By Idris Abdulrahman
Mrs Dupe Atoki, the Director-General of the Consumer Protection Council (CPC), at a recent training for journalists in Lagos, announced that the organisation ordered refunds and compensations to consumers to the tune of N2.5 billion in 2016 nationwide.
The event was a two-day workshop where she formally presented the first-ever annual report of the council to about 70 participants drawn from various media organisations, UNIDO and NGOs with particular focus on consumer issues nationwide.
Atoki said that the intervention of CPC in consumer complaints provoked refunds of 31,948 dollars and 1,406 pounds, adding that this was achieved through a rigorous implementation of its strategic plans that facilitated consumer redress in a speedy manner.
She said that as part of efforts to protect consumers against unwholesome business practices in all sectors of the economy, the council utilised specific strategies in different sectors such as the satellite TV service, banking, hospitality, aviation, electricity, among others.
For instance, the council’s focus on the banking sector led to compelling First City Monument Bank to refund N1.542 billion to the Bauchi State Government and recovery of more than N25 million by over 60 subscribers of VIP Express Tourism Limited in 2016.
“The apathy displayed by consumers toward complaints over the years has greatly reduced under the current council’s administration due to improved consumer awareness programmes, as well as renewed consumer confidence and satisfaction,’’ she said.
In the year under review, Atoki said that CPC received over 5,000 complaints in various sectors and resolved 80 per cent of them, especially complaints on estimated electricity bills.
She said that N10 million was also awarded as redress to some consumers who sustained injury and eventually died due to negligence by electricity distribution companies.
Atoki said that the value of compensation obtained for consumers in the electricity sector amounted to N46 million, while the redress totalled about N1.6 billion with respect to service consumers in the financial sector.
The food and beverage sector, which recorded a rising growth in retail sales, particularly in the urban areas, also recorded high complaints as to fake and expired products, improper storage and mishandling of products, among others.
The CPC chief executive said that the value of redress to consumers in the food and beverage sector, in terms of replacements, refunds and compensations totalled N110 million.
Perhaps the most controversial case handled in the sector was the one involving the Nigerian Bottling Company Ltd. (Coca Cola bottlers) in 2013. It was a celebrated case concerning allegations of foreign substances in drinks, rusty bottles and short-filled cans.
“The investigation attracted local and international media attention and remains a landmark intervention by CPC, which finally led to complete system change in improved product quality and consumer satisfaction,’’ Atoki said.
The focus of CPC is also on the telecommunications sector, which is one of the fastest growing sectors in Nigeria. As at September 2016, the subscriber base of the country’s telecommunications industry peaked at 153,299,535; with 109.51 per cent teledensity.
The CPC annual report indicated that there had been various sharp practices in the telecom industry, thereby provoking complaints from several aggrieved subscribers.
Atoki said that the council, therefore, ordered the refund of about N28 million to various subscribers, including one who collected a balance of N1.85 million from MTN after participating in one of its promotions but was not adequately paid.
Some of the consumers’ complaints in the telecom industry include non-release of service after payment, poor quality services, disruption of service without compensation and poor grievance redress mechanisms.
Besides, customer complaints in the transportation sector, particularly aviation services, real estate and mortgage, as well as hospitality industry have received prompt intervention by CPC which, according to Atoki, “is empowered to improve the well-being of Nigerians by reducing market imperfections through surveillance and enforcement’’.
Even e-commerce, an emerging virtual market which enables consumers to conduct trade transactions from the comfort of homes or offices, has generated some consumer grievances with regard to its modus operandi.
The CPC report stated that complaints on e-commerce transactions ranged from delayed delivery to outright non-delivery of products, substandard products and non-replacement of defective products, adding that redress to the tune of N15 million was secured during the period.
Moreover, the report said that the council was inundated with complaints of fake or substandard electrical and electronic materials, prompting the withdrawal of items such as electrical cables, multiple sockets and adaptors, TV sets and video recorders, valued at N40 million, from markets.
Besides, products which pose health and safety challenges to consumers and the environment such as tobacco, elicited the wrath of CPC during the year, according to the report.
This is because the surveillance and enforcement personnel of the council confiscated and destroyed prohibited flavoured tobacco products worth N300,000.
Since consumer protection is the primary focus of the council’s assignment, the director-general said that the council approved and monitored 84 sales promotions as initiatives for rewarding loyal customers by business operators.
“The council is mandated to ensure that advertisements are not deceptive, recognising the fact that some businesses to embellish their products and services with promises that may not be fulfilled,’’ she said.
In line with CPC’s mandate of providing speedy redress to complaints through negotiations, mediation and conciliation, Atoki said that the council had made conscious efforts to expand its reach to the nooks and crannies of the country through intensified public sensitisation campaigns.
The campaign strategies include consumer awareness promotion in schools through the establishment of Young Consumer Clubs and the appointment of a student in Lagos as CPC Ambassador during the training for journalists.
All in all, Atoki said: “The visibility of the council has grown considerably. This is evident in the increase which the council has noticed in the social media followership, website visits and number of complaints received.’’