On the back of our journey into Nigeria’s digital economy, we’re heading straight to legalese. Today, we’re all about consumer protection. What are the rights of a Nigerian consumer and how can these be enforced? Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen! Let’s get to it!
First, who is a consumer? A Nigerian author defined a consumer as a person who buys products or services for personal use and not for manufacture or resale. What then is consumer protection? Consumer protection is everything we do to prevent consumer exploitation. Through consumer protection, the government ensures that consumers derive maximum satisfaction from the services available in the market.
The Nigerian government has passed several laws and set up several agencies to protect the rights of consumers – NAFDAC (National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control), SON (Standards Organization of Nigeria), NDLEA (National Drug Law Enforcement Agency) and the FCCPC (Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Council). This article dwells on the FCCPC as a beacon for consumer protection in Nigeria.
The Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act
On 5th February 2019, the President assented to the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act (FCCPA). In summary, the purpose of the Act is to remove monopolies and market dominance, alongside protecting the rights of Nigerian consumers. In the Act, reference is repeatedly made to the consumer (the person who buys a good or procures a service), the undertaking (the person who supplies the good or service) and the commission. Remember these.
So, what rights do you have under the FCCPC?
A number of interesting ones really…
Rights of a consumer
- The right to information.
A consumer has a right to information in plain language. So, an undertaking that displays goods or services for sale must display the price of these goods/services. The Act further provides that an undertaking cannot require a consumer to pay a price for any goods or services higher than the price on display. No kidding.
- An undertaking must not mislead consumers as to a trade description.
That is, they may not claim that goods have a particular feature when they do not. A supplier even has the responsibility to correct a misunderstanding on the part of a consumer. Importantly, where a consumer agreed to purchase goods because of a description or sample, the goods delivered by the undertaking must correspond to that description or sample. Yes, this means that what I ordered vs. what I got is illegal.
In fact, when an undertaking supplies second-hand goods, they must notify consumers that the goods are second-hand. An undertaking is further mandated to provide a receipt to every consumer that is supplied goods/services.
- The right to cancel and seek refund
A consumer has the right to cancel any booking, reservation or order, subject to the payment of a reasonable charge. A consumer has a right to return goods (within a reasonable time after delivery) and receive a full refund in two scenarios – first, when goods are purchased for a particular purpose and it turns out that they are unsuitable. Second, when the consumer did not have an opportunity to examine the goods before delivery and it happens that the delivered goods do not correspond with the description, sample, type and quality that was agreed. The consumer may return goods within three months of delivery.
- The right to examine
A consumer has the right to select or reject from the goods on display before paying. A consumer is not responsible for any damage to goods on display unless the damage is a result of carelessness, malice or crime.
Responsibilities of an undertaking
An undertaking cannot limit or transfer its risks through a notice to the consumer. That is, an undertaking cannot claim to not be responsible/liable. Yes, all the businesses with a “no refunds” policy may be wrong.
Also, an undertaking has a duty to label goods properly so it can be easily traceable. They have a duty to notify the public of risk as well as an obligation to withdraw hazardous goods. Where damage is caused to a consumer by defective goods/services, the undertaking that supplied the goods/services is strictly liable for the damage. A person affected by the defective goods/services has the right to sue.
Most importantly, how do you enforce consumer rights? How do you sue?
How do you sue?
When a consumer seeks to enforce a right under the Act, it/they may refer the matter to the (defaulting) undertaking, to an industry sector regulator or to the Commission (the FCCPC Commission). A consumer may also approach a Court directly.
Where a matter is referred to the Commission, it may issue a “notice of non-referral” if the matter is groundless. If the matter has grounds, the Commission may refer the complaint to the industry sector regulator or may direct an inspector to investigate immediately. After receiving the report of the investigator, the Commission may issue a notice of non-referral, make an order or issue a compliance notice.
Ultimately, a wronged consumer has a right to begin a civil action for compensation in a court. Anybody who contravenes any consumer rights is liable to imprisonment for five years or N10,000,000 or both. In the case of a company, it is liable to N100,000,000 or 10% of its turnover whichever is higher. Also, each director is personally liable.
Well, there you go!