Glaring Conflict of Interest

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The Consumer Protection Council (CPC) has stepped in to undertake issues concerning passengers and airlines particularly where passengers feel shortchanged and are demanding justice. The agency has always taken over such cases and penalties awarded against the airlines’ malfeasance.

The passengers who seek justice always expect that the cases would be resolved in their favour. They demand justice for loss of luggage on transit, especially when their requests for refunds were not granted; when their cargoes failed to arrive and when the airlines failed to airlift them after buying their tickets. There are always myriads of problems emanating from contractual disagreements between airlines and passengers.

The international aviation organisations had envisaged this and provided that the regulatory authority should have consumer protection department or directorate which will ensure that airlines do not rip off or maltreat passengers.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) recognised and approved that every Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in every member country should have consumer protection department. The department is expected to weigh cases and serve as umpires to ensure that airlines meet their obligation to their passengers, guided by laid down international aviation regulations. This is because airlines operate international destinations so their activities are guided by international rules recognised by ICAO and implemented by member countries, which are expected to domesticate these regulations.

On the other hand, CPC is a legally backed organisation, and was established under Chapter C25, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004. Its primary function is to provide speedy redress to consumers’ complaints through negotiation, mediation and conciliation; but its major function is to seek ways and means of eliminating from the market hazardous products and causing offenders to replace such products with more appropriate alternatives.

There have been major cases the CPC has intervened in aviation. One of such cases was when Aero Contractors allegedly delayed Lagos bound passengers overnight in Abuja. The CPC stated that the passengers were abused and the Director General of the Council, Mrs. Dupe Atoki frowned on the alleged frequent ill treatment of the passengers. The CPC took the case far only to be reminded that the jurisdiction of CPC did not cover air travellers’ relationship with airlines because there was a body authorised to attend to that.

Another case is the one involving Turkish Airlines, which in December was unable to accompany passengers’ luggage with the flight that brought from Istanbul to Abuja.

Passengers vigorously protested against that breach even at the airside of the Abuja airport, against safety regulations and recommended practices, which prompted the Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika to suspend two top officials of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).

However, the Turkish Airlines compensated the passengers. This was confirmed in a statement issued by NCAA: “Sequel to the intervention of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Turkish Airlines has paid the prescribed compensation to all the passengers whose luggage were delayed in the infamous Flight TK 624 scheduled service from Istanbul to Abuja.

“The Airline under the supervision of the Consumer Protection Officers (CPO) of the Regulatory Authority ensured that all the passengers were paid full monetary compensation as contained in the Nigerian Civil Aviation Regulations (Nig.CARs).

“In addition, a cargo flight and an Airbus were arranged to freight to Abuja, Nigeria, all contentious backlog of baggage that were earlier short landed.

All concerned passengers have collected same as at the time of this report.”
What this means is that the NCAA, according to international regulations that guide air transport for ICAO member countries, intervened in the matter and adequate compensation was paid; yet, the CPC still took Turkish Airlines to court.

The NCAA had earlier called CPC to order and tried to clarify the responsibility of the Council in aviation issues.

“The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has expressed absolute displeasure concerning the incessant and stubborn encroachment in the entrenched statutory obligations of the regulatory authority by the Consumer Protection Council (CPC).

“The blatant incontinence is flagrantly displayed by the CPC resuscitating already closed infractions by airlines and curiously attempting to provide a pseudo trial and administer sanctions without any known legal foundation.

“The Authority is miffed due to the unwarranted duplicity of responsibilities and the needless demonstration of incoherence among government agencies. NCAA wishes to point out that Section 30(1) (a) (b) and (c) of the Civil Aviation Act, 2006 gives the NCAA the general power to regulate civil aviation in Nigeria.
“Without prejudice to the general power of the NCAA to regulate civil aviation in Nigeria, Section 30(2) (f) of the Act gives the Authority power ‘to make regulations as to the conditions under which passengers and goods may be carried by air into, from and within Nigeria.’
In addition, Section 30(4)(a) of the Act specifically bestowed on NCAA, the power generally “to regulate, supervise and monitor the activities of Nigerian and Foreign carriers, travel and other aviation agents operating in Nigeria.”

NCAA also noted that “with respect to aviation consumer protection, Section 30(4) (i) of the Act grants NCAA the power generally to investigate and determine upon its own initiative or upon receipt of complaints by any air carrier, air travel agent, consumer of air transport service or other allied aviation service provider while Section 30(4) (m) avails the Authority power to institute programmes for the protection of aviation consumer interests.”

According to reports, in February this year the International Air Transport Association (IATA) had queried the actions of CPC in interfering in aviation matters.

IATA’s Regional Director for Africa, Tanja Grobotek, condemned the Consumer Protection Council’s incursion into aviation regulatory responsibilities of the NCAA with reference to passengers’ complaint with Turkish Airlines.

Industry observers described CPC action as an infringement on international regulation that guides international air transport and Nigeria has become a laughing stock in the comity of nations.