The recent clampdown on service providers in the telecoms and aviation industries by their respective regulators may serve as strong warnings to providers of goods and services in other sectors of the economy, writes Festus Akanbi
Economic affairs commentators at the weekend described the recent sanction of some GSM operators for poor service quality by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and similar crackdown on four airlines by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) as timely interventions given the sheer volume of complaints and protests from consumers on the flagrant disregard for consumer rights by service providers and manufacturers .
The analysts, who believe this kind of intervention will put service providers on their toes, noted that torrents of complaints emanating from consumers of telecommunication services regarding the poor quality of services by the private operators of the Global Service of Mobile Telecommunication (GSM) in the past were never attended to and resolved effectively by both the NCC and the Consumer Protection Council.
Clampdown on Defaulting MTN, Airtel, Globacom
The NCC had sanctioned three out of the four major network operators in the country â€“ MTN Nigeria, Globacom and Airtel â€“ to the tune of N647.5 million for breach of key performance indicators (KPIs) and poor quality of service for the month of January 2014. It however gave Etisalat a clean bill as it met all the set KPIs.
The NCC had set four critical KPIs â€“ Call Setup Success Rate (CSSR), Drop Call Rate (DCR), Traffic Channel Congestion (TCHCONG) and Stand Alone Dedicated Control Channel Congestion (SDCONG). With a target of 98 per cent for CSSR, MTN, Airtel, and Globacom failed to meet the target in January. They scored 96.85 per cent, 96.99 per cent and 96.89 per cent respectively.
The affected telecom firms, which also failed to meet the target in other categories, are expected to pay the sanctions on or before March 7, 2014.
Should they fail to pay the sanctions within the stipulated deadline, each of them will be liable to pay N2.5 million daily, as long as the contravention persists.
The timing of the punishment meted on defaulting operators in the telecoms sector coincided with the release of information on sanctions imposed on four airlines last year by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, over alleged abuse of passengersâ€™ rights.
Airlines Sanctioned for Unfair Deals
According to the Director-General of NCAA, Capt. Fola Akinkuotu, who made the disclosure, the authority sanctioned the airlines over alleged â€œunfair dealsâ€ with their passengers.
He said that the affected airlines were British Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, Aero Contractors and an unnamed airline.
He enjoined airline passengers to always fill complaints form made available to air travellers, because the authority has staff actually in all airports in the country.
â€œThere are four airlines that have been sanctioned recently over unfair deals with their passengers. A lot of the airlines we have written to or sanctioned and some of them have had to pay compensation.
â€œI remember last year that we had issue with the British Airways for overbooking and we got compensation for the passengers.
There was a passenger who was overcharged by the Ethiopian Airlines for a flight that was to have an oxygen backup and we got some compensation for the person.
â€œAn Aero Contractor aircraft was sanctioned by us recently and they did pay compensation to the passengers. â€œThe passengersâ€™ bill of Rights is to protect all stakeholders,â€ Akinkuotu said
It is a common practice for nations to make laws that are designed to protect the interest of its citizenry in the course of buying and using goods or services. This action, usually referred to as consumer protection, guards against exploitation of consumers, reduce risk of exposure to harm from the usage of goods and services as well as provides a platform for the consumers to seek redress in the event where these inadvertently happens.
In Nigeria, this is provided for in the Consumer Protection Council Act, under Chapter C25, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004. It is an act to provide for the establishment of the consumer protection council and for matters connected therewith. The function of the council includes to provide speedy redress to consumersâ€™ complaints through negotiation, mediation and conciliation; seek ways and means of eliminating from the market hazardous products and causing offenders to replace such products with more appropriate alternatives and cause an offending company or individual to protect, compensate, and provide relief and safeguards to injured consumers or communities from adverse effects of technologies that are inherently harmful.
In spite of these provisions, experience has shown that the rights of Nigerian consumers are easily trampled upon because of a number of factors, among which are high level of ignorance amongst the Nigerian consumers, bureaucratic bottlenecks and corruption and ineptitude of law enforcement apparatus.
Earlier in the year, the Lagos State House of Assembly passed the Consumer Protection Bill into law after its third reading at a plenary session of the Assembly. The bill which is awaiting the endorsement of the state governor, when signed into law, will among other things, protect the rights of consumers against marketing of hazardous goods and services.
Playing Politics with Consumer Protection Bill
In November last year, the Speaker of thenhk. House of Representatives, Mr. Aminu Tambuwal, had given his words that the Consumer Protection Council Amendment Bill, which is currently being reviewed, would be passed before the end of last year.
Tambuwal said this when top officials of the CPC, led by the Director General, Mrs. Dupe Atoke, visited the lower chamber of the National Assembly.
The Speaker said the speedy passage of the bill became imperative since the protection of consumers falls within the purview of the legislative agenda of the House.
The public hearing for the bill was held in July and the bill seeks to amend the CPC Act No. 66 of 1992 to, among others ensure clarity of its provisions and modify the Councilâ€™s composition and widen its functions and powers in order to provide for a broader and more effective Council.
It also seeks to codify consumer rights for the first time in Nigeria; make clear provisions for the enforcement of consumer rights; establish institutions for the protection of consumer rights; modernize Nigeriaâ€™s consumer protection law to be in tandem with current market trends as well as introduce administrative penalties for offences
Tambuwal, while commending the leadership of the council in its drive towards protecting the rights of consumers, stated that the House would continue to provide legislative support to the agency.
He said, â€œI want to assure you that we as an institution, we will continue to do all that we need to do to improve quality of service and service delivery to the Nigerian people.â€
Unfortunately, as the nation moves towards the end of the first quarter of the New Year, the National Assembly is yet to pass the Consumer Protection Bill.
Analysts said due to the prevailing socio-political challenges, it is no surprise that consumer abuse is widespread in Nigeria, with many consumers choosing to graciously accept their losses than seek redress via the designated channels. Owing to years of flagrant exposure to all forms of exploitation and abuse, a large majority of Nigerian consumers are no longer agitated by the fallen standard of products and services as witnessed in the telecommunication, food and beverages, pharmaceuticals, aviation and entertainment industries.
Observers said Nigeria GSM users are one of the most short-changed in the world, even when the most profits are generated from them. It is also common to hear of cases like missing or tampered baggage, ticketing challenges, delayed flights and poor in-flight services in the aviation sector.