It is a common practice in this civilized age for nations to make laws that are designed to protect the interest of its citizenry in the course of buying and using goods or services. This action, usually referred to as consumer protection, guards against exploitation of consumers, reduce risk of exposure to harm from the usage of goods and services as well as provides a platform for the consumers to seek redress in the event where these inadvertently happens.
In Nigeria, this is provided for in the Consumer Protection Council Act, under Chapter C25, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004. It is an act to provide for the establishment of the consumer protection council and for matters connected therewith. The Council is made up of a chairman, a representative of each state in the Federal Republic of Nigeria and persons representing the ministries of Health, Commerce, Industry, Science and technology and Petroleum resources. The function of the council includes the followings, amongst many others:
- Provide speedy redress to consumers’ complaints through negotiation, mediation and conciliation;
- Seek ways and means of eliminating from the market hazardous products and causing offenders to replace such products with more appropriate alternatives;
- Cause an offending company or individual to protect, compensate, and provide relief and safeguards to injured consumers or communities from adverse effects of technologies that are inherently harmful;
- Ensure consumer interests receive due consideration at appropriate forums and provide redress for the exploitation of consumers.
As lofty and well-crafted as these objectives are, the true test of the council’s impact on the Nigerian consumers lies in its deliverables. To what extent has the council protected the Nigeria consumers? The ability of the council to answer this question rests squarely on its extent of success in combating the following key social-political obstacles:
High Level of Ignorance amongst the Nigerian Consumers: This phenomenon is not only predominant amongst the majority illiterate Nigerians but also amongst the literate and even the educated. The number of Nigerians aware of the existence of this parastatal of government, backed by law is arguably very small. The number is sure to further deep if one seeks to know those (from those who claim to be aware) that have sought redress through the council or any other means at all.
Bureaucratic Bottlenecks: This is common with all government institutions at all levels. Nigerians are generally opposed to the idea of using government institutions to process anything (except if it’s the only option available) and would readily prefer any other alternative even if it means forfeiting their hard-earned money and accepting their loss. Yes, the pains and losses resulting from the purchase of a substandard or faulty product or service fades into nothingness, when compared to the troubles of the bureaucratic bottlenecks of most public institutions, if one decides to seek redress.
Poor Constitutional Framework: Inherent weaknesses in the enabling law hinder an efficient implementation of the provisions of the act to properly protect the Nigerian consumers. These weaknesses include but are not limited to non definition of consumers’ rights and inadequate provisions for their enforcement; lack of a specific institutional framework for the defense of consumers’ rights; undefined relationship with sector regulators leading to some confusion as to the role of the agency; an over-bloated and unwieldy 43-member governing board and many more.
The Corruption and Ineptitude of Law Enforcement Apparatus: Every law or policy is only as viable as the degree to which it is enforced. It is the enforcement of a law, and not its formulation that delivers benefit to the people. Sadly, our law enforcement apparatus are grossly unequipped, uninformed and completely untrustworthy to handle the enforcement aspect of this act. More so, the security and political challenges facing the country at the moment has resulted in the relegation of ‘trivial’ issues such as consumer protection to the back burner on the priority list of Nigeria Law enforcement institutions such as the Police and the Judiciary. All this is in addition to the debilitating level of corruption associated with these institutions, which makes them (judiciary and police) far from being the only hope of the common, especially if the aggrieved consumer is up against a major player in the economy.
Therefore, in the light of the above socio-political challenges, it is no surprise that consumer abuse is widespread in Nigeria, with many consumers choosing to graciously accept their losses, in some cases harm to physical body and even death, than seek redress via the designated channels. Owing to years of flagrant exposure to all forms exploitation and abuse, a large majority of Nigeria consumers are no longer agitated by the fallen standard of products and services as witnessed in the telecommunication, food and beverages, pharmaceuticals, aviation and entertainment etc industries.
Nigeria GSM users are one of the most short-changed in the world, even when the most profits are generated from them. More so, cases like missing or tampered baggage, ticketing challenges, delayed flights (without any cogent explanation to passengers) and poor in-flight services (to mention a few) are rife in the aviation sector, even amongst the so-called major industry players. Recently (Thursday September 26th, 2013), Angry passengers of Arik Air blocked the runway of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, preventing planes from taking-off or landing because the flight they took from Abuja to Calabar was not allowed to land in Calabar around 5.30pm for safety reasons – the runway lightening was poor, forcing the pilot to return the passengers to Abuja.
Nigeria consumers are exposed to one of the most disparaging exploitation in the cable service industry, by the South African cable service provider. Painfully, instead of taking the necessary action to safeguard the interest of the Nigerian consumers, the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) has rather chosen to go arresting and harassing individuals and hotels that commercialize the services. What’s good for the goose, they say, is also good for the gander.
For want of space, I leave you to imagine what Nigerian consumers are exposed to, on daily basis, in other industries such as food and beverages, pharmaceuticals, automobiles, electronics and appliances, Computers and ICT, electricity etc. Succor can only come when these socio-political bottlenecks are dealt with. In the meantime, as a Nigerian consumer, do you best to protect yourself and family from excessive and unnecessary losses.