The Consumer Protection Council (CPC) was in the news again when it hosted a cream of journalists at a strategic engagement with its seven-month-old Director-General, Mr. Babatunde Irukera, on November 30 in Lagos.
The event was not a deviation from the council’s long-standing tradition of assembling newsmen to promote its vision and mission of achieving dynamic and effective service delivery as the country’s apex consumer protection agency.
It also served as a forum for journalists to assist in championing the goals of the agency via the evolution of a good working environment that is conducive to consumer-friendly community and media hype.
This year’s programme, which attracted more than 50 participants and comprised mainly News Directors, Business Editors and News Editors, had “Partnership for Protection’’ as its theme.
The forum is designed to engender proper education, and enlightenment of consumers with regard to their rights on consumption of products.
The CPC is mandated by the Consumer Protection Council Act, Laws of the Federation, 2004 (No. 66 of 1992) to protect and promote the interests of the consumers of all products and services in the country.
Its mission includes the provision of speedy redress for consumer complaints via negotiations, mediation and conciliation, in addition to seeking ways of removing hazardous products from circulation and compelling offenders to replace such products with safer alternatives.
The interaction was anchored and guided by Irukera, the CPC Chief Executive Officer, whose style focused on a strategic system of sectoral intervention, enhanced consumer awareness and collaboration.
During the event, Irukera said that in spite of its tight resources, the council found it expedient to engage the media because of their vital and pivotal roles in sensitising consumers to their rights.
“I met a broken organisation, poorly funded and with low staff morale but today, after taking up the authorities on the need to prioritise the interests and welfare of Nigerians, CPC is making headway both in advancing consumer interests and staff welfare,’’ he said.
Irukera said that his administration was able to increase the agency’s budget by 200 per cent by making the Federal Government to realise the significance of citizens’ welfare.
Without such realisation, the management and staff of CPC would be hamstrung in their efforts to operate effectively to advance the public interest, he added.
“The non-protection of citizens against exploitation by organisations or fellow individuals embitters the people and this must be addressed,’’ he said.
Irukera underscored the need for sustained media input in the campaign on the rights of Nigerian consumers.
“The change we desire in the media is as regards citizens’ obligations and rights; we need pragmatic collaboration with the media to change the society and make the difference in consumers’ life.
“The media have roles to play in the campaign to promote consumer protection and awareness; they should modify business behaviours in favour of the citizens,’’ he added.
Irukera, nonetheless, enumerated some innovative approaches which, if properly implemented, would change and add more value to the CPC campaign against substandard goods, consumer exploitation and poor service delivery in the public and private sectors.
He stressed that in efforts to resolve sectoral challenges in favour of the public, complaints on electricity supply were prioritised to enable the consumers to know their obligations and rights in their relationship with Electricity Distribution Companies (DISCOs).
He said that the CPC was also addressing the menace of fake and substandard products in the country, in collaboration with relevant agencies such as NAFDAC and Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON).
Perhaps, the most important innovation of the CPC is in the health sector, as the sector is fraught with a lot of complaints about the service delivery of health care institutions and their workforce.
As part of efforts to tackle this problem, Irukera said that the CPC was working to introduce a Patient Bill of Rights, which would be translated into different Nigerian languages, in order to educate patients and health care service providers on their expectations.
“This will help in addressing the uncaring attitude of some health care personnel whose stock in trade is to humiliate, scorn and abuse patients who are in dire need of compassion and love in treatment,’’ he said.
He said that the major challenges facing the health sector were not basically on infrastructure deficit but mainly attitudinal, particularly with regard to the personnel offering medical services to the patients.
As a way out, Irukera said that the CPC was working in tandem with the Nigerian Medical Association, laboratory technologists, the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria and other stakeholders to make them to incorporate consumer protection issues in medical services.
Beyond that, the director-general said that the CPC was planning to initiate a comprehensive and automated complaints resolution system in commercial and social contacts for the benefit of the public.
“In seven months of my appointment, I have been fully engaged in the National Assembly in respect of the Competition and Consumers Commission Bill. The bill has been harmonised by the two chambers and the media must make vital intervention to press the Executive to sign it into law.”
Another remarkable innovation of the council is its plans to establish the CPC Training Institute to train and retrain the personnel of public and private sector organisations so as to boost their service delivery.
“We will write regulations on that and the agencies will lose their certifications if they fail to comply with the regulations.
“By the first quarter of next year, we will roll out another game changer on warrantee policy for refunds, return or replacement of poor products,’’ Irukera added.
It is also on record that the council has, on several occasions, intervened to redress consumer complaints in the telecommunications, transportation (Aviation), electrical/electronics, real estate/mortgage and hospitality sectors.
Similarly, some complaints emanating from instances of poor service delivery in the foods and beverage sector were successfully resolved, largely in favour of consumers.
However, a cross-section of participants at the programme noted that the apathy often displayed by consumers in approaching the CPC for grievance redress over the years has significantly reduced under its current leadership.
They said that the feat was achieved through the council’s designed efforts to improve consumer awareness and stage aggressive campaigns against the exploitative tendencies of providers of goods or service, among others.