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Protecting Nigerian consumers

By Bolaji Odumade

It is often said that ‘consumer is king’. Again, it is common in this part of the world to hear phrase such as ‘consumer or customer is always right’.

Yet, in our nation, events playing out in our day-to-day life never cease to project consumer in any manner near being ‘chief’ not to talk of being ‘king’. What happens mostly in this clime cases of consumer being shortchanged, coined, cornered and underrated.

Then Oxford advanced Learner’s dictionary defines consumer as someone or a person who buys into goods products and services for utility purpose. It can then be assumed that any good, product or service that does not meet the need of consumer is not worthy of being produced and the manufacturers have no basis for being in business.

Many a times, consumers in Nigeria suffer untold hardship, hazard, deprivation and wastage of scarce resource because they are not in any way protected by the law. Even in exceptional cases of clear cut evidence of abuse, cost and time of seeking redress becomes a source of discouragement.

A case in mind is that of a young female small scale entrepreneur who took a loan to establish a small factory. She contracted a factory equipment company to supply and install the production equipment. Having paid the agreed costs, she was to get frustrated by the substandard nature of equipment that was supplied. Thus, she was in a double dilemma. One, she had a bank loan to repay. Two, she had an equipment that was useless to change.

Till date, as they say in local parlance, she is on her own trying to sort out the mess as the supplier feign ignorance concerning the inferior kind of equipment installed This, of course, is the tragedy of the Nigerian consumer. He is always on his own!

Every day in Nigeria, consumers are at the mercy of producer or the person offering the services being consumed. From goods, products and services, the story is the same. Outdoor advertisement, electronic medium, print and social media have become instrument through which consumers make informed decision on products and services that are supposed to meet their needs in addition to client’s service consumers direct persuasion. In advanced countries such as the United Kingdom, consumers’ protection is of paramount interest to the government. This is because consumers determine the destiny of the economy of any nation.

It is to this end that they are protected through multiplicity of Acts of Parliaments, through which government agencies, citizens and concerned lobby groups ensure that the market economy produces fairness and also ensure quality in goods and services people patronize. Their constitution also supports fairer terms in contracts for goods or services, while declaring onerous terms as unfair. Their constitution gives legal backing to ensuring that products that are potentially harmful don’t find its way into their country. It further puts financial regulation in place to make credit cheaper to access with full understanding of the obligations they have, when securing loans.

In a nation that was once colonized by British administration, one would have expected the Nigerian government to emulate policies such that enhances the growth of the economy and secure our society from needless wastage, security threat and dumping ground for all sorts of substandard products or services. Rather, the culture here supports the importation of sub-standard products, to the detriment of consumers.

Every day consumers buy products and services that fall short of minimum standard and expectation. Not even the inscription ‘SON (Standard Organisation of Nigeria) approved’ is sufficient enough to guarantee customers’ satisfaction. Many advocacy groups have made tremendous efforts in times past, giving voice to the voiceless; hope to the hopeless. In some instances, these groups have succeeded in using diverse avenue to register their displeasure over breach of trust, abuses and sheer exploitation of consumers.

While some culprits have saved face by addressing issues raised, others have ignored concerns of the advocacy groups. Sadly, rather than address the real issues raised by consumers and the advocacy groups, majority of organizations involved shamelessly take to lobbying policy makers to overlook their acts of gross negligence. So, consumers simply continue to suffer in silence.

But then, hope seems to be rising for consumers, especially those in Lagos as things might possibly change for the better soon. In view of its concern for the interest of consumers, the Lagos State Government recently enacted the law that establishes the Lagos State Consumer Protection Agency. The law, which was passed by the State House of Assembly in 2015, has since been assented by the state Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode. Under the law establishing the agency, a convict would be mandated to pay penalty considered appropriate by court as compensation to consumers’ whose right has been infringed on.

This could not have come in a better time than this. It is no longer news that Lagos state with its huge population is the commercial nerve center of West Africa. Consequently, Lagos is the hub of diverse commercial activities. Sadly, however, according to Governor Ambode, in-spite of this huge commercial standing, Lagos has to contend with the highest reported cases of daily infractions on consumers’ right. In view of its immense commercial rank; Lagos has a huge and growing industrial presence. It, therefore, becomes necessary to put in place reforms that will ease doing business in Lagos with due diligence that will enhance consumers’ satisfaction.

With a membership that cuts across both the public and private sector, the establishment of the Lagos State Consumer Agency is expected to in no small time stem the tide of consumers’ right abuses, not only in Lagos but in the country at large. It is hoped that the agency would really live up to expectations by ensuring that consumers are well protected. This can only be done if its officials refuse to compromise on the principles that set the Agency up. It is only in doing this that we can rightly affirm that in our own clime also, consumers are truly kings.

Odumade is of the Features Unit, Lagos State Ministry of Information & Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja

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