A FEW weeks ago, I expreienced a terrible flight delay on my way to Abuja. Such was the delay that three or four scheduled flights were either cancelled or merged. While intending passengers waited endlessly, the most annoying aspect of this experience is, apart from apologies were also delayed in coming from operators, no specific provisions was made for passengers who were delayed for about five hours or more.
While chatting with other passengers as the waiting game was on, a lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), who also lamented the neglect of passengers, had to challenge officials of one of the airlines on the legal consequence of keeping checked-in passengers for so long without offering them any form of comfort or refreshments. Sensing trouble, the airline personnel quickly made some calls and within a few minutes, people were served some snacks and drinks.
The above scenario is just one of the several ill-treatments meted-out to Nigerians by manufacturers and service providers. It is in our dear country that the producer, rather than the consumer, is the king. Consumers are repeatedly sold fake or sub-standard products thus constituting social and economic problems not only to consumers themselves but for the manufacturers as well as the government.
It is in a bid to curtail these problems that the Consumer Protection Council, CPC, was established. CPC is a parastatal of the Federal Government, which is supervised by the Federal Ministry of Trade and Investment and established by Act No. 66 of 1992 and commenced operations in 1999, when its institutional framework was put in place. Its mandate includes working towards eliminating hazardous products from the market, providing speedy redress to consumers’ complaints, undertaking of campaigns that would increase consumer awareness, ensuring that consumers’ interest receive due consideration at the appropriate forum, encouraging trade, industry and professional associations in developing and enforcing quality standards.
In carrying out these tasks, the CPC adopts a number of measures such as providing speedy redress to consumers’ complaints through negotiation, mediation and conciliation; seeking ways and means of removing unhealthy products from public locations and replacing with safer alternatives; publishing from time-to-time the list of banned, withdrawn, restricted or products that are not approved by the Federal government; causing an offending company, firm, trade association or individual to protect, compensate, provide relief to injured consumers or communities from adverse effects of technologies that are inherently harmful, injurious and disastrous.
Globally, in safeguarding consumer interest, these rights are clearly defined by the United Nations Consumer Bill of Rights. They are: the right to safety by safeguarding against goods that are hazardous to life and property; right to information, consumers have the right to be informed regarding the price, quality, quantity of the products they buy; right to choice, consumers should be provided with a wide variety of goods to choose from; the right of consumers to have their complaints heard; right to satisfaction of basic needs, this right demands that people have access to basic, essential goods and services: adequate food, clothing, shelter, health care, education, public utilities, water, and sanitation and right to redress, consumers have the right to seek redress regarding their complaints. Others are the right to consumer education; the right of consumers to be educated about their rights; right to a healthy environment and the right to live and work in an environment that is non-threatening to the well-being of present and the future generations.
But how far has the interest of Nigerian consumers been protected? It should be appreciated that an uninformed consumer population cannot be effectively protected, if they do not know that they have rights, what the rights are and how the rights could be protected. That is the dilemma of an average consumer in Nigeria. The problem with enforcing consumer protection seems to be diverse in the sense that consumers are not sure of what they are buying, the producers of goods are not effectively monitored to ensure quality assurance, the existing legislation do not appear to be adequate to tackle the observed lapses while offenders are hardly punished for their illegality, as very few convictions have been recorded in the course of prosecuting violators of the CPC Act to date. Violators are found in virtually every facet of our national life such as those engaging in the sale of fake and substandard drugs, adulterated food, prohibited goods and those engaging in consumers’ exploitation and providing poor services.
However, a number of interventions and attempts have been made by the CPC to safeguard the interest of Nigerians. These include the agreement between the council and the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) in enforcing the mandatory 60-day order to electricity distribution companies (DISCOs), to either provide meter or stop billing consumers under the Credited Advance Payment for Metering Implementation (CAPMI) scheme. Similarly, the CPC was able to wade-in and resolve the allegations of consumer rights violations by MultiChoice Nigeria Limited in the provision of its Digital Satellite Broadcast Television (DStv) service to numerous Nigerian viewers.
The council has also successfully intervened on the issue of far-reaching orders including the suspension of service whenever consumers were away; release of free-to-air channels even when subscription had expired; securing compensation across board to consumers for lost viewing time, introduction of local toll free lines; and ensuring reasonable and equitable spread of popular sports channels, among others. To ensure that the consumer remains the king, there is the need for the CPC to embark on massive enlightenment campaigns.
Mr. Adewale Kupoluyi, wrote from Federal varsity of Agric., Abeokuta, Ogun State.