharp practices were not unusual in Nigeria’s business climate, admitting there were good and bad palm oils just as there were good and bad engine oil, good and bad kerosene, good and bad petrol and good and bad electronics.

It was not until the Mushin market that an insight into the palm oil trade was given by a man who said he had been in the business since 1994. According to Mr. Vincent Onwuegbuna who is the factional Chairman of Mushin Palm Oil Dealers Association, this oil eaten in every home is vulnerable to all kinds of sharp practices essentially because demand has always outstripped supply.

“I don’t know anything called Sudan dye. I have never seen it with my eyes. If you want to find out about it, your best bet is to look at the producers of palm oil, not the sellers. We are just traders who sell what the producers supply to us. All these producer companies, they have their ways of boosting their products, of making people like them, so it is a secret known only to them, not to the retailers.”

Asked to speak on adulteration, Onwuegbuna started by saying that any oil that he tests, usually by tasting, he can tell which part of the country the product comes from. “It is something that comes from experience.

I can tell you whether the oil is from Cross River state, Umuahia or some other places. Oil is a sacred product; anything you add to it, it has a way of showing and I can tell you that this is a bad oil. We had a crisis some time ago and one drum of palm oil was selling for N70,000 as against the N40,000 it is today; there was acute shortage of palm oil and people were selling what they like in the name of oil. I can tell you that we fought against it. That was why I pulled out of the old association to found a new one. I pulled out because the leadership then was deviating from our noble objectives. They were enriching their pockets and allowing the wrong things to go on in the market.”

It was gathered that wrong things began to happen in the palm oil trade as far back as the 1970’s when palm oil plantations were abandoned for crude oil. Mr. Alexander Onwusinkwe, an agric researcher and Assistant Director with the Delta State Institute of Continuing Education, pointed out that the most of the palm fruits being harvested today are coming from what is left of the old plantations farmed by the former East Central Region under Sir Michael Okpara.

He said the palm oil industry has long been on the wane.

“The palm oil we eat today is sourced from Akwa Ibom, Cross Rivers, Rivers and partly Imo state. In many places, the old plantations are abandoned and overgrown with weeds. In fact, the palm trees are being uprooted and the lands used for other agricultural or industrial projects. This is the cause of the shortage. And remember our population has been growing with everybody eating palm oil. The present shortage is due to internal demand, which has been greater than supply. The inability to meet this demand can be blamed on poor harvest and aging plants which were planted in the fifties and sixties and have not been replaced.”

Investigations revealed a few serious initiatives to revive the palm oil plantations. The Nsukwa oil mill and another in Ubulu-Uku, both in Delta state, are now under new and private management. In neighbouring Edo state, some old plantations have been uprooted and new nurseries planted in their places.

In 2003, it was reported that the German Development Bank had provided the Okomu Oil Palm Plc with 4.5 Euros for its expansion programmes.

The fund was to enable the company to enlarge plantations and build for the future. It was announced that the expansion would involve the planting of 6,000 hectares of palm trees on former forest reserve land and the construction of a mill capable of processing 20 tons of fresh fruit bunches per hour, among other things. Part of the future plans was to expand the total palm oil area to 12,750 hectares and an additional mill by 2007.

If the Okomu project was part of a national effort to turn the table on palm oil scarcity, the result may only be a trickle in the face of yawning demand.

The red flag

Aware of the apparent resourcefulness required to survive in the palm oil business, the factional Chairman of the Mushin Dealers Association is already raising the red flag. Onwuegbuna told Saturday Sun that if adequate measures are not taken to reverse shortages, he sees the country importing palm oil from neighbouring countries, the same way refined petroleum products are currently being imported from overseas. When that happens, he said, the situation will only open the market to more adulterated products.

A shocking disclosure came when the dealer revealed that only two years ago, Nigerian businessmen started bringing in oil from Ghana. In what turned out to be a market war, Onwuegbuna revealed that his association had to mobilize to stop the invaders. Market share and cheaper prices for Ghana oil appeared to be the motives for the resistance, the association Chairman insisted everything was done to protect the local industry. Though they succeeded in getting the Federal government to ban the importation of palm oil, the borders remained porous enough to encourage every determined smuggler.

