Friday, 17 August 2018

THE TALE OF PLASTIC RICE: ANY PROTECTION FOR CONSUMERS?

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The saga of the plastic rice which was all over the media recently has left many people discussing how effective consumer protection laws are in Nigeria. Some have even wondered if such laws that guarantee the safety of consumers in Nigeria exist. Well, they do. There are ways provided by law to ensure that products sold and services rendered in Nigeria are in the best interest of consumers. They also provide different mediums through which complaints regarding products in Nigeria can be made. 

How are Consumers protected in Nigeria?

There is a Consumer Protection Act in Nigeria which establishes the Consumer Protection Council. The council is headed by a Chairman who is appointed by the President of Nigeria on the recommendation of the Minister of Commerce and Tourism. Sometimes ministries may be contracted or expanded as the government in power deems fit. So, their names may be changed to reflect their new purposes. Now, we have a Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment as opposed to a Minister of Commerce and Tourism.

 Other members of the Consumer Protection Council are:

•    One person representing each state in Nigeria. These persons are recommended by the Governors of each state.
•    Four other persons representing the following ministries: Commerce and Tourism (now called Industry, Trade and Investment), Industries and Technology (now called Science and Technology), Health, and Petroleum Resources (now called Petroleum).
The Consumer Protection Council does the following:
•    provides prompt redress to consumers’ complaints through negotiations, mediation and conciliations;
•    seeks ways of removing dangerous products from the market. It then makes offenders replace such products with safer and more suitable ones;
•    regularly publishes a list of products whose consumption and sale have been banned, withdrawn, restricted or not approved by the Federal Government or foreign governments;
•    causes an offending company, firm, trade, association or individual to protect, compensate, provide relief and safeguards to injured consumers or communities from adverse effects of technologies that are naturally harmful, injurious, violent or highly dangerous;
•    organises and undertakes campaigns and other forms of activities as will lead to increased public consumer awareness;
•    encourages trade, industry and professional associations to develop and enforce in their different fields quality standards designed to safeguard the interest of consumers;
•    issues guidelines to manufacturers, importers, dealers and wholesalers as regards their obligations under the law;
•    encourages the establishment of voluntary consumer groups or associations for consumers wellbeing;
•    ensures that consumers' interests receive due consideration at appropriate forum. Also provides compensation to obnoxious practices or the dishonest exploitation of consumers by companies, firms, trade association or individual;
•    encourages the adoption of appropriate measures to ensure that products are safe for their intended use.

In order to effectively carry out its functions as set by the law creating it, the Consumer Protection Council can do any of the following:
•    apply to court to stop the movement of products that are likely to constitute danger to the public 
•    force a manufacturer to certify that all safety standards are met in their products; 
•    Run quality tests on consumer products as may be necessary;
•    demand production of label showing date and place of manufacture of a commodity as well as certification of compliance;
•    compel a manufacturer, dealer and service company where appropriate, to give public notice of any health risks inherent in their products;
•    ban the sale, distribution, advertisement of products which do not comply with safety or health regulations.

One may ask how practical it is to have all consumers’ needs met at the federal level by the Council. There are avenues which are closer to the consumer for better, faster and easier results. The law provides that each state in Nigeria should have a state committee to assist the Council. The Council supervises the state committee. It receives, investigates and acts on complaints from consumers who have suffered loss, injury or damage from the effect of any product or service. Quick note: consumer protection covers both products and services.

This is how the state committee works: If you have a complaint against a certain brand of product (say toothpaste) that you bought, you proceed to the State Committee to lay such complaint. After receiving the complaint, the State Committee then requires the executive or officials of the company to investigate the complaint and report back to the State Committee within a specified period. Upon receipt of the report, the State Committee may take such action as is reasonable and just in the circumstance. This is dependent on what its investigation reveals. Where it shows that: 
•    a wrong has been committed against you by way of trade, provision of services, supply of information or advertisement thereby causing injury or loss to you; or
•    your right has been violated; 

it may prescribe a redress and then state that a customer has a right of civil action for compensation or restitution in any competent court in Nigeria. But the State Committee cannot make such decision without consulting the Consumer Protection Council. All these measures are to ensure that you are protected as a consumer of goods and services in Nigeria.

Other Regulatory Bodies in Nigeria
There are other product and service regulatory bodies in Nigeria. These ones are tailored specifically to certain consumer needs. Some of them are:

Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON)
It has the responsibility of standardizing and regulating the quality of all products, measurements, materials and processes in Nigeria. It also certifies industrial products and circulates information relating to standards.

National Agency for Food, Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC)
It regulates the importation, exportation, manufacture, advertisement, distribution, sale and use of food, drugs, cosmetics, medical devices, bottled water and chemicals. These are the areas of coverage of the agency. In carrying out these functions, NAFDAC conducts appropriate tests to ensure compliance with designated specifications. It is also concerned with the raw materials and production processes in factories.

Finally, there is also a law on Weights and Measures which directs on the lawful use of measurement in terms of length, area, volume, capacity, mass or weight. This is basically to protect the consumer. Where a person intentionally defrauds another through the use of any weight, measure, weighting and measurement instruments; the former is guilty of an offence. The law also prohibits the sale of any packaged goods whose minimum net weight is not clearly stated on a label securely attached to it. This is eureka for consumers of frozen foods, clothing materials and other like products that require some form of measurement before they are sold.



REFERENCES
1.    Ebitu, E.T. ‘Consumer Rights, Consumer Protection and Public Policy in Nigeria: A Critical Review’ International Business Research Vol.7 No.12 201 ISSN 1913-9012 Published by Canadian Center of Science and Education Culled from: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.654.3507&rep=rep1&type=pdf 
2.    Weights and Measures Regulations
3.    NAFDAC,; DUTIES AND POWERS culled from Legal Naija Blawg www.legalnaija.com/2014/04/nafdac-duties-functions-.html?m=1 
4.    Son.gov.ng 
5.    Consumer Protection Council Act. Chapter C25.(Decree No 66 of 1992)

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