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Nigerians Drink Poison As 'Soft 'Drinks

Williams Shakespeare [baptized on April 26th 1564/died April 23rd 1616], the English Poet and Playwright was the one that stated thus; "Things done well and with a care, exempt themselves from fear". This wise saying came home to our consciousness only this week when the new management team at the Nigerian Consumer Protection Council (CPC), in Lagos, reportedly slammed Coca-Cola Nigeria Limited and franchisee of its various beverage products- Nigerian Bottling Company for allegedly offering defective products for sale at the detriment of consumers across the country.

The uncommon courage displayed by the Director General of this agency of the federal Government will properly be understood when we cast our minds back to only a couple of months ago when the same Consumer Protection Agency under the immediate past hierarchy was busy hobnobbing with manufacturers and other service providers to such a ridiculous extent that at a time when most Nigerian users of the telecom services were embittered by the crass incompetence and insensitivity shown by some of the telecom services providers, the Consumer Protection agency funded with tax payers money was busy dishing out some crooked awards to some of these defaulting and perennially insensitive and professionally decadent companies most of which are run by foreign owners who also engage in notorious capital flight and treat their Nigerian staff as slaves.

Less than six months into her high profile appointment apparently to revive the near moribund government agency, Ms. Dupe Catherine Atoki, the Kogi state born