By Folasade Akpan
“The customer is king” is a longstanding mantra that portrays the customer’s relevance and importance to any business and gives the seller or service provider the assurance of better service delivery.
Consumer protection, the practice of safeguarding buyers of goods and services and the public, against unfair practices in the marketplace is taken very seriously with extant laws enacted to ensure this.
To this end, the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) is charged with the responsibility of securing the protection of rights for all consumers in Nigeria.
It was established to among others, develop and promote fair, efficient and competitive markets in the economy and facilitate access by all citizens to safe products.
Recently, it organised a one-day sensitization programme in collaboration with the 50 Million African Women Speak Project (50MAWSP) to enlighten women entrepreneurs on their duties and responsibilities toward customers and consumers in line with the FCCPC Act, 2018.
The programme had as its theme: “Empowering Women Entrepreneurs for Greater Height: The Place of FCCPC 2018”.
Mr Babatunde Irukera, the Executive Vice Chairman of the commission, said women entrepreneurs were doing a lot to ensure that the Nigerian economy grows and should not be left out of the information in the Act.
Represented by Mr Adamu Abdullahi, the Executive Commissioner for Operations, Irukera said that the law was no respecter of persons and ignorance was no excuse, so it was the responsibility of the entrepreneurs and traders to know the laws they were bound by.
“Since the new Act was passed into law in 2018 and we are no longer Consumer Protection Council, but FCCPC, we want to let people know, especially market women, what their responsibilities are towards us and our own responsibilities to them.
“The way they have to treat their customers and the rights that the customers have, as well as the obligations that they have to their customers.”
Mrs Joy Lekwauwa, the Head of Consumer Education Department, said that the aim of the programme was to empower women entrepreneurs using the FCCPC Act 2018.
According to her, the act permits the commission to collaborate with stakeholders in different sectors of the economy to know the provisions of the Act.
“Also, it is there for businesses and consumers. If you package it as a literature and keep it there and nobody knows about it, the nation remains where it is.
“If you can expose it to different sectors, the provisions, and how they can benefit from it, then we can grow the economy of the nation.”
Mr Tam Tamunobelema, the Head of Legal Department, while explaining some provisions of the Act, said that the commission played a major role in service delivery, sales and marketing as its activities affect services.
He said that the commission was empowered to play an advisory role and ensure economic development and efficiency, while being the market watchdog to ensure that things go well without disruptions.
According to him, Section Two of the law which talks about its scope covers every commercial activity in Nigeria and even government agencies where commercial activity is involved.
He also said that the Act made provision for the establishment of a tribunal which ensures that issues are resolved within six months, adding that the tribunal has just been inaugurated.
Tamunobelema said that the provisions of the Act created room for competition in business but frowned at monopoly.
“So in the marketplace, no single person should have a monopoly of the market.
“As women who sell different products, each of your products is a market, and you are not allowed to exercise monopoly in that field.
“Monopoly means you are the only person that has control of the sale and distribution of that product. That is not fair and it is not allowed.
“We now have the power to have monopoly investigation. Once we have a report or we get one, we can also initiate that investigation by ourselves.”
He also said that the law was against price fixing.
Part 14 of the Act which talks about Specific Offences Against Competition, says that “an undertaking shall not directly or indirectly (a) by agreement, threat, promise or any other means, attempt to influence or conspire to influence upward or discourage the reduction of, the price at which any other undertaking supplies, offers to supply or advertise any goods or services or
“(b) Refuse to supply goods or services to or otherwise discriminate against any undertaking because of the pricing policy of that undertaking.”
Explaining the provisions, Tamunobelema said that price fixing should not be confused with price regulation as they meant different things.
“Price fixing is when you say your product must only sell for a certain amount, say N100. No other person can sell above that that is against the law.
“However, as to making sure that this product sells for N1 or N10 that is not our duty. The seller fixes his own price.”
As for price regulation, he said that the commission could only advise the government on how to go about it but does not fix prices of goods and services.
He also said that part 16 of the law which entails the duties of manufacturers, importers, distributors and suppliers enjoin them to label products appropriately with the right description in a manner that would be easily traceable to them.
This, he said, was to make it easier to withdraw such goods from the market if any need ever arose to do such, adding that the penalty for improper labeling was three years imprisonment or a fine of not more than N10 million or both.
Speaking on consumers’ rights and responsibilities, Mrs Bimbo Ailemen, Consumer Education Officer for South West, said that consumers should be very vigilant to avoid being deceived.
She said that they should ensure that products are properly labeled to include the name of the producer and address, date of production and expiry, adding that where products were expired, sellers must ensure that they are not sold.
She said that when customers are in doubt as to the authenticity of certain products they should not buy them.
“When we are talking about products for consumers in the East, you must ensure that that particular product is able to explain in a local dialect which is Igbo and English, so that our consumers will be able to understand what you are talking about. The same thing goes for the North and the West.”
She said that sellers should not tamper with production and expiry dates as many do when the expiry dates were drawing close, adding that that was against the law and where such had happened, it should be reported.
She also said that they should ensure that batch numbers of products were recorded in case there was reason to recall products.
Ailemen said that the consumer had the right to choose and examine goods before they buy, adding that consumers should not be boxed into buying products they do not want simply because the supplier or seller has only a certain product or brand.
“You have to be aware that there are people out there that can cheat you out of markets and you must also not buy things that are bad.
“Anytime you have issues please speak out, do not keep it to yourselves, tell the commission, so that we will follow it up so the other consumers in the process will not be harmed.”
Talking about FCCPC complaint and redress process, Mrs Nwachikwu Omagu, Head of Surveillance and Enforcement Department, said that the complaint and redress process was not a mechanism for empowering the consumers while frustrating businesses.
She said that rather, it provides the very much needed feedback required by businesses to enable them make necessary adjustments and introduce innovations required to bring about business growth.
“The process of providing redress reveals and exposes existing gaps which could come from any area such as staff issues, work environment, equipment and brand issues.”
According to her, consumer satisfaction provides the best footing for businesses to grow and be sustained, so business owners should ensure that their customers are satisfied with services rendered at all times.
Mrs Saratu Ajibike, the Local Content Manager for 50MAWSP, said that the exercise has exposed them to the provisions of the Act and also served as a way of support for the women.
“Sincerely, I didn’t know that we had so much power available to us, so such trainings show you the kind of powers that you have as a business owner and also as a consumer.
“This is the kind of support we want from them, for them to educate the women and build their capacity, because sometimes we have complaints from our women that they have challenges with their consumers and even as consumers themselves.
“We want them to come back again when we have a larger house so that they will keep educating women to know their customers’ rights and also how to give quality services to their customers.”
Rose Atakpa, another participant who owns a supermarket, said the workshop was indeed an eye opener for her as a consumer and a business owner.
She said as an entrepreneur, she had learnt to apply certain things to her business to help her sustain it.
“I must make sure I understand every product I am selling and ensure that they are properly labeled so consumers can be well informed about them.
“I also have learnt that it is my responsibility to educate my customers about products they intend to buy from me and also give them a time frame to return them if they do not want them.”