INVESTIGATION: China floods northern Nigerian markets with unregulated Monosodium Glutamate products (MSG) - AMEBO NEWSPAPERS NG.


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INVESTIGATION: China floods northern Nigerian markets with unregulated Monosodium Glutamate products (MSG)

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As early as 8 a.m. on Saturday and despite the blaring of vehicles’ hoots and noises from all over the place, Alhaji Aminu – a wholesale dealer at Kano’s Singer market – is busy and perhaps overwhelmed attending to a horde of customers seeking to buy one item or the other. 

Singer is Kano’s largest commodities market situated along Ibrahim Taiwo Road.

As Aminu and a number of his workers are taking orders from the customers many of whom are women, others are arriving and forming a queue. 

A large number of those coming to his shop are demanding a particular product – unbranded monosodium glutamate. 

A made-in-China product – Fufeng monosodium glutamate is what many are looking for.

Already, a corner of Aminu’s store is filled with one of the products in 25kg bags, yet, there is a two-wheeled cart waiting outside to offload more. Despite what looks like an overwhelming situation, Aminu is having a good day and he says it has always been like that because “people want the product”.

To some of the customers, including retailers, unbranded monosodium glutamate products like Fufeng are cheap and affordable.

At the Singer market, Fufeng and another unbranded MSG, Wuyi, are popular. But Fufeng appears to be the most sought-after. Consumers say the items have been in the market alongside branded products for some years now.


What is MSG

 MSG, or monosodium glutamate, is a flavor-enhancing food additive used in Asian cooking, fast foods, and commercially packaged food products. It is a white crystal-like substance in use for over 100 years.

Among locals in northern Nigeria, white additives in crystal form are known as “Farin Maggi”, regardless of the brand. Consumers in the south call it  “white Maggi”.

“Fufeng MSG” is ahead of the known and branded bagged ones in the market. On the side of the bag of the MSG is written “Produced by Fufeng”, with “Country of Origin: China,” as an addendum to the information. Wuyi, the rival product is also made in China.

No mark of authorization 

Funfeng and other unbranded MSG products being sold in the Nigerian market have no mark of authorization from the government’s regulatory agencies. 

The packaging also does not bear the insignia of the National Agency for Foods Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) that certifies such products as fit for human consumption and there is no mark of the Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON) on it. 

According to Mojisola Adeyeye, director general (DG) of NAFDAC, any unregistered food is not guaranteed by the agency. “It is fake food. It was most likely smuggled into the country,” Adeyeye warned.

The agency is mandated to give permits and authorization for the importation of foods and chemicals into the country. 

‘’For safety and security concerns, NAFDAC does end-to-end monitoring for all chemicals. We request distribution and utilization patterns before we give importers permits to import chemicals,” Adeyeye was quoted as saying in a report.

“We must know who you have sold the chemicals to in your report. These are the things you must clarify to us before we give approval for a permit to clear chemical consignments.’’ 


The rush for unbranded MSGs 

The boom in the sale of the product is happening two years after unauthorised chemicals killed three persons in Kano after consuming adulterated flavored milk. 

Three persons were arrested by NAFDAC after the agency discovered the chemicals were used as additives in the flavored milk that the victims consumed. 

Each day, as many as 20 customers demand the unbranded MSG product from Aminu’s store — though the 25kg is not certified by NAFDAC for home use, those who order it at the Singer market use it for retail and domestic purposes. Operators of big restaurants in the city are said to be among big buyers.

It comes cheaper at N43,000 per 25kg and allows wholesalers and retailers to sell in small units, including measuring in what locals call “modu” – local parlance for a unit of measurement.  

In a bag, there are as many as 10 to 15 mudu, according to a dealer who asked not to be named. 

What determines the preference of customers for these unbranded products, he added, are the number of mudus and the flexibility to adulterate the product by mixing with salt so as to increase bulk and make more profit, this paves the way for adulteration with any other cheap white powdery substance.