“As you can see, vegetable oil is everywhere yet it is a banned product. The same way, smugglers are bringing in palm oil across the borders. So, the Sudan dye you are talking about can as well come in from this type of oil. But whether it is in it or not, we will never allow any of our members to sell that type of oil in our market.”

The most trying times so far for the palm oil dealers remained 2004 to 2005 when the market began to creak under the weight of adulterated oil. Raids by the Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON) produced unpleasant results as drums of palm oil were confisticated in Lagos. Onwuegbuna recalled that his association had to collaborate with SON to curb the menace and fish out the bad eggs in their midst. It was no different from the collaboration between NAFDAC and patent medicine dealers at the height of the battle against fake and substandard drugs. The Chairman insisted the market is now clean. “The problem is not prevalent anymore.”

But how can an ordinary person figure out good or bad oil? Who is there to say if a rich red oil is a good buy or an invitation to slow death occasioned by Sudan dye or another harmful substance called Azo dye?

Sudan dye in Ghana

Saturday Sun gathered that in Ghana, following the contamination of palm oil export, three export-related regulatory agencies were mandated to investigate the presence of Sudan dye. The agencies were the Ghana Export Promotion Council (GEPC), Ghana Standard Board (GSB) and Ghana Food and Drug Board (GFDB). The Investigators looked to see if oil in the domestic market was affected. It was found that as many as 43 products were adulterated and that the adulteration was nationwide. The affected items were mostly “ready-to-eat” foods, locally prepared alcoholic beverages and foodstuff sold in the ground form.

The report of the investigation reads: “The screening exercise commenced and samples were taken from a total of 36 companies exporting palm oil sourced from different locations for export to the European Union and the USA. A total of 83 consignments were sampled and analyzed during the period. Out of this number 25 samples failed representing 30.1%. Another observation made shows that out of the 36 companies whose products were screened, 14 0f them had all or some of their samples adulterated with Sudan IV dye on the first screening.”

It concluded by saying: “The Board (GFDB) would not rest on its oars and would continue relentlessly to ensure the export of safe food items as well as the provision of safe food for resident Ghanaians and tourists.”

NAFDAC’s laboratory tests

Speaking on the dreaded substance, NAFDAC’s Director General, Prof. Dora Akunyili told Saturday Sun that when her agency received information on adulteration of palm oil, it considered it serious enough to dispatch investigators to nine states of the federation. The regulating body collected samples from the states for laboratory analysis. From interview of market sellers across the country, it was discovered that one of the adulteration processes was by mixing potash, oil, water and colouring with dye. Some adulterated oils were found to contain glycerine.

From laboratory analysis of 102 samples collected from Lagos, Osun, Imo, Anambra, Ekiti, Kaduna, Oyo and Plateau States, as well as from the Federal Capital Territory, 72 of the samples were found to be satisfactory, 29 contained permitted quantity of annatto dye, while 1 sample from Osun state contained azo dye which causes cancer. The study observed that although the colouring agent, annatto dye, does not constitute a serious health threat, there is need for caution in its use as it is known to cause nettle rash in hyperactive children.

Reacting to the incident of contaminated oil in UK, Prof. Akunyili recalled that she received a letter from the British High Commissioner at the time. However, when her agency got to the bottom of the matter, it was found that the said palm oil was produced in Ghana by Kokwe Farms Ltd and imported into the United Kingdom by Jumbo UK Ltd which bottled the palm oil for its own brand, Zomi palm oil. She said that it was with pride that she replied the High Commissioner and told him that his claim was false. She blamed the error on the reflex to pick on Nigeria for every bad thing done by Blacks in foreign countries.

If the alarm by the British High Commissioner turned out to be a hoax, the NAFDAC boss does admit that palm oil adulteration is real but the incidences are few and far in-between: “The cases are quire isolated. The ones we have seen are in small volume and they happen once in a while. We are always closely monitoring the market just as we strictly screen every palm oil for export. My people are always going and taking samples from different markets and making sure that no unwholesome oil gets into the food chain. Where we detect bad oil, our problem has been how to follow it to the source. Because the bad oils come in small volume and are isolated cases, it is a bit of a challenge. We have the ports and borders covered, so we won’t make it easy for anyone who decides to smuggle in bad oil from neighbouring countries.”

