Friday, 20 July 2018

CONSUMER PROTECTION UNDER THE LAW

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This article is aimed at informing consumers that there exists protection and remedies under the law for services and products which cause harm to consumers by reason of their failure to measure up to the standard laid down by law. It is not aimed at highlighting ALL the protection afforded a consumer by the Consumer Protection regime under the law.

Under the Consumer Protection Council Act, a consumer is defined as an individual who purchases, uses, maintains or disposes of products or services.

Consumer protection has been defined as ‘the act of safeguarding the interests of consumers in matters relating to the supply of products and services’.

Consumer protection is aimed at protecting consumers from harmful products and services. It provides compensation and remedies to consumers who are harmed by the services and products of manufacturers, and it is also aimed at protecting the economic interests of consumers.

Consumers are recognised to have the following rights: the right to the satisfaction of basic needs, the right to safety, the right to be informed, the right to choose, the right to be heard, right to redress, the right to consumer education and the right to a healthy environment. These rights, though not expressly spelt out under our various Consumer Protection Laws, are provided for.

The law protects not just consumers of products, but also consumers of services.

The law imposes a duty of care on manufacturers of goods and services. The courts have stated that a person who, for gains, engages in the business of manufacturing articles of food and drink intended for consumption by members of the public in the form in which he issues them, is, under a duty to take care in the manufacture of the articles.

The Nigerian courts have in many cases upheld the rights of the consumer. In the 1973 case of Osembor vs. Niger Biscuit, where a decayed tooth was found in a biscuit purchased by the plaintiff, the court awarded damages against the defendant. The court also awarded damages to the plaintiff in a case where the plaintiff found a dead cockroach in his bottle of malt, and it has awarded damages in millions against a defendant in favour of the plaintiff because of the failure of the defendant to keep its electricity cables in good condition which resulted in serious bodily injuries to the plaintiff.

A manufacturer or seller of goods may be liable under the civil law (in which case he may have to pay damages to the defendant) as well as under criminal law (in which case he may be liable to a term of imprisonment or fine)

It is not only a manufacturer that may be liable for defective products. A distributor or seller of products may also be liable. A person who sells expired products or substandard products can also be held liable under the law. Section 243 of the Criminal Code Act provides that “any person who sells as food or drink, or has in his possession with intent to sell it as food or drink, any article which has been rendered or has become noxious, or is in a state unfit for food or drink, knowing or having reason to believe that the same is noxious as food or drink, or is in a state unfit for food or drink is liable to imprisonment for one year”.

The Trade Malpractices ( Miscellaneous Offences) Act provides that any person who labels, packages, sells, offers for sale or advertises any product in a manner that is false or misleading or is likely to create a wrong impression as to its quality, character, brand name, value, composition, merit or safety commits an offence and is liable to pay a fine.

The provisions of the Criminal Code Act and the Trade Malpractices Act are just a few examples of the protection afforded a consumer under the law. Consumers are protected under general principles of law and some legislation.
An aggrieved consumer may seek relief under the law by commencing an action for negligence against the manufacturer, but he must prove that as a result of the negligence of the manufacturer, he has suffered damage. In the case of Donoghue v Stevenson, it was stated that the law takes no cognizance of carelessness in the abstract. ‘The cardinal principle of liability is that the party complained of should owe to the party complaining a duty of care, and that the party complaining should be able to prove that he has suffered damage in consequence of a breach of that duty’.

Where there is a contract between the manufacturer or the seller and the consumer, then it would not be necessary for the consumer to prove that he suffered any damage because of the defect of the product.

There is a Consumer Protection Council established under the law, the council is primarily charged with the protection of consumers. Its duties and powers would be considered in a subsequent article.

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