By Nkechi Isaac, Abuja –
Consumer protection is the mechanism which gives fairness to consumers in terms of quality of goods and services rendered to them. A consumer is also protected by the information and awareness provided by the telecom service providers of his/her rights.
The most important stakeholder of the telecommunication industry is the consumer, hence the popular saying that the customer is king and is always right. In order to promote the patronage of telecommunication, cognizance must be given to the needs as well as the demand of the consumer.
It is very important for a consumer to be educated about how best to make use of the services for social, political, economic advantages and gains. Having known about the goods and services, it is very pertinent for consumers to know how best to convert the usage of such for their own personal advantage. This is why there is need to take consumer education to the grassroots and sensitize them on their rights and privileges in the language they understand.
This was the crux of the 33rd edition of the consumer town hall meeting (CTM) with the theme, “Information and education as catalyst for consumer protection” in Bida, Niger State, convened by the telecommunication industry’s regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to bring together telecom consumers in the rural areas with network providers to discuss, proffer solutions to consumer-related issues and ensure they have value for money through effective service delivery.
The executive vice chairman of the NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, represented by the commission’s director of consumer affairs department, Abdullahai Maikano, said, in his opening remarks, the forum was to educate telecom consumers and other stakeholders on contemporary issues generating interest in the industry and also serve as feedback mechanism for the commission in making regulatory intervention for the benefit of the consumers and the service providers as well as the industry as a whole.
He explained that the theme for the CTM was carefully chosen to reflect one of the cardinal objectives of the commission of ensuring the protection of telecom consumers from market exploitation and empowering them to make rational and informed decision when making choices of services.
He said: “Consumer education is identified by the commission as one of the most cost effective mechanisms that provides and guarantees consumer protection. Besides serving as a pro-active way of protecting consumers from making wrong choices, it also serves as a preventive measure that protects consumers from being exploited and against fraud.”
Listing initiatives by the commission so that telecoms consumer is well protected, informed and educated (PIE mandate), the EVC said they included organizing outreach programmes across the country; dissemination of consumer education via fact sheets; information dissemination via consumer web portal; interaction via social media like Twitter and Facebook; responding to enquires via the NCC Centre on the 622 toll free number and participating on radio programmes that educate consumers on their rights and privileges.
He also gave service providers’ responsibilities to consumers to help them make informed decision on products and services to include communicating information to consumers in a plain and simple language; ensuring that information provided to consumers is relevant, current, accurate and timely; ensuring that consumers can reliably and easily have access to information that can assist them in making informed choices and giving consumers the choice of receiving information in a language they can understand.
In his keynote address, the chief executive of Wheel of Hope Consumer Advocacy, Jide Abdulazeez, said with consumers determining the market, their protection was tantamount to market expansion, sustainability and protection, adding a protected market is a sustainable market which will ensure revenue generation for the service providers. He stressed that operators in the telecom industry should, therefore, always go for what is in the best interest of the consumers.
“It is important for consumers to get good quality service, value for money spent on telecommunication services, timely and fair redress of complaints and protection from unwholesome practices of service providers to raise the tempo of consumer education in the country in order to guarantee telecommunication consumers enough protection against fraudulent, misleading and deceitful information advertisement or labeling.
Speaking to journalists on the sideline of the event, the “Face of the Consumer” brand ambassador, Ali Nuhu, noted that NCC’s ‘Year of the Telecom Consumer’ campaign had made significant impact in educating and empowering the consumer as king in the telecom sector, adding enlisting campaign ambassadors had equally played its part in pushing the campaign.
He said: “Aside from speaking in lingua franca, we normally step down in our local languages so people will understand the version. We’re trying to educate and inform the people because if we don’t step down to their local languages there are some people that may not understand and I think the aim is defeated if we don’t do that. It is part of our responsibilities as ambassadors. It is our way to interact with the people and make them understand the information the NCC is trying to pass to them.”
Also speaking to journalists, a participant, Faridah Abubakar who is a student at the Niger State College of Nursing Sciences, Bida, lauded the town hall meeting initiative by the NCC, describing it as an excellent move that showed the commission was genuinely concerned about consumer satisfaction as it enables an interface between consumers and service providers.
“It is a good development because it gives consumers the opportunity to voice out their complaints and concerns as regards telecom subscription and get solutions,” she said.
She urged the commission to continue with the initiative and organise more of such interactions between service providers and subscribers to enable more people at the grassroots benefit.
The meeting saw representatives of mobile network operators like MTN Nigeria, Glo, Airtel, 9Mobile take the platform to educate and sensitise participants of their products and services available at their disposal. The operators also had a complaint desk that took complaints from customers and resolved same on the spot.