Saturday Sun gathered that NAFDAC has been working on obtaining rapid test kits to enable operatives make on-the-spot assessment of palm oil in the markets. On the fears that oil with deep red colour are likely to have been adulterated with one dye or the other, the Director General said that the colour of palm oil does not only depend on colouration with artificial dyes, but also on the species of palm fruit used as well as the method of processing. “If the right species of palm fruit is processed properly, the oil obtained is actually very red.”

Alert as NAFDAC obviously is, the factional Chairman of the Palm Oil Dealers Association insists that adulteration will remain a threat so long as demand for the commodity outstrips supply. According to Onwuegbuna, demands for palm oil are increasing because profiteers keep discovering new uses for the red liquid.

“Try and find out and you will see that some of the greases on sale today are actually made from palm oil. You know that some of the funny soaps sold everywhere have palm oil as a major raw material but did you know that some of the so-called vegetable oils are actually derived by bleaching palm oil?”

Opium,  8:06 pm  

I don't think it's about women standing up for themselves. Though ironic, have you considered that the woman probably thought she was standing up for herself by getting first dibs on the boss before anyone else did? For her to be so bold, it clearly must have worked for her in the past given that she was not invited but had invited herself.

Many man see woman as sex objects and sadly too women see themselves as such as a means of furthering their own personal aims.

What I think we need are strong, ambitious and independent married women who resist being consigned to the home and do not let their husbands view their jobs as hobbies instead of real careers.

Anonymous,  11:27 pm  

"Jeremy do you consume palmoil?" had me in stitches before i (attempted to) read the post. I assumed hilarity and high jinks in store..but, alas, the punchline had nothing else to offer
its your blog j, can you in 10 sentences or less connect palm oil teaser question with Naked Bank Girl?
( i honestly expected to find that naija condoms are now lubricated with palm oil or something')

In most perverted form of equal rights, i recently was sent this young hottie (you couldnt help but notice) banker boy/marketer to try to get me to switch accounts. i sent him on his (sexy) way, and realized belatedly that he was probably meant to entice me with his looks etc the way the girls are meant to woo the male accounts, and i must have surprised him by telling him to please not ever come back. [ he wasn't overtly sexual ,(just smarmy) and i just thought he was cocky (no pun intended) when he kept insisting i switch my pesos to his bank. Dinner table conversation about the poor bank girls sent out to bring in unrealistic accounts made me realize that i'd been given the boy version a few weeks earlier.

Anonymous,  11:27 pm  

Anon 7:36

Palm oil, ke.....are you well?

Anonymous,  11:43 pm  

could someone please please explain the palm oil thing?!

Jubril,  1:52 am  

hmm he was probably disappointed he wasn't the first or perhaps the oranges failed the nafdac quality test

RJ 6:08 am  

The man ran out of the room? LOL, yeah right...

Well if this practise is indeed true, then it obviously doesn't say much about the banking sector in Naija cos personally I would want banks to fall over themselves & let me know wat they can offer me and what I'd gain banking with them as oppose to doing business wit the other bank. Yeah ok, the guy they send over is hot, we hit the sack and 20mins (assuming) later its over....then what? All I found out is whether he is a good lay or not, plus I know I can get "freebies" if needed, but how does that apply to banking?

Wouldn't it be easier if they focused more on improving their services? As usual, taking the easy way out is our forte...

Toks- Boy 10:41 am  

I assume you have not heard of the shenanigans in the Telecoms industry? Where there's money to be made......

I assume this bobo must have been an ajebutter type just coming from "abroad". Of course now all the local guys will be calling him didirin and what not. "What did you think they meant when they told you at the interview you would have your hands full of legal briefs" etc. etc.

randy oga,  10:56 am  

Time for a reality-check peeps. If u r a man and d boss in ur office in Naija, you can take your pick of the girls whenever and however. This is our culture and what goes down and nothing is gonna change anytime soon. Babes who don't like the situation can always stay home and make babies with the other guy..

Anonymous,  12:26 pm  

just listen to yourself. peeps like u are the reason nigeeria remains the jungle it is today

ababoypart2 1:07 pm  

"given condoms as part of their induction pack" - I am not having that! Don't know what to say....Shocked!!!

Sandrine 2:02 pm  

Hi Jeremy,

I believe that some people might have sex (or try to) at work.This part is not surprising.Where I work (Miami), some creep had been said to have a map with flags where people had done it.I also heard some people mentioning that they walked on others at an unfortunate time.Thankfully I never witnessed anything.This has nothing to do with countries, it has to do with human nature.Put a group of men and women together, it's likely that some of them will be compelled, not that I am condoning it.The parts that seems unbelievable to me are:
1)that the woman undressed without a cue from the guy.I don't believe she would have done that and risk to lose her job.
2)that the guy was horrified and ran.Now come on.What guy would be horrified.And why would he run?He could have just told her to put her clothes back on and leave.If he does not have this authority, what business does he have to be a supervisor?
3)he told a friend what he did risking to be made fun of by the"guys".
Now maybe there are some circumstances that made him behave this way that you would need to explain but I don't think most guys would have done what he did.
Story aside, women's rights on the workplace are not always respected and again this doesn't just happened in Nigeria.


Ms. Catwalq 3:52 pm  

I think I am more amused by those who are saying that they are shocked.
When are we going to face the fact that Nigeria has a very sexually pervasive and abusive society?

ijebuman 4:17 pm  

Sounds to me that this story has been exaggerated, it’s possible something happened but knowing my peeps I’m sure the version of the story you heard had a lot of ‘jara’ added to it..

Udoka,  5:01 pm  

Some of these stories may be true but sometimes I also think they are grossly over exaggerated.

I started my career in Oceanic Bank as a marketing officer and condoms were not part of my induction pack. I left after a few months and went to work for Zenith in a similar role and I was not given condoms either. I am now with UBA in a marketing role but on a slightly higher level and still I have not been given condoms.

Anonymous,  5:29 pm  

Toks-boy, for some reason, when I read the statement 'where there is money to be made', I instantly completed it by thinking, 'there are hos' to be laid'. Is this an actual saying?

Opium, it is about women standing up for themselves. We can't be sent out to ho'stle if we all stood our ground and said 'hell no!'.

First anonymous.

Toks- Boy 5:43 pm  

Udoka - you sound very disappointed about the condom situation.They do sell them in the shops you know? I hope it was not the lack of said condoms that has led you through three banks? I'm assuming that the Camry and other perks that come with these Marekting jobs has just not cut it for you. I feel for you oh.

Anonymous- no comment.

Anonymous,  7:52 pm  

LOL....Toks-boy you killed it!
Udoka, maybe you look like an efiko.

Anonymous,  11:29 pm  

Story is pure twaddle, and in any case many aspects of it are not exactly unfamiliar in the UK, Europe or the USA. It's just that in some places such things are just a lot more hidden. This woman, if true, was doing merely what Monica Lewinski did for instance. Ever head of Elliot Spitzer? Or, of countrles French Presidents?

The general tone of your blog sounds like expats parading myths and prejudices. Enjoy it if it helps you cope with being in a new place, but failing to understand the motives of individuals, and how they do not differ from motives elsewhere, probably doesn't help you with getting to know the place you're in.

For instance, the induction pack is merely a recognition that HIV is on the loose in Nigeria, and needs to be faced squarely. In most places this inclusion would be regarded as pretty progressive. Its exactly about 'standing up for themselves' as any WHO person would tell you! Better than in South Africa, where women are too scared to insist on using a condomn.

Anonymous,  7:06 pm  

last anon, you are totally confusing issues. you name people who have had notorious sex scandals, but none for career advancement- or did i miss something/ surely monicas intention was not to be a famous bad designer, and i dont beleive eliot spitzers babe was looking for placent in the DA's office. As for Carla Bruni, now Mrs. Sarkozy, she had previously retired from succesly supermodelling and was/is currently a very successly recording artist. So...again, story might be twaddle, but use stories to illustrate your point and dont just throw names out of a hat.

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