It’s government’s duty to secure citizens from fake products
There have been allegations of influx of substandard goods from different parts of the world, particularly China, into Nigeria. The danger posed by the consumption and use of these products by unsuspecting Nigerians is grave. Director General, Consumer Protection Council (CPC), Mr. Babatunde Irukera, in an interview with BRIDGET CHIEDU ONOCHIE, explained efforts being made to ensure that consumers’ rights are protected.
What is the preponderance of complaints from consumers regarding substandard goods?
I have been on this job only slightly above five months, and I can tell you that there is absolutely no day that we don’t receive consumers’ complaints. A significant number of people are complaining, and we are actually looking forward to expanding the channels for people to reach us. We are also looking towards improving our technology right now, so that people can reach us right through phone calls, SMS and others. We are looking at different methods of ensuring that when people are dissatisfied, we can certainly find a way to address their dissatisfaction.
Since substandard goods can also emanate from local producers, how do we draw a line between supporting local industries and consuming substandard goods?
For one, it is more difficult for local manufacturers to produce goods that are substandard because they are right here with the regulators, who are able to get to their locations or plants with ease. So, the biggest challenge with substandard products is not really about what is manufactured locally because local counterfeiter, who also engage in exactly what overseas counterfeiter do, the local market is against them.
The regulators are against counterfeits, regardless of the promotion of made-in-Nigeria products. The call to patronise made-in-Nigeria is not to promote counterfeit made-in-Nigeria. We don’t encourage producers in Nigeria to adopt even foreign brands as their products. We go beyond discouraging that to also prohibiting it and pursuing violators. But with respect to legitimate Nigerian businesses, the big issue is not whether locally made products are substandard with respect to applicable statutory standards, as we are more concerned with counterfeits.
So, I don’t have any trouble with whether they are Nigerian made goods, which may be of different qualities from foreign goods, and people might have different appetite with prospective style, and might consider familiarity and distinction between local and foreign goods. They might have that preference for foreign goods, but that is not an indication of whether Nigerian goods are substandard or not.
What the government is trying to do and rightly so, is to promote consumption of locally made or domestically manufactured goods, so that our taste can become acclimatised. After all, the issue with foreign goods was taste acclimatisation over a period of time, and so, we can equally encourage and promote locally made goods.
What steps have been taken to educate consumers on their rights?
If there is one thing the council does on a daily basis since I have been here, it is consumer education. The other is complaints resolution and both of them are dressed in one question. You asked how we educate consumers. We have got all kinds of methods and all kinds of channels. We use television— we have weekly programmes on television and use other methods of advertisements and billboards to let people know what their rights are. These include, their rights in the market; their rights to demand appropriate services; their rights to demand even the labelling of whatever products they are buying, and their rights when the product they purchase fails to work in the manner it is supposed to.
We regularly educate consumers in many ways, using local languages, as well as English language. And the Consumer Education Department is out there almost every week, whether in the market or at seminars, addressing students in various schools or trade associations. We have diverse methods of doing that.
In addition, since I have been here, one of the things we consider very important is our working on multiple bills of rights— the Consumer Rights Statement. This is a very simple statement across different industries, whether it is the healthcare, power, communication or even the food and drink sector. We are also working on small banking sector, just as we are working on a small document that identifies consumer rights. These are going to be published in different media and in different languages, so that consumers will really understand what their rights are and demand for them.
What we are also doing is providing people with information about how to enforce those rights, first with the service provider. But when they don’t succeed or when they are frustrated with that process, the Consumer Protection Council is available and ready to step in and resolve whatever the issue is.
Another way we are doing this is that we are beginning to get companies that manufacture goods or provide services to also contribute to educating their customers, by letting their customers know that we have a whole infrastructure revolving around satisfying costumers, which includes making sure we resolve their complaints, when they are unhappy. We are imposing on them, the responsibility of letting their consumers know about feedback mechanism – that they want to get feedback about their products, that is whether they are good or not.
There are all kinds of mechanism they are using to get feedback for the purpose of product development. So, we are telling them they have to use those mechanisms to also advise consumers of their rights, when they are dissatisfied, because it is an infrastructure that has already been created. Thus, when complaints come here, we have a resolution process.
What kind of evidence should a dissatisfied consumer present to accelerate your intervention?
We do not ordinarily proceed only in circumstances where there are some proof of purchase, or some kind of documentary evidence to support the contractual understanding between the consumer and the service or goods provider. That usually would become an issue, only when a goods or service provider disputes the transaction.
Generally, when consumers are dissatisfied, what we do is to forward that complaint to the service or goods provider, but what I would say is that it is always helpful to have some evidence of transaction, not just because you are hoping to complain, because in reality, those people who make a purchase, whether it is on service or goods, are making that purchase with the hope that it would work perfectly and they don’t have to go to complain. But a proof of transaction, whether it is a purchase or otherwise, always helps, especially in the case of loss, to establish ownership. Generally for us, evidence of transaction typically becomes relevant, when there is a dispute in the transaction. But most service providers and goods manufactures or sellers generally don’t, as a matter of practice, deny a transaction simply to avoid resolving a client’s complaint. Yes, it does occur sometimes, but then it is not that common.
How can consumers help you perform more efficiently?
I think what would help significantly is for consumers to be much less complacent. Consumers need to recognise that whoever is providing a service that they paid for or goods that they purchase is not doing them a favour. So, consumers need to first of all be very discriminatory, understand the intrinsic value in themselves and their choices, and the power they have in their hands, which is the purchasing power.
They need to understand that the reason anybody is in business selling something is because of you, and if you were taken out of the equation, they will be completely out of business. And so, consumers should not stand for, or tolerate mediocre service or delivery; they should resist it. They should challenge the service provider or goods provider, and when that is insufficient, they should come to the Consumer Protection Council and we will do anything we can.
In some circumstances where it is impracticable to even challenge the service or the goods provider, we are always here, and we will be happy to do that for them.
Efficient service delivery is a tradition I met and I can’t see it any other way. Our role is to protect the consumers, and it is a fundamental constitutional function of government. When government charges taxes, when government sells oil wells or when government does all the things it does to make money, it is so that they can carry out the function that we carry out here.
The constitution demands that the number one role of government is to secure and protect its citizens. It is the welfare of the citizen, especially the most vulnerable— the old, young and the children. So, the Consumer Protection Council is one of the agencies, essentially one of the instruments that government uses to discharge those very vital constitutional roles. It is a mandatory role for government, and as such, this is an agency that the government has created to provide that interface. There is absolutely no basis for anybody here to be paid by a consumer for what they do.
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