So your customers know what you’re bringing… but the most acceptable in the market is one with the highest number of mudu. The higher the number of mudu and purity of the MSG, the higher the price,” he said.

Aminu testifies that the product is easily affordable for customers.  

“The price of 25kg Fufeng monosodium glutamate in my shop is 43,000, but for you as a new customer, I can do a discount for you and sell it to you at the price of 42,000. I want to establish a good relationship with you, so that you may come back to me and buy more,” he told this reporter as he showed the product.

“Before you sell one carton of the branded one, you sell five sacks of the unbranded product.”

From Lagos to Kano, Fufeng and others like it have found their way to nearly all the northern markets. 

The infiltration started a few years ago, according to people at Singer market. But the products have gained popularity and acceptance among households now. They are also sold in the Abubakar Rimi market (Sabon Gari market).

It is not clear how they scaled the scrutiny of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS). But dealers say it comes in trucks as supplies by some businessmen that they declined to name. 

The merchant confirmed that many brought these products into the country through illegal routes. “And if you have to follow the legal field then you have to have a link with the company (that produces sachets) for approval,” he said.

Aminu corroborates this claim – he admits the products are imported through Lagos but does not reveal the identities of the importers.

“We are getting the supply of it from Lagos because this is not a Nigeria-made product,” Aminu said.

“This unbranded product is very popular. In the past, only people from rural areas were using it, but now everyone buys it.”

Like Aminu, Alhaji Bashir who is also a popular dealer of the MSG in the market confirmed that Lagos is the origin of the product. “The product is made in China, not Nigeria,” he retorted.

 “I order it from Lagos whenever I sell out the ones that are in my shop. Lagos is the source of this product. People buy this product more. That is why we are selling it.”

At the market, there are retailers like Alhaji Dini who sell it in small packets for average people who cannot buy 25kg. 

At his shop, he measures in “mudu” which is N4,650. “I’m not a dealer; I am selling it to average people who cannot afford 25kg,” he said as he showed off the small units packaged in a white cellophane bag.

“One bowl of this product is N4,650. It depends on the needs of the customers. Even if they come with N300, there is something for them. The price starts from N300 and above.

“I buy 25kg and sell it in small packets to people who cannot afford 25kg. My price starts from N300 and above. You know this one is cheaper compared to the branded one.”

When he was asked if he knew that the product was not meant for domestic use and could be harmful to human health, he replied “No”. 

“How can you tell me this is not safe for use? Dini quipped. “This cannot happen. People have been using it for cooking. This is not the only thing I sell here. There are branded ones and different types of products.”

But Amina Kamal, a food vendor in the Sabon Gari area of Kano has no worries using the MSG. Amina said she uses it in her cooking because it gives a good taste to the food. 

“I use it for my cooking and sometimes I buy the branded one. But honestly, this one is cheaper than the branded ones. That is why we use it,” she said.

“This product is for people to use and cook. People like us enjoy using it because of the taste.”

Sadiya Kamilu, a housewife who was at the market to pick daily needs for her family said the product is very good for cooking, which is why she prefers it. 

“I use it for my cooking because it gives a good taste to the food, and it is cheaper,” Sadiya said.

“I don’t think it is harmful but I heard people say that. But that does not stop me, because I don’t believe it.”

FCPC vows to track unbranded products

The Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) has indicated an interest in tracking all the unbranded and unauthorised MSG products across the commodities markets in Kano. 

The FCPC is charged with the responsibility of promoting fair business practices and safeguarding the interests of consumers.

According to Boladale Adeyinka, the FCCPC director of surveillance and investigation, the commission would send its teams and secure samples.

“It has come to the attention of the FCCPC and we are sending our surveillance team to confirm and secure samples,” she said in a reply to inquiries by this reporter.

“Where there is a need for emergency intervention, we would provide urgent and interim interventions. We will also provide updates.”

Adeyinka said her office is responsible for market surveillance and investigation, which are “vital tools for protecting consumers when violations occur”.

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