THE year 2018, no doubt, holds a lot of significance for consumerism in Nigeria. The enactment of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission Act (FCCPCA), that year, is seen, by many Nigerians, as one of those significant steps, taken by the Federal Government, to actually give teeth to the issue of consumer rights protection in the country.
The FCCPC Act was enacted by the National Assembly in December 2018, and subsequently signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari in January 2019.
The introduction of a set of competition rules into the nation’s regulatory oversight framework was seen as the much and long-awaited reform, designed to ensure that market distortions across all sectors are minimized and rules of fair play respected in the market place.
From CPC to FCCPC
Prior to the enactment of the Act, what consumers in this part of the globe had, was the Consumer Protection Council (CPC), a regulatory body whose statutory role was just about consumer issues. But, not a few believe, consumerism and the fight against consumer rights infraction needed to be taken further. To protect the nation’s consumers and bring sanity to the nation’s market it had become imperative to set up a regulatory agency, that would be comprehensively empowered to carry out the statutory roles of playing the advocacy role for the consumers and save them from mischievous brand custodians and service providers.
Implications of the transformation
Not a few, therefore, believe that the enactment of the FCCPC Act in 2018, among other things, would enhance the commission in its fight against consumer rights infractions, in an environment where the average consumers are completely oblivious of their rights.
For instance, unlike the dissolved CPC, whose duties were only consigned to consumer rights issues, the new Act provides the FCCPC with some oversight functions that extend beyond consumer protection issues. That is, issues that cover all entities in Nigeria that engage in commercial activities as bodies, corporate, or as government agencies.
Interestingly, one of the fundamental changes the FCCPC Act has brought is the renewed vigour and impetus it has given the regulatory agency to go the whole hog with the consumer war. For instance, its establishment of a Consumer Tribunal attests to this fact.
Besides setting the new agency apart from the defunct CPC, the constitution of a Consumer Trribunal, it is believed, would enable it handle matters arising from the operations of the Act, a development that would further help the cause of consumerism in the country. For instance, the Tribunal is empowered to hear appeals from, or review any decision from the exercise of the powers of any sector specific regulatory authority in a regulated industry in respect of competition and consumer protection matters.
Interestingly, the structural and operational changes, within the Commission, were not enough to obliterate some skepticism, among some Nigerians on the level of preparedness of the agency’s operatives in really carrying out those statutory roles. Nothing really positive, they believed, could come out of such a government regulatory, since it would still have to pander to the whims and caprices of the powerful in the society, and therefore cannot be truly independent, to perform its statutory duties.
But, developments in the nation’s consumer landscape, in recent times, seem to be putting paid to such doubts. The regulatory agency seems bent on cleaning the Augean stable as far as consumer rights violations, in Nigeria, are concerned. It seems in a hurry to restore the waning confidence of the Nigerian consumers, as evident in its activities in the past few months.
Activities in the last six months
For instance, on Saturday, March 14, this year, it intervened on behalf of some Nigerian consumers, living around Victoria Island, in Lagos, when it sealed a Chinese eatery, Haufei Restaurant and Mall, located on 33, Aboyade Cole, for declining patronage from Nigerians.
The Commission had explained, immediately after sealing the restaurant, that the decision to shut down the Chinese eatery was based on intelligence and surveillance that the business outfit declined service to Nigerians.
“Staff of the business admitted this is the policy and our operatives experienced same. Both now closed for further regulatory action,” the Commission had announced on its official Twitter Handle, after shutting that eatery for being discriminatory.
The ovation that greeted that action had hardly died down when it, again, announced its decision to intervene in the nation’s health sector, regarding some patient’s rights infractions.
The Commission stated that it was setting up a public enquiry, on the possible violation(s) of consumer/patient rights, involving a robbery attack victim, Miss Moradeun Balogun and the management of R-Jolad Hospital, under the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act (FCCPA), the National Health Act.
The Commission’s Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Babatunde Irukera, explained that the enquiry, against the management of the Lagos-based Hospital, where the deceased was first taken to, but allegedly refused her treatment, was not a judicial process, but a regulatory enquiry. But, despite the clarifications, not a few believe that, with that singular act, the Commission had sent a warning signal to erring brand custodians and service providers, that it was no longer going to be business, as usual, as far as protecting consumers’ rights and interests in Nigeria was concerned.
But, while the public enquiry concerning circumstances surrounding Moradeun Balogun’s death might not be a judicial one, same can not be said of the Commission’s case, being led by its chief executive, who is also a legal luminary, at the Federal High Court, against a Lagos surgeon, Dr. Anuoluwa Adepoju of MedContour Clinic.
The Lagos surgeon is being prosecuted over her failure to honour the agency’s summons, dated April 15, 2020, over allegations of a failed plastic surgery and other consumer-related offences.
“On April11, 2020, the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC became aware of complaints and dissatisfaction with respect to certain elective/cosmetic surgical procedures carried out by MedContour services. Essentially, the allegations are that MedContour engages in conduct that is considered otherwise professional, misleading and potentially injurious, including resulting in possible fatalities,” the Commission’s chief executive had said.
Not too long ago, on July 9, this year, to be specific, the agency also announced its intervention in the nation’s Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) sector, by maintaining a surveillance to prevent expired/unwholesome products.
The Commission, on its official Twitter Handle, had stated that its Expiring/Expired Products Taskforce teams had continued its sweeps on key nationwide FMCG distributors to ensure COVID interruptions would not result in unsafe products reaching retailers.
Interestingly, the seriousness of the Commission in carrying out these statutory duties can be seen in its style of prosecution of some of these infractions, at the nation’s law courts. Its chief executive always prefers to be at the forefront, leading the legal team of the commission on behalf of the Nigerian consumers to get justice.
This has not been without a flak, though. For instance, in one of those instances, some have mischievously wondered why a ‘whole’ chief executive would personally come down from Abuja to lead the Commission’s legal team in Lagos, against the MedContour Services surgeon. if not for vendetta.
But the antecededents of Irukera at the Commission say otherwise.
“He remains one of the rare chief executives that believes in the axiom, if you want to get things done well and fast, do them yourself,” stated a source, very close to the Commission.
Irukera, the source further stated, sees those services as a call to duty.
“Neither he, nor the commission can be accused of pursuing any vendetta, against anybody. Besides the prosecution of the Lagos surgeon, a case he is, as usual, leading the Commission’s legal team, he had also played such role in tbe prosecution of cases of involving the Commission and some consumer rights violators in other places like Abuja, Uyo and many other places.
“And don’t forget he was personally in court to obtain an ex-parte order restraining DSTV from continuing their new price regime, sometime ago,” the source stated.
Implications of Consumer rights war for the nation’s market.
With almost half of the nation’s population having internet connectivity, supported by high mobile penetration, not a few economists that Nigeria, as the Africa’s largest economy, remains one of the most prosperous consumer markets in Africa. They however believe that for it to maximize its economic potential, therefore, the time has come for it to scale up its market, regarding consumerism.
Consumers remain critical stakeholders in any market. And since Nigerian consumers are not, in any way, different from this description, it has become imperative for their rights to be protected in an economy, considered as Africa’s largest, and with a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) stood at $476billion.
Interestingly, a key achievement of the FCCPC, through its exploits in the past few years, is the restoration of waning consumer confidence.
For many Nigerians, the Commission is making a headway in its pursuit of justice for the Nigerian consumer. Fortunately, events in the last few months have shown an agency that is unrelenting, and may stop at nothing at restoring hope to this set of violated Nigerian consumers.
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