By Sandra Umeh/NAN
Many Nigerians are yet to exercise their rights as consumers. This has given room for their exploitation by providers of products and services.
Analysts blame this age-long situation on ignorance by consumers and poor protection of the rights by the relevant agencies.
They believe that much work is required by the agencies in public enlightenment and enforcement of statutory provisions as regards consumer rights.
A lawyer, Mrs Nneka Ugwu, notes that the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act, 2018 (FCCPA) is the primary legislation that governs and protects the rights of consumers in Nigeria.
She also notes that FCCPA established the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) to, among other things, prohibit unfair business practices.
According to the lawyer, many Nigerians lack adequate information that will aid them in asserting their consumer rights.
“This ignorance is largely responsible for repeated breach of these rights,’’ she argues, adding that consumers of goods, electricity, medical services etc., seem to be worst hit by rights violation.
“It is within the rights of a consumer to get free replacement for goods with warranty when they are damaged, provided that the damage falls within the terms and conditions covered by the warranty.
“Sadly, this provision appears untapped by consumers.
“Also, an Act of the National Assembly criminalises estimated billings.
“This means that it is within the rights of a consumer to seek arrest and prosecution of any official of an electricity company, who attempts illegal disconnection on grounds of non-payment of an estimated bill.
“The question now is: How many Nigerians have effectively employed the provisions of the law in this regard?
“How many individuals have dared to seek rights enforcement for medical breach?’’ she asked.
A former Publicity Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr Douglas Ogbankwa, calls for adequate protection of consumer rights by FCCPC and other relevant agencies to justify public confidence in government.
“Now is the time for consumer rights advocacy, to stop fleecing of citizens, and make sure utility providers and sellers of goods go by the books,” Ogbankwa says.
He urges that adequate measures should be put in place to end all forms to maltreatment of consumers of goods and services.
“For instance, if your flight, local or international, is cancelled, you are entitled to accommodation and food vouchers once there is clear evidence that you have no place to go.
“If your flight, local or international is cancelled, you are entitled to up to a thousand dollars depending on your losses.
“If you miss your flight and the airline is flying the next day, you have priority over other passengers for the next day.
“All of these are standard ICAO Regulations.”
Ogbankwa advises consumers to always insist on their rights.
According to him, an electricity distribution company cannot stop power supply to a consumer except such a customer has been issued a 30-day disconnection notice.
“In addition, when there is a dispute between an electricity distribution company and a consumer, the consumer cannot be disconnected until the dispute is resolved,” he adds.
Ogbankwa calls on consumers of goods and services to be knowledgeable about their rights and take advantage of legal provisions to seek their protection.
Mr Tunde Oluwatobi, a student of Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education, Lagos State, describes the rate of violation of consumer rights in Nigeria as worrisome.
He says that his attempt to return an Android phone after a month of purchase, due to a defect, failed as the seller refused to collect it because the packet was torn.
“I also had a case when I purchased dried fish from a mini market.
“On getting home, I discovered it was infested with maggots . I rushed back to the woman in the market to show her the surprise but she asked me why I had to return it to her, adding that she wasn’t sure it was her fish.
“I think this whole issue of consumer rights protection is only on paper; consumers are left to fight for themselves.
“Some of these goods sellers and service providers don’t really care,” he argues.
The Director-General of FCCPC, Mr Babatunde Irukera, however, says the agency is determined to safeguard the rights of consumers and competitors.
“The FCCPC has a mandate to ensure that markets are fair, not distorted, and that barriers to entry, if any, are limited.
“In all, we regulate markets for the primary benefit of consumers, which also redounds to the benefit of competitors.
“Our ultimate desire is for the market to be robustly competitive in a manner that promotes quality, innovation, choices, fair prices and dynamism,” he says.
He urges that consumers and competitors should, at all times, exercise their rights, adding that they should report any breach of their rights.
“Generally, we accept complaints by walk-ins, telephone, hard mail, e-mail, but most efficiently, through the complaint resolution mechanism.
“This is available as a portal on our website and as an app that consumers can download unto their handheld devices,” he explains.
Mr Paul Umuzuruigbo, the Director of Tarmac Star Nigeria Wires and Cables Ltd., believes that consumers should have value for their money.
“It is in my best interest to ensure that my customers smile after patronising me,” he says.
He is convinced that it is the responsibility of a manufacturer of goods to make sure consumers have confidence in his products.
“No reasonable businessman will feel happy or satisfied to see the end users of his products bite their fingers in regret for using his products.
“Since nobody is perfect, whenever there appears to be any hiccups or complaints regarding our products, it is entirely our responsibility to immediately remedy such complaints to save our image and business.
“How we treat them determines the survival of our business.’’
Analyst hope for adequate consumer rights protection in 2023.