- Says Act 66 of 1992 which established CPC not strong enough, obsolate
- Wants President Buhari to assent to the ‘Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission bill’
- Wants NASS to expedite action on harmonization of bill, law
- Says only commissions can arrest & prosecute, councils cannot
Sola Salako Ajulo is the President/Founder, Consumer Advocacy Foundation of Nigeria (CAFON), a not-for-profit organisation committed to the protection of consumer rights in Nigeria. In this exclsuive report, the activist who was a key figure in the push that won the passage of bill at the National Assembly seeking the establishment of ‘Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission,’ insists that the law which established the Consumer Protection Council needs to be invigorated in order to reposition the watchdog for maximum mandate success.
According to Ajulo, “CPC may be doing a great job, yet the law which established it has placed a limitation on the extent to which it can drive consumer protection.”
She said “extant laws in Nigeria are not strong enough to drive the kind of impact needed to maximally protect consumers in the market place.”
“The consumer protection laws in force are obsolate and weak, fortunately a process is in progress at the National Assembly to set aside that law, and replace it with the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission bill which has already been passed by the National Assembly, but needs to be harmonised into a single bill that would be presented to the president for assent,” Ajulo disclosed. Francis Kadiri reports.
A not-for-profit advocacy group, Consumer Advocacy Foundation of Nigeria (CAFON) has called for the invigoration of the consumer protection regime in the country stating that there is need to strengthen the regulatory framework establishing agencies resoponsible for enforcement of consumer protection in the marketplace, especially the Consumer Protection Council (CPC).
A point of note in the group’s charge to the National Assembly and the Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Executive Council was that no matter the extent to which the CPC desires to drive consumer protection, it is limited by virtue of the powers which established it.
Proffering solutions, Ajulo commended the Buhari administration for the political will it exercised via the executive policy of Ease of Doing Bussiness which aimed to turnaround the economic fortunes of the country. She called for an extension of likewise political will to the consumer protection regime in the country, stating that “such an exercise of political will is also needed to make government’s regulatory agencies and private sector service providers more efficient.”
Discussing the consumer protection regime in the country, the activist said government has a major role to play, and government has different tools that it can use to achieve the task. “Setting up a regulatory agency is one of it, but the agency must be backed by appropriate enabling law that gives the establishment not only the power to exist, but also the power to carry out law-enforcement required to execute the onerous task of consumer protection.”
Ajulo explained that “monitoring organizations otherwise known as regulatory structures are not mere structures, they are watchdoges; watchdoges must be prepared to fight lawless individuals and groups, so they need strength to carry out the tough task, otherwise they will not be able to accomplish mandate.”
Underscoring the point, she said: “A regulatory organisation should not just exist with less powers than it needs to accomplish its mandate, it must be availed the power to police the marketplace as an enforcer of law,” stating that there is crucial need for an executive policy to back the political will needed to achieve set madate.
“When this is done, we will take pride in our country as a nation of strong consumer protection regime,” she said.
“The CPC is doing the best it should do according to the enabling law that established it, however, it cannot do more than it is empowered to do; it dare not arrogate powers to itself, it must derive its enforcement limit from the law that established it.”
“The National Assembly needs to expedite action on harmonization of the bill it has passed together with the law that established the CPC, and this is also why I call on President Muhammadu Buhari ahead of time, to consider giving assent to the bill when it gets to him,” she implored.
Discussing the potentials of change which the bill weilds if signed into law by the president, Ajulo said: “If the commission is empowered to do the work in such a way that it can arrest, prosecute and penalize offenders, I think it will bring a lot of sanity to the consumer protection environemnt.”
“Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Nigeria Communication Commission (NCC) are examples of organisations which have been given the powers they need to achieve their respective mandates.”
“It is sad that CPC does not have the powers to arrest, prosecute or penalize offenders. Offenders know that the council lacks these powers, so they are not as much afraid of it as they are of the EFCC or NCC,” she said adding that if EFCC was not empowered to arrest and prosecute, Nigerians would not have taken it serious. In the same manner, she explained that if NCC lacked the power to sanction telecom operators, the sector may have been in ruins.
“The CPC may be achieving its mandate to the extent of powers it has to carry out it functions, but what I am saying is that its current power is not enough to maximally police the market and protect consumers untimately.”
According to Ajulo, political will is very important because it drives how much money government is willing to invest in a given case like consumer protection. “When there is no executive policy for consumer protection, and when there is no funding for it, the structures for enforcement cant help but be weak, and when they are weak, the people suffer.”
“For example government has demonstrated requiste politcal will to revitalize and develop the economy via the executive policy of ease of doing bussiness. As a result, the economy has bounced back from recession and it is growing and getting better because government exercised the political will needed to make bussinesses flourish.”
“If President Buhari passes the bill into law when it comes before him, it will be a good gesture that will be an evidence of political will of government to enforce consumer protection in Nigria.”
When asked what the bill looks like, said: The bill is designed to address various issues bedeviling consumer protection in Nigeria. The bill seeks the establishment of a Commission such that there would no longer be a CPC as it is now. The proposed commission will consist of two departments namely the Consumer Protection Department and the Competition Department. Each of the departments may have Executive Directors, while the commission will he headed by an Executive Chairman who will be appointed by the President.
“Even before the Buhari administration, the executive did not show the needed commitment to consumer protection in Nigeria. This is evidenced in the very poor budgetary allocation to the task by successive governments. So this is an opportunity for the Buhari administration to make a difference.
Discussing the advantages of strengthening the nation’s consumer protection watchdog, Ajulo said: “If this is done, consumers will have confidence to spend, and confidence to engage producers and the market.”
“If consumers are guranteed value for their money, there will be confidence to spend, and there will be upsurge in trade and consumer index. When there is an upsurge in consumer index, it will immediately begin to drive economic growth and national development.”
While observing that the Nigerian economy has hardly been run on the basis of consumer-activities but oil revenue, she noted that the American economy is based on consumer index which means that if consumers are not active, the economy will experience a recession, while it will boom if consumers are active.
“Because Nigeria relies on oil, it does not seem to regard this fact, and so it tends to neglect the attention which ought to be given to executive policies that must be put in place to encourage consumer activities.”
Addressing the interviewer, Ajulo said: “You can take yourself as a example, you would be willing to exchange money for goods and serviecs when you know that there is guaranteed value for what you get in return.”
“That is the confidence I am talking about and there must be upgrade of legislations that will authorize organisations to enforce the standards.
“The existence of an empowered consumer protetion structure will not just give people peace of mind, it will also make them avoid fears.
According to her, “reassurance for compensation is missing in the Nigerian market and there is need for an executive policy and legislative background to address this important need.”
“Untill about three years ago, I used to save money, and then take a trip to the United States where I buy what I need, and I return with four or five boxes of almost everything that I would need for sometime. I embarked on the trips because I have confidence that I would get value for money spent, and that I can return the goods and get back my money if I discover that they substandard. So the industries must be made to conform to set standards of production so that we can get the best,” she added.