By Abiodun Obisesan.
With the highly deplorable and noticeable spate of consumer right violation in Nigeria, students and consumers at a Stakeholders’ Conference, organized by the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations had thought that service providers present would address their complaints and offer lasting solutions to their plights. However, this was not to be as competing brands within the telecommunication, namely MTN and Airtel wittingly or unwittingly refused to use the opportunity presented to it by organizers of the conference tagged The Nigerian Consumer: Rights Duties & Obligation, to prove that the often trumpeted cliché, Consumer is King is not just a marketing slogan to perpetuate impunity in poor service delivery and exorbitant charges.
Other key regulators and corporate organizations present at the conference included the Consumer Protection Council (CPC), Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC), Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC), Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON), National oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), First Bank and others. The event which was held in collaboration with the Centre of Excellence, Mass Communication Department, University of Lagos, is being organized by Addefort Limited.
Prof. Ralph Akinfeleye, FNIPR had delivered a poignant Conference Lecture titled “The role of Public Relations in protecting the rights of the consumers” which acted as a catalyst for further deepen the conversation as the regulators, acting in the capacity of the defendants, reacted to some issues raised on behalf of consumers, seen more as the plaintiff. However, instead of trying to reassure and allay the various fears being raised during the conference, the culprits who are mainly the service providers deviated from the consumerism issues of the day and marketed some of its products to the chagrin of students and other concerned Nigerians.
Mrs. Nkechi Ali-Balogun indicted regulators for playing lips service with regards to consumer education and awareness. ‘‘There are more Nigerian consumers in the rural areas who suffer from the flagrant consumer abuse. I am particularly unhappy that the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation is not present here. We are very concerned that as a regulatory body, NBC has refused to put a rein on DStv who have hiked their rates without recourse to its impact on the Nigerian consumer’’.
Dr. Joseph Odumodu, Director General, SON spoke on “Checking .The Rate Of Substandard Products In Nigeria”. According to him, “The Management of SON, in its resolve to reposition the Organisation towards higher productivity particularly in the fight against the menace of substandard products importation, production, storage and distribution merged the Enforcement, Ports and Border Operation Units into a full directorate which is now called ‘’Inspectorate and Compliance Directorate (ICD). This is to achieve the overall objectives of SON particularly in its “Zero Tolerance to substandard products” initiative in the Country’’.
Similarly, students also vented their grievances and annoyance on the regulators during the feedback session. According to Chibuike Obi, a student of Public Relations at the University of Nigeria, students’ have also suffered horrendously from bad and vindictive lecturers. ‘‘I have witnessed serious consumer abuse from some Lecturers in my school who threaten to fail students that report them for not honoring their pedagogic contract. They violate our rights as students and go Scott free. Another student from the University of Lagos lamented the poor and docile stance of the consumer who has failed to assert its right on the system.
The Conference Chairman, Dr. Rotimi Oladele, FNIPR, President, Chairman Governing Council NIPR, used the platform to advocate for the involvement of all stakeholders in ensuring that the essence of the Conference is not defeated. According to Dr Oladele, “protecting the rights of the Nigerian Consumer is the collective responsibility of all stakeholders. In our capacity public relations right activists, we should pursue the rights and interest of consumers because they are our ally”.
Mr Tam Tamunokonbia, CPC Head, Lagos Office, spoke on the efforts being made by the Commission in protecting the rights of consumers in the country, calling on consumers to always demand for their rights by bringing complaints to the notice of the Commission.
Speaking on the well attended Conference, the Chairman, NIPR Lagos Chapter, Barrister Joseph Okonmah, commended the supports of corporate organizations that made the event a huge success. “I must commend the support of all regulators that participated and our corporate sponsors; Airtel, Coca-Cola, First Bank and MTN for identifying with the Nigerian Consumer” Mr Okonmah explained that the conference with the theme: “The Nigerian Consumer- Rights, Duties & Obligations” was designed for regulatory authorities and corporate organizations to deliberate on issues affecting consumers in the country.
Dr. Eugene Juwah, Executive Vice Chairman, NCC was represented by Mr Tony Ojobo, Director Public Affairs. He spoke on “Challenges of Providing Quality Telecom Services in Nigeria”. Mr Ojobo insisted that the quality of telecoms service in Nigeria is not falling in any way. According to him, “Even if we wish to compare service quality with the situation in the 1970s to 1990s, up to 2000, or at the inception and during the telecom revolution years which began in 2001, or just the status in three to five years ago, we are uncomfortable to admit that the quality, or standard of services are falling. But we may argue that the challenge to quality of service is increasing at the same pace at which services are expanding to all the nooks and crannies of the country.”
He enumerated the challenges facing the industry to include; Power supply, Multiple Regulation and Taxation, Right of Way Issues, Vandalization of telecoms infrastructures and Infrastructure deficit. Adding that the Commission is committed to ensuring that the telecoms operators deliver on their promises.
Dr. Sam Amadi, Chaiman/CEO, NERC while speaking on “Post-Privatisation Challenges Impeding Power Sector Reform and Ways Forward”, highlighted key issues impeding the Power Sector Reform. These include; Gas Supply Shortages, Fragile Electricity Transmission System, Cost Reflective Tariffs, Electricity Market Revenue Shortfall, Metering in the NESI, Threats to Effective Regulation: the NEMSA Bill, Challenges to Subsidy Disbursement, Transitional Electricity Market (TEM), Customer Dissatisfaction and Apathy, Poor Supply and Outrageous Billing.
On Metering, the chairman who was represented by Dr Uche S. Okoro explained that the Commission has adopted a two pronged approach to addressing the metering challenge: “CAPMI (METERING INTERVENTION): With the aim of facilitating and supporting the Operators on one hand and protecting the Consumer on the other, the Commission introduced a ‘Voluntary Scheme’ known as Credited Advance Program for Metering Implementation (CAPMI) to assist in dealing with the metering gap.”
“Strong Enforcement of the commitment made by the Discos on closing the metering gap as contained in their business plans during the privatisation of the entities. Appropriate financial penalties will be imposed on the Discos once the AT&C losses are adjusted and cost- reflective tariff released.”
By Abiodun Obisesan.