Raheem Akingbolu reviews the aftermath of the clampdown on MedContour Services Ltd and how the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC), has demonstrated through the ongoing trial that the agency has political will to protect the right of consumers to the logical end.
Until few years ago, the major campaign against the Consumer Protection Council (CPC) was that it had a limit and could only bark but could not bite. There was virtually no adequate legislation to back Consumers’ rights. As a result of this, manufacturers of goods and services often abused the right of innocent consumers with ease and got away with it without facing any sanction. This explains why Nigerian consumers in their thousands have in the last few years, become victims of fake products and poor services.
After many years of pushing for passage of its enabling act by the National Assembly and signing into law by the President, it came to pass last year and the Federal Consumer Protection and Competition Commission (FCCPC) was birth. The FCCPC was set up not only to consolidate on the achievements of the Consumer Protection Council (CPC) over the years, but also to serve as a regulator that promotes competition and fairness in the Nigerian marketplace. It was also designed to focus more on robust enforcement of the rights of Nigerian consumers to enable them derive more value for their money come 2020.
Besides, the current Chief Executive Officer of FCCPC, Babatunde Irekera, a Lawyer, appeared to have also come prepared for the job as he brought some reforms into the agency in a way that Consumers’ rights and unhealthy competition are now being properly checked. To a large extend, the regulatory agency has restored some level of human dignity into consumerism in Nigeria.
FCCPC didn’t only hit the ground running immediately, it embarked on a dizzying series of interventions in various sectors of the economy as well as engagements with stakeholder agencies and other public and private sector partners. One of the first achievements under the new framework was the issuance of a final order to Multichoice Nigeria Limited — a Pay TV company that provides television services to DStv, for the failure of upholding an alleged mutual agreement on tariffs review and other services.
In April this year, the agency had revealed on its official Twitter handle that it had commenced an investigation into a case of failed plastic surgery performed by MedContour Services Ltd. Few days later, the Director General of FCCPC, led his team to seal off the company, over suspicions of illegal activities.
After weeks of hide-and-seek between the Federal Government agency and the owner of the company, FCCPC has finally dragged the Lagos Surgeon, Dr. Anuoluwapo Adepoju to court that she has a case to answer. The decision was said to be in line with the agency’s mission to ensure that, customers are priority in the business value chain.
Adepoju recently appeared before a Federal High Court in Lagos over alleged evasion from investigation into a failed plastic Surgery. She was charged alongside her Clinic -MedContour Services Ltd, on a five count charge bordering on a refusal to honour an invitation for investigation. She is standing trial before Justice Mohammed Liman.
The Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) had in April, sealed the second defendant (MedContour), a plastic surgery hospital, over suspicions of illegal activities.
In a five count charge brought against the defendants on Friday, the prosecution alleged that without sufficient cause, the first defendant failed to appear before the FCCPC in compliance with the commissions summons dated April 15.
The prosecution alleged that without sufficient cause, the first defendant refused and failed to produce document which she was required to produce in compliance with the commission’s notice of investigation dated April 14.
The defendant was also alleged to have prevented and obstructed the commission from carrying out its investigation into the said issue.
The offences were said to have contravened the provisions of sections 11(1)(a), 33(1)(a), 110, 113(1)(a) and 159(4) of the FCCPC Act, 2018. The defendant, however, pleaded not guilty to all counts.
After her plea, Defence counsel, Mrs Maria Jonnes informed the court of a preliminary objection challenging the charge.
She had argued that the law setting up the FCCPC does not empower the court to entertain the case filed by the commission, adding that the defence had already filed a pending suit before a brother judge, Justice C. Aneke challenging the Act of the commission.
In response, the prosecutor who is Director General of the FCCPC, Mr Babatunde Irukera, argued that there was no legal basis for the preliminary objection of the defence.
According to him, the subject before the court is not on the issue of violation, and so, there is nothing in the preliminary objection that can stand.
He also submitted that the objection that the court lacks jurisdiction to hear the case is misinformed.
After listening to submission of parties, Justice Liman, upheld the submission of the prosecution, and held that the criminal jurisdiction of the Federal High Court is activated by the provisions of.sections 251(f) of the Constitution.
The court held that sub section 1(f) of the section, includes organisations like the Consumer Protection Council as well as the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON)
The court consequently, over ruled the preliminary objection of defence.
Justice Liman granted the defendant bail on self-recognizance, and adjourned the case until July 9 for trial.
Meanwhile, Dr. Adepoju has cried out to Minister of Health Dr. Osagie Ehanire, President Muhammud Buhari and other Nigerians to come to her aid, arguing that as she is being unjustly prosecuted.
Adepoju, who was reported by an online newspaper –The View, was said to have lamented that she was being prosecuted unjustly by the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) led by the agency’s Director General Barr. Babatunde Irukera.