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Consumers should seek redress when rights are violated – GM LASCOPA

Afolabi Solebo, general manager of Lagos State Consumer Protection Agency (LASCOPA), in this interview with NGOZI OKPALAKUNNE, stressed the need for consumers to know their rights and seek redress when their rights are being trampled upon. He also spoke about the risk involved in online transactions and the need for consumers to see products physically before payment is made. Excerpts:

It has been observed that many consumers in the state do not know their rights. What do you think is the implication?

To me, LASCOPA is still very young, and it will take a little while to get across to all the consumers in Lagos.

We have done a lot of awareness programmes in both radio and television. With the help of the state governor, Sanwo–olu, the agency has been able to establish some offices in some of the Local Government Development Areas (LGDA) in Lagos, which includes, Bariga, Ikoyi, Ikorodu, Badagry and a host of others. We are looking at adding three or four more LGDA to the one we have on ground. We may not be able to go round the whole state for now, but we are making drastic efforts that before the end of this year, we should have more offices so as to bring LASCOPA closer to the people who are supposed to benefit from the agency.

It is unfortunate that even those consumers who know their rights do not know where to go when their rights are violated.

Take for instance, when they discovered that their rights are being violated by sellers in the market, the next thing they will say is “I am leaving it for God.’’

Despite the fact that we do public enlightenment programmes and jingles, some people will say, let me leave it for God, but the truth is that they have where to table their complaints. l can tell them that they have where to go and lodge their complaints; we have offices, they can get to us through other means such as the social media. The vision of the agency is to ensure that consumers in Lagos State especially those who do not get satisfaction for products they bought or services rendered to them. Also our mission is to protect consumers against hazardous and substandard products and this we do through regular public enlightenment.

We also protect consumers in the state against any form of trade malpractices being perpetrated by marketers, manufacturers and other service providers.

Having managed the agency for nearly two years now, what are some of the challenges you have encountered and how were you able to proffer solutions to such obstacles?

When I assumed office, l realised that there are so many things we need to put in place. And because we cannot do it unilaterally, we had to partner with other stakeholders to ensure that consumers get value for their money.

We visited the Chief Judge of Lagos State; we also visited the state commissioner of police because of security issues; sometimes, when members of our monitoring enforcement unit go for monitoring, they are harassed; sometimes, by supermarket owners or grocery stores owners.

Read also:  Miccom Chief commends SON-LASCOPA collaboration, warns counterfeiters

Another challenge which we are working on is the law creating the agency, we have the bill before the House of Assembly to amend and probably bring out another law to actually deal with other challenges.

Many consumers complain of unfair digital online transactions. What is your take on that?

In a situation where bank will say that someone’s contact or details was used to take money from such persons account, our own is that, this money moved from the persons account and landed in another person’s account, and this person that the money landed in his account is not a spirit. Even if it is moving from one bank to another, it is left for the bank that the money is moved to, to contact the other bank where the money is situated. We are of the opinion that since the person who received the money is not expecting money from anybody, he should not touch the money because it does not belong to him, if he spends the money, it is a criminal act.

It behooves on the person to quickly communicate with the other bank, that he saw money in his account.

It may be at that time that the bank will know that the money entered into a wrong account and should be retrieved. So, people should be sincere at all times and not to spend other people’s money that entered their bank account by error.

For consumers doing online transaction like buying products online, from our own side we believe that, if the seller is serious and honest he should allow the buyers to see the product physically before payment.

In this case, the buyer can only pay for the dispatch rider as it is better to lose two thousand naira for dispatch than a product of twenty thousand naira, the online sellers cannot refund.

In LASCOPA, if a consumer is deceived to pay for a product he did not have interest and the online seller refused to refund the money, if the matter is brought to us, we will try and trace the seller. Consumers should be weary of those selling online; if people are complaining of a particular person or company doing that kind of deception, we will go after such individual or company because ours is to protect the consumers and to promote the consumers rights as well.

In the next four years, what level do you hope to take the agency to?

In the next four to five years, LASCOPA should be in all the parts of the state and a whole lot of people must have been aware of our agency, what we are doing and where the consumers can get redress and satisfaction for the products they must have bought or the services rendered to them.

In a situation where in the nearest future, the manufacturers and marketers would know that consumers have rights, peradventure people selling electronics, people selling automobiles will be careful of the kind of products they sell to the consumers knowing that consumers have where to complain if they purchase substandard products.

In the next few years, l also see a situation where the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) will be doing their jobs diligently and the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) will ensure that products coming into the country must have been properly checked before coming in and peradventure if any of the products has any defect, manufacturers or the producers and marketers should be ready to replace or refund the consumers without problem.

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