Afolabi Solebo is the general manager of the Lagos State Consumer Protection Agency (LASCOPA), which ensures consumers get redress when their rights are infringed upon. In this interview with NGOZI OKPALAKUNNE, he spoke on the no refund policy and the need for consumers to ensure they get value for their money. He advised consumers to read through product information before buying so as to avoid purchasing expired products. Solebo also spoke on the sharp practices of some outlets during festivities, as well as his agency’s plan to eradicate the sale of bottled drinks exposed to the sun. Excerpts:
What is your take on no-refund policy?
It is very unfortunate that in this part of the world we are so used to people telling us or writing at the back or at the tail end of their receipts that goods bought should not be returned and consumers will not return it. There is nothing like no refund policy. And l will quickly make reference to a decision of the Enugu State High Court around April this year. It is about somebody who bought a ticket to board a vehicle and I think something happened and he was no longer interested in the journey.
When he asked for refunds, the company refused to pay him. He went straight to court and got judgment based on section 120 of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act, which has to do with cancellation. In that act, you can actually make a booking, be it a hotel or transportation and if you are not satisfied or if you don’t want to go ahead with the agreement or with the reservation or booking, you have a right to cancel. So, consumer has the right to cancel advance reservation or booking order. Just like to make an online order and you’re not satisfied with such order, you have the right to return it. So; no-refund policy is not real. Take for instance, something happened recently which I believed went viral where l intercepted. There is a shopping mall in Lagos where somebody bought a blue tooth and took it home, it was not working, he took it back to where he bought it; they refused to give him back his money on the ground that they do no-refund policy. When l came into the matter, not only did they refund the money, l also asked them to forward copies of their policies. And I believe that they will do that, because I am in constant touch with them. So, anywhere we see an infraction like that we will intervene because no manufacturer can come to Lagos to sale substandard products. The issue of people saying no-refund policy is when they bring substandard products and they want to lure it on people that they must buy. And when they buy and have complaint, they will tell them that they practice no-refund policy. The era of doing that in Lagos state is over, manufacturers of such substandard products can take their goods to any other state; there is zero tolerance for breach of consumer rights in the Lagos no matter who is involved.
What do you do about second hand products?
One has to be careful about second hand products, but l can tell you that we handle the issue too. There is a particular man who came to complain that he bought a fairly used vehicle from a car dealer, though it does not have warranty, we do not shy away from that in this part of the world; because it is not everybody that can afford brand new car. But, if you buy a used car of may be, a million naira, it is still your money; you should be able to get value for what you have bought. We have seen people buying new car and be able to use it in the next two or three years, but if you buy a car that supposed to be in good condition and may be, in the next two or three months it starts giving you problems, you can call back the seller. We have done that here and the person’s money was refunded back to them.
If people are buying engines, or used phones, irrespective of whether a brand new product or used products, we look at each case according to the facts of the case and ensure that consumers get value for their money.
Do you cover hospitals too?
The hospital do offer services and you do not go to hospital and obtain services free of charge; that is the reason collaboration is good, because of our collaboration with the Federal Government, there was a time l was invited to a panel, it was about the case of somebody in a particular hospital that died. We were asked questions live on television; we asked if the treatment was of a good standard? What was the cause of the death? It still boils down on collaboration with the Medical Association of Nigeria (MAN) so as to get to the root of the matter. It is not the matter of raising up a building and people coming in to pay for services and they will be slaughtered. In such cases, we want to know how the treatment commenced and if it is still within the ambit of the medical association of Nigeria. Basically, if issues like that are brought to us, we will take them and ensure that we go through the normal channel and ensure that they get justice, it is still within consumer’s rights. The agency also plans to eradicate drinks that are exposed to sun; it is dangerous to health and it is cancerous, that will be part of our public enlightenment between now and December. So, next year, we will prosecute people that are displaying those products to sunlight; we will also have a stakeholder meeting with the manufacturers of those bottle drinks, so that they will look for a way to make dummies, because the essence of displaying those products on the sunlight is to invite consumers to come and buy. lf they can put dummies under the sun, it will look like the real thing, but it is not the real thing. I think the manufacturers of the bottled drinks should be looking into that, by the time, we invite them, we will be looking for a way whereby we can let the public know because, it is dangerous to health and things like that can kill gradually. We should not use our money to buy products that will kill us. So, we want to ensure that consumers continue to get values for their money because, it is even good for manufacturers to know that there are products they cannot sale in Lagos, because if you bring a substandard products, we will ensure that consumers get either refund, replacement or repair; at the same time we will bring out fines and such manufacturers of fake products will be prosecuted.
Christmas is by the corner; what measure is your agency putting in place to ensure consumers in the state are not deceived because it is believed that during the period many of these outlets would want to sale their products that have been expired?
This is ember months and we are close to Christmas; this period people will continue to sale products that are about to expire or the ones that are even expired. This is the time they will start doctoring, the manufacturers’ date and the information on those goods. So, we continue to do public enlightenment, to educate consumers on the need to be careful and weary of people like that, because, those products are hazardous to health. So, it is about continuous education- we have the one in pidgin, English, Yoruba, Igbo, among others. I am sure if you do not buy these products, they will not sell them and they will end up trashing them. Consumers should also know that any product that the price has been reduced, then there should be something there. And for those who sell such products, when they are caught they will face the law. And the position of the law is very clear. Take for instance, if we catch you once you will pay fine and you may end up spending at least six months in prison. And if such an individual is a second time offender, he/she will pay fine and one year imprisonment without any option of fine. So, that is the situation, it is a zero tolerance for breach of consumer’s right in Lagos, especially consumables that are hazardous to people’s life.