Stakeholders seek enhanced consumer rights

Unlike in the advanced nations of the world, consumers in Nigeria suffer untold hardship in the hands of some unscrupulous manufacturers and service providers without any effective channel for seeking redress. The Consumer Protection Council, which is statutorily empowered to protect consumers’ rights is hampered by lack of powers of prosecution. OLUFEMI ADEOSUN examines the latest efforts by the Council to expand its frontier to protect consumers’ rights

Perhaps there is nowhere in the world where consumer rights been so much violated than in Nigeria. From the sale of expired items to substandard products, adulterated goods to under dispensing of petroleum products, the Nigerian consumers have been made to accept whatever is thrown at them. It has continued to be so either because they are not aware of their basic rights as enunciated in the United Nations declaration of 1985 to which Nigeria subscribes or they are not aware of any channel of redress in the case of abuse of their rights.

However, the Consumer Protection Council, the Federal Government agency saddled with the responsibility of protecting consumer’s right is beset with many problems ranging from lack of funds, non-definition of consumers rights and inadequate provisions for enforcement, lack of specific institutional framework for the defence of consumers’ rights and the apparent undefined relationship with sector regulators leading to overlapping of functions among other constraints.

It is, therefore, in a bid to address some of the shortfalls that the Council is seeking for the review of its enabling Act with a view to making it more functional in the protection of the consumers’ rights.

Apart from the power to prosecute any erring manufacturer or service provider that violates the rights of consumers, also imbued in the Amendment Bill currently before the House of Representatives, is the expansion in the areas covered by the Council in view of emerging forms of trading tagged, ”e-Commerce.

The public hearing for the bill was held in July and the bill seeks to amend the CPC Act No. 66 of 1992 to, among others, ensure clarity of its provisions and modify the Council’s composition and widen its functions and powers in order to provide for a broader and more effective Council.

Making a case for a speedy passage of the bill at a meeting with the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Aminu Tambuwal, in Abuja recently the CPC Director General, Mrs. Dupe Atoki, stated that it would provide a broader and more effective Council to deal with the various market abuses.

She noted, “The purpose of this Bill is to re-enact the Consumer Protection Council Act to provide for a broader and more effective Council, clearly define consumer rights, ensure the removal of fake and substandard products from the market, ensure the protection of consumers and their access to easy and speedy redress through the establishment of an elaborate consumer redress system, establishment of institutions for the protection of consumer rights and among other things, complement laws governing unfair competition and deceptive and fraudulent practices.”

Apart from that, she also noted that emerging technological changes, new trading methods, patterns and agreements had brought about new challenges to consumers of goods and services in Nigeria, stressing that there was a compelling reason to develop and employ further innovative ways to protect their interests. In order to enable the Council deal decisively with all issues pertaining to market infractions, she also advocated for increased budgetary funding.

According to her, appropriate funding would enable the agency set up offices in all the 36 states with a view to attending to plight of the over 160million consumers scattered across the nation. Reacting, Aminu Tambuwal agreed that there was an urgent need to speed up the passage of the bill, adding that the House had worked on it and that it would possibly be passed before the end of the year.

According to the Speaker, the speedy passage of the bill becomes necessary since the protection of consumers falls within the purview of the legislative agenda of the House. Tambuwal, who commended the Council for bringing consumer issues into the people’s consciousness, assured that House would continue to provide legislative support to the agency.

He said, “I want to assure you that we as an institution will continue to do all that we need to do to improve quality of service and service delivery to the Nigerian people.

At the public hearing, so much submission were made on the need to have a law that would stand the test of time because consumer protection issues are issues that have the potentiality of generating even cases that are in between jurisdictions.

“We are available and would continue to give you all the support about the issues you have raised. I assure you that here you don’t have any problem and very soon possibly before the year runs out, the House of Representatives would be done with the bill,” Also speaking, an Abuja based consumer rights advocate, Mr. Tunji Daralola, noted that there could not be a better time to review the Act than now, explaining that there was no provision in the Act that takes care of new methods of trading thrown up by technology.

According to him, more than ever before millions of Nigerians, who deal in online trading are being daily short-changed with impunity. Asked if they could not be prosecuted, Daralola who spoke with our correspondent argued that the laws under which the CPC operates did not cover online trading.

“There is no gainsaying that the Act under which the CPC derives it powers is obsolete and not reflective of the prevailing circumstances in the world markets. For instance, the Nigerian consumers have caught the bug of online buying, but sadly they are being cheated each day without any channel for redress. In the advanced countries where online trading is the norm, there are laws that guide their operations even if there is no physical contact,” he said.

Apart from that, he disagreed that the inherent loopholes in the Act was responsible for the various consumer abuses in the country, insisting that the first thing the Council needed to do is to embark of massive awareness campaign to sensitize the people to their rights in the market place. According to him, 80 per cent of the Nigerian consumers are not aware that they can seek redress whenever their rights are trampled upon either by manufacture or service provider.

The consumer right advocate fingered the various telecommunications outfits in the rave of consumers’ abuses going on in the country. He cited the unsolicited calls, text messages and e-mail as examples of the abuses in which the Council had failed to address. He urged the Council to demonstrate what it was capable of doing with the little powers at its disposal to justify its existence.

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