• Wednesday, April 24, 2024
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FCCPC: First year, solid accomplishments 

Babatunde Irukera

To say that the Federal Consumer Protection and Competition Commission (FCCPC) hit the ground running is an understatement. The agency which came into existence early 2019 following the passage of its enabling act by the National Assembly and signing into law by President Buhari did not have the luxury of a honeymoon. Without catching its breath, 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.

Given the nature of its mandate, the trajectory of its first year is understandable. 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. These are huge responsibilities that affect virtually every aspect of life in Nigeria.

Though FCCPC is a fairly new organization, its consumer protection mandate is familiar territory for the management of the agency led by Babatunde Irukera who also headed the CPC. With such an experienced consumer rights advocate as its CEO, the FCCPC, has been able to maintain the momentum on consumer protection even as it works hard to get to grips with other aspects of its expanded mandate.

One of FCCPC’s notable interventions was in the power sector where it focused on ensuring that Electricity Distribution Companies treat their customers fairly. This is against the backdrop of widespread reports of unfair practices perpetrated by DisCos including unlawful disconnections, illegal charges and failure to provide functioning electricity meters. While the DisCos have blamed their poor services on industry wide challenges, the FCCPC, even while acknowledging these peculiar challenges, has insisted that law abiding electricity customers be treated with the consideration and respect they deserve. As Irukera put it: “We didn’t choose them (DISCOs) to be our distributors, they chose by themselves that they wanted to do this business… Regardless of what their challenges are, they are accountable to us.”

This theme of accountability and improved services has dominated discussions at the commission’s many town hall meetings with consumers, DisCos and other stakeholders which are held periodically across the country. FCCPC has used these forums to educate stakeholders on the rights of customers and identified actions by DisCOs that constitute abuse. A key example of this is FCCPC’s reminder that Discos are required by law to give a 10 day notice before disconnecting a customer’s electricity.

In addition to educating the public on such rights, the commission has also responded robustly to customer complaints, often instructing the DisCos to attend to specific complaints and monitoring the progress made in resolving them. This is evident in the commission’s numerous conversations on Twitter, one of the multiple channels through which it communicates with the public. The @FCCPCNigeria Twitter handle addresses complaints from consumers of various goods and services virtually on a daily basis.

The commission’s culture of communicating with consumers and service providers online is very welcome considering the growing number of internet users in the Nigeria. As of 2018, there were 92.3 million internet users which accounted for 47.1 percent of the total population and this figure is expected to grow to 187.8 million (84.5 percent of the population) in 2023.

In recognition of this, and so as to improve communication with the public, FCCPC in November announced the launch of an automated complaint system that will allow the agency to forward consumer complaints directly to the affected companies for better and more efficient resolution with the aggrieved consumers.

This is in line with the FCCPC’s vision for a sustainable system for handling customer complaints whereby service providers establish effective channels for handling customer complaints as a strong first line response and the commission only intervenes as a second level mechanism for complaint resolution.

There have been numerous other interventions by the commission in various sectors. For instance, on October 29, Irukera led the Federal Government’s legal team in the prosecution of five defendants arraigned at the Federal High Court, Uyo, Akwa-Ibom State, for alleged sale of unsafe, re-bagged rice, unfit for human consumption. The case was adjourned to a later date.

Also, on December 4, 2019, FCCPC and the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) organized a joint raid on a skin care company in Lagos, after receiving credible information about possible inappropriate practices there such as the use of hazardous chemicals. Briefing journalists on the raid, the organization issued a warning to the public to desist from using the products in question.

Also last year, the commission continued its campaign to educate the Nigerian public on its responsibilities and rights through the Patients’ Bill of Rights (PBoR). The bill was launched by the Commission, in conjunction with the Federal Ministry of Health and other partners, in 2018. The document which is expected to be replicated in other sectors was designed to be a guide for both care providers and patients and is meant to shape behaviour in the health sector.

The core objective of the PBoR is to protect members of the public from the kind of needless harm witnessed in the tragic case of Moradeun Balogun, a young lady who lost her life after she was robbed, stabbed and allegedly refused treatment by a Lagos hospital because she had no police report. Following the incident, Irukera Mr. Irukera paid a condolence visit to the family of the victim and announced that the CPC had launched an investigation into the circumstances that led to the death of the young lady within the context of the Patients’ Bill of Rights.

FCCPC also responded promptly and with appropriate sensitivity to reports of sexual abuse in some universities, a burning issue in 2019. In the wake of the BBC Sex for Grades documentary, the commission set up an online platform to enable members of the public report cases of sexual harassment and exploitation in tertiary institutions in order to provide intelligence that could be used to prosecute offenders.

FCCPC also leveraged on its partnership with the Federal Road Safety Corps to ensure that travellers who patronize transport fleet operators enjoy insurance protection. The two agencies announced in December that they would jointly prosecute transporters whose fleets are not appropriately insured by this year. Irukera asserted that if any passenger experiences loss, injury or fatality on account of the conduct of a fleet operator who has no insurance, FCCPC and FRSC will compel the fleet operator to become a self insurer to ensure that the victim or his/her next of kin is fully compensated. “The whole idea is to stop fleet operators from operating without appropriate insurance,” he said.

The commission also kept a close eye on air travel in 2019, throwing its weight behind the decision taken by a partner agency, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority to suspend Turkish Airlines. NCAA penalized Turkish Airlines for ignoring warnings to stop using inappropriately small aircraft and for failing to bring passengers into Nigeria with their checked-in luggage. In a statement, the Commission noted that the action was in order and would serve as a warning to other airlines.

FCCPC also invested a lot of time and effort on the competition component of its mandate in 2019. This was reflected in the many engagements it had with NAFDAC, the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) and other sister institutions to redefine and clarify areas of jurisdiction and cooperation in the interest of Nigerian consumers, businesses and the economy at large. Irukera firmly believes that overlaps of responsibility, far from being an obstacle, constitute an opportunity to clarify and strengthen synergies for more effective regulation. Fortunately, this is not a brand new process because the muscles of cooperation have been built over time with many of these partner organisations during the CPC days.

The preceding initiatives are just a sample of the work of the Commission in this frenetic first year of its existence. To say the obvious, the work of the agency in 2019 demonstrated a commendable breadth and depth in terms impact in relevant areas of the economy and national life. The remarkable blend of passionate and effective work on consumer protection with the building a robust foundation on the new competition mandate certainly inspires confidence. If this is a taste of things to come, the future is certainly bright for this important new agency and its many stakeholders.

Cletus Adole

Adole is an Abuja-based policy analyst.