On the violation of consumers’ rights
IT is cheery news that officials of the Consumer Protection Council (CPC) have expressed their readiness to increase awareness about the rights of consumers. Unlike other economies where consumers are accorded well-deserved respect, businesses in Nigeria often ignore consumers’ complaints or shoddily respond to such. This kind of ill-treatment, of course, fails to take cognizance of the fact that without the consumers, businesses cannot thrive. And because of ignominy for consumers, economic development is retarded. While the Council’s move is welcome, however, it does not vitiate the position that the CPC has for too long failed to justify its existence, having failed to take up the complaints of consumers and therefore it stands accused of equally perpetrating the abuse of consumer rights.
The somnolence of the CPC has, indeed, paved the way for a situation in which businesses and services ride roughshod over consumers while the latter meekly accept their bleak fate. Consumers gloss over such ill-treatment largely because neither the CPC nor any other agency of government would come to their rescue. This is why a consumer discovers he or she has bought a bad product but does not bother about returning it knowing full well that he or she would not make a headway with the complaint. It is only in a very negligible number of cases that consumers who feel aggrieved take their complaints to a law court, given the fact that many Nigerians do not have the enlightenment and resources to explore this option. Regrettably also, if the CPC prosecutes cases at all, it is only those ones that would earn it media publicity. Which is why businesses or service providers wantonly increase the cost of their products despite protests by consumers; airlines would arbitrarily change schedules without adequate provision for the inconveniences of their customers; and this is why telecommunications companies would wittingly charge customers for services not rendered, to mention only a few.
The CPC needs to strengthen its awareness campaigns and rightfully assert itself as the protector of consumers. In undertaking this role afresh, the agency needs to avoid being intimidated by government officials or other persons of influence while it remains committed to the objectives for which it has been set up. In this regard, the government should appreciate or acknowledge the fact that the agency would only function optimally when the appointing government in power does not nibble away at its powers by meddling in its activities. There should be well-defined sanctions for government officials and other people who may like to deploy their influence to stop the investigation and prosecution of complaints lodged before the agency.
Unfortunately, to start with, most of these consumer rights are not known to the generality of the public. Thus the urgent assignment for the CPC now is to create awareness about these rights. The CPC lists some of these consumer rights to include: the right to satisfaction of basic needs – access to basic goods and services necessary for survival, such as food, water, energy, clothing, shelter, health-care, education and sanitation (goods and services must meet the standard of quality promised such that there is value for money in the purchase); the right to safety – protection from hazardous products, production processes and services; the right to information – the provision of information to enhance consumer choice as well as protection from misleading or inaccurate advertising and labeling; the right to choose – access to a variety of quality products and services at competitive prices; the right to redress –compensation for misrepresentation, shoddy goods and unsatisfactory public and private services, including the right to adequate legal representation; the right to consumer education – acquisition of the skills required to be an informed consumer throughout life; the right to consumer representation – advocacy of consumers’ interest and the ability to take part in the formulation of economic and other policies affecting consumers i.e. the right to be heard; and the right to a healthy environment – habitation is a place that is safe for present and future generations and which will enhance the quality of their lives.
If the CPC says it has the responsibility of protecting the right of a consumer to private and public services, for instance, what action has it ever taken to redress the case of Nigerians who applied for the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) jobs and died or were injured in the process after the government had indirectly extorted money from them? When and how has the CPC protected the rights of consumers to live in a healthy environment? The CPC cannot claim to be ignorant of the patently disturbing unhealthy environment in which majority of the nation’s citizens live because of poverty. What has ever been done about air and noise pollution that significantly distracts from safe habitation? The council is crucial to a nation’s economic development. It should wake up from its slumber, protect consumers’ rights and get rid of its image of a lame duck.