World Consumer Rights Day which comes up every March 15 was marked on Wednesday in Nigeria. The day provides the international community an opportunity to promote the basic rights of all consumers, demanding that those rights are respected and protected, and a chance to protest against the market abuses and social injustices which undermine those rights. The aim is to celebrate solidarity within the international consumer rights movement. It is essentially an awareness day, which was first celebrated in 1983 and became an important annual occasion for mobilising citizen action and solidarity within the international consumer movement.
The rights of consumers are clearly outlined by a former United States President, John F. Kennedy. He was the first world leader to set out a vision of consumer rights and he also recognised the importance of consumers as a group. He outlined those rights which were intended, initially, for the American consumer. They are basically four: the right to safety, to choose, to information and to be heard.
Eventually, it became a worldwide event organised by Consumers International (CI), which is the world federation of consumer groups that serves as the only independent and authoritative global voice for consumers. It was founded in 1960 and currently has over 220 member organisations in 115 countries. Each year, the CI Council selects a theme for the World Consumer Rights Day activities. This year’s is: World Consumer Rights Day 2017: Building A Digital World Consumers Can Trust.
In regulatory jurisdictions that provide for this, consumer protection incorporates a group of laws and organisations designed to ensure the rights of consumers, as well as fair trade, competition, and accurate information in the marketplace. The laws are designed to prevent the businesses that engage in fraud or specified unfair practices from gaining an advantage over competitors. They may also provide additional protection for those most vulnerable in society. Consumer protection laws are a form of government regulation that aim to protect the rights of consumers particularly in areas where safety or public health is an issue, such as food.
Consumer protection is linked to the idea of consumer rights, and to the formation of consumer organisations, which help consumers make better choices in the marketplace and get help with consumer complaints. A consumer’s interests can also be protected by promoting competition in the markets which directly and indirectly serve consumers, consistent with economic efficiency. Consumer protection can also be asserted through non-government organisations and individuals in the form of consumer activism.
But who is a consumer? Ordinarily defined, a consumer is someone who acquires goods or services for direct use or ownership rather than for resale or use in production and manufacturing. And this right is protected under the law. Consumer protection law covers a wide range of topics, including but not necessarily limited to product liability, privacy rights, unfair business practices, fraud, misrepresentation, and other consumer/business interactions. It’s a way of preventing fraud and scams from service and sales contracts, bill collector regulation, pricing, utility turnoffs, consolidation, personal loans that may lead to bankruptcy.
In Nigeria, there is a government agency, Consumer Protection Council (CPC), with a mandate to ensure that the rights of the average Nigerian consumer is protected as much as possible. Ironically, most Nigerian consumers are not aware of the relevant laws, or channels of redress, that protect them in their daily transactions. A study by the council found out that awareness creation is a key tool for achieving an appreciable level of consumer protection in Nigeria through the consumer stakeholder group. This awareness, in our opinion, can only become effective through positive response on the part of the consumer.
Meanwhile, there is a Consumer Protection Act 1992 in practice, there is also an outline of the fundamental consumer rights currently available to Nigerian consumers. The council has also tried to take a look at the issues preventing the deliverance of effective consumer protection in the country including a full list of recommendations, including the need for the adoption of strict product liability.
In our view, the problem with Nigerian consumers in relation to their propensity to assert their rights when trampled upon is attitudinal in the sense that they think it is a waste of time fighting for what are their due. The council itself has its own challenges that have to do with the pervasive laxity in most government agencies. What is needed, however, is a collaborative effort on the part of both the consumer and the council to achieve the consumer’s right to safety, to choose, to information and to be heard.