Agenda for the New Helmsman at CPC

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Raheem Akingbolu calls on the new Executive Secretary of the Consumer Protection Council, Mr. Babatunde Irukera, to strengthen the council by pursuing the passage of the Anti-Trust and Competition Bill into law, as well as encouraging state governments to activate state-owned consumer protection bodies

 Wind of change blew across major federal government agencies last week as head of at least 23 agencies were sacked by President Muhammadu Buhari and replaced immediately with new set of experts.  Some of the agencies affected are Pension Commission (PenCom), the Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) and the Consumer Protection Council (CPC).

A statement by the Director Press Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGF) Bolaji Adebiyi, named an associate of the Vice President, Mr. Tunde Irukera as Executive Secretary of CPC, rather than a director general. Irukera, who was a governorship aspirant of the All Progressives Congress APC in the 2015 gubernatorial elections in Kogi state, was before now a consultant to the council. The new Executive Secretary replaces Mrs. Dupe Atoki, a lawyer.

Atoki’s achievement

In the last three years, the council, under Atoki, recorded some remarkable achievements, which the incoming Executive Secretary will need to work on to further deepen consumer protection in the country.

For the first time in a long time, Atoki and her team were able to sanction some multinationals in sectors like food and drinks, telecommunications, aviation, banking, Pay Tv and manufacturing. In particular, the telco companies were put on their toes; they became more conscious of the existence of the CPC in the country.

For instance, in a firm determination to bring succour to groaning telecom subscribers in Nigeria, the Consumer Protection Council (CPC) and Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) set up a joint committee to work out modalities to assuage consumer abuses in the telecom sector.

Her shortcomings

Despite her effort, the fact that consumer protection has a weak structure in the country made it impossible for the former DG to achieve some of the objective she set at the beginning. Her legal approaches were frustrated because the nation’s legal structure is also weak.

Looking at CPC under Atoki, the founder of Consumer Advocacy Foundation of Nigeria (CAFON) Ms. Sola Salako, commended the former DG for giving stronger teeth to the council, compared to previous years.

“As a lawyer and human right advocate of international repute, Mrs. Atoki tried her best because she gave the council a better outlook; she laid a stronger foundation and provided a more pragmatic direction for future development. However, she couldn’t achieve much because she went legal all through, perhaps because she is a lawyer, forgetting that our legal structure is weak. What do you expect in a country where litigation lasts forever? People get tired, they couldn’t make much impact in the area of fighting for their rights because of complexity of the process and frustration in the courts,” she said.

 Besides, unlike her predecessor in office, Mrs. Ify Umenyi, now late, Atoki is also being criticised in some quarters for her failure to work well with and encourage various consumer protection groups in the country.

Compared to previous administrations, there was improvement in consumer advocacy and right protection between 2007 and 2011 as a result of the collaboration between the Consumer Protection Council (CPC) and other organisations.

Through the activities of the Consumer Advocacy Forum, a non-governmental organisation a monthly forum, where consumers had opportunities to interact on issues affecting them was instituted. Aside creating avenue for members of the public to interact with CPC and operators in various sectors, the forum also increased the level of awareness among consumers.

Through the forum, Umenyi was able to examine activities in sectors like; Aviation, Banking, Telecommunications, Pay TV, Power and Transportation. At one of the fora, consumers protested against sabotage in the broadcasting and entertainment industry and particularly challenged the operators of Cable Network Services in the country to explain some salient areas that bothered on quality of service and cost.

Among other issues; NBC Policy on Cable TV, cost of access, subscription options and unsatisfactory customer   service were addressed.

In the banking, telecommunications and aviation, the forum dwelt on poor customer relations, ATM fraud and poor services.

Expectation from Irukera

If there is anything that should be prioritise by CPC in the months ahead, it should be passage into law of the competition bill. Stakeholders believe that if the bill is passed, CPC would be the greatest beneficiary as it will repeal the consumer protection act. With the competition law, there will be federal competition commission that can operate like the Nigeria Communication Commission.

According to a Lagos Lawyer, Tajudeen Adeyemi, the law will make funding easier and make consumer protection more assertive.

“The bill should be a critical goal for the new head of CPC because when passed, it will help consumers more and strengthen the operation of the regulatory body. The role that CPC should play under the new regime to enhance effective consumer protection should be more policy focused. If the new leadership want to make the desired impact, it is necessary that he come up with better strategy that will prescribe consumer protection structure for various sectors. We should bear in mind the fact that some corporate organisations don’t want to be on the wrong side of the law,” the legal practitioner stated.

Besides, it is also believed that with Nigeria population, it is impossible for CPC with head office in Abuja and small offices in few states to dutifully protect consumers.

To this end, a plea has been made to the new head of the council to encourage state governments to activate state consumer protection arms that will work with the federal body. In the same way, it is believed that the state councils will give birth to local government offices because of the closeness of the third tear of government to the people.

Reacting to this, Salako said she is also in support of such move because it will also ease the funding challenges. “I have always advocated the need for activation of state councils because there is no way the CPC in Abuja will be able to effectively man 36 states of the federation and the FCT. For instance, state like Lagos that has passed its own consumer law is only waiting for the implementation,” Salako added.

Another area that stakeholders are expecting the new leader at CPC to look into is the need for effective collaboration between the council and some foreign agencies on monitoring and investigation of issues related to counterfeit products and other issues.