Monday, April 16, 2012

NASS, CPC and consumer rights



    Where I come from, there is this proverb translated as “It is God that chases flies for the tail-less cow”. It is safe to assume that in Nigeria, if you do not have connections,only God would fight for you. One can also make it a daily prayer that influential Nigerians should suffer the indignities regular Nigerians suffer so that these indignities are addressed. My beef on this issue relates to consumer rights and the helplessness of the tailless Nigerian. Three examples suffice. About three weeks ago, 125 Nigerians were deported from Oliver Thambo airport, South Africa for carrying “fraudulent yellow cards”. This issue escalated and was addressed by the government mainly because a Nigerian senator was among the deportees. It is common knowledge that South Africa is a xenophobic country and Nigerians are/have being/been mistreated in that country. However, the Nigerian government did not address the abuse of her citizens until a senator was involved. Second, the House of Representatives recently summoned Hyundai motors to explain why a faulty car was sold to a former representative. Is the National Assembly so caring that it now protects consumer rights? Third, I purchased a black berry phone with a one-year warranty from an authorized dealer. After two weeks of using the phone, it stopped working. I returned it to the manufacturer for repairs and/or replacement. After the run around the company gave me I resorted to using the police and an arrest to get a new phone.
   These examples illustrate the disorderly nature of our system where there are no structures and processes and where the use of might makes right. One would think that there are no consumer protection agencies in Nigeria with the way customers and clients are exploited and treated by organizations in Nigeria. However, it is interesting to note that there is a Consumer Protection Council in Nigeria. A function of this council is “providing speedy redress to consumers complaints through negotiation, mediation and conciliation”.
    On the paper this organization is the answer to the prayers of Nigerians but in reality, the organization is not as effective as it should/can be. Remember that I had issues with a phone dealer. I tried to contact CPC on their hotlines to no end. No one picked. If the defender is not available, how does one get redress? A second issue is that the organization has its hands in many pies. Some of the functions of CPC are also carried out by organizations such as Stanadard Organization of Nigeria (SON) and National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) resulting in duplication of functions. Third is that there are no contacts of responsible persons that an aggrieved customer can reach. On the website of the organization, you can send in a complaint. You receive a generic your-case-has-been-received-and –would- be- treated reply. However, there is no Chidi or Sola that I can reach if I do not get any response from the organization. The fourth issue with CPC is that of awareness. A considerable number of Nigerians do not even know the organization exists. The institution has to work on making itself known so can it can cater to its target audience- Nigerian consumers
    For CPC to function effectively, its role should be streamlined to consumer protection in the areas of exploitation, redress and advocacy.The organization can do this by:
- Ensuring that industries including government agencies have standards how clients and cases should be treated. Remember the stale pie you bought at an eatery and when you went back to complain you were told nothing can be done because you already paid for it or the meal you ordered did not look as advertised but you still had to pay for it. CPC can ensure that the food services industry bear the cost of their “off days”. 
- Promoting a retail  culture in the country: the organization can build trust among customers and businesses by building a retail culture  tilted initially in favour of the consumer. How many times have you bought something you want to return but cannot because “all goods bought cannot be returned or exchanged”?
-Visibility: the organization should create awareness not by jingles and adverts but by making public examples of offending businesses and organizations. I would be more likely to report an issue if I learn that MTN was penalized for authorized withdrawal of customer’s airtime or that Park n Shop was penalized for poor customer service.
   If CPC gets its acts together and is able to streamline its mandates and carry out these mandates effectively and efficiently, all Nigerians regardless of their social and economic connections and statuses would be protected from exploitation and one of the many  problems of Nigeria  would be checked off.

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