CPC: How far can it protect the people?
A few weeks ago, I witnessed a terrible flight delay on my way to Abuja. The delay was so much that three or four scheduled flights were either cancelled or merged. While the passengers waited endlessly, the most annoying thing was that apart from the apologies being relayed via the public address system, no specific provisions were made for the passengers, who were delayed for about five hours.
While chatting with other passengers sitting close to me, a lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), who was also lamenting about the neglect of the 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 being served some snacks and drinks.
The above scenario is just one of the several ill-treatments being meted-out to Nigerians by manufacturers and service providers. It is in our 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. In a bid to curtailing these types of problems, 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. It was established by Act No. 66 of 1992 and it 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 an 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products from public locations and replacing with safer alternatives; publishing from time-to-time the list of banned, withdrawn, restricted or products that are not approved by the Federal Government; causing an offending company, firm, trade association or individual to protect,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, healthcare, 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 our country. 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 does 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, some 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. In the same vein, the company was made to subject its processes to the council’s inspection to ensure compliance with the existing directives. All these were done to ensure that Nigerian consumers were protected from exploitation and arbitrariness.
To ensure that the consumer remains the king, there is the need for the CPC to embark on massive enlightenment campaigns, to make more people aware of their rights, privileges and limitations when it comes to the purchase and consumption of goods and services, just like the airport episode narrated in the foregoing. Secondly, the process of filing in applications should be made easier. A system that makes it Herculean to seek redress from a manufacturer that sells sub-standard goods and services puts the consumer at the receiving end and with little or no hope to get a redress or reprieve.
The CPC should establish more offices and open more platforms that will make it simple for genuine complaints to be made and get necessary attention and redress. The CPC should be better empowered in terms of funding and autonomy, to prosecute organisations that flout the existing legislation and continue to give the impression that they are above the law. It should no longer be business as usual. That way, the CPC would really be up to the task; consumers would be better protected and would truly be seen to have been protected.
• Kupoluyi is of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), Ogun State, email@example.com,@adewalekupoluyi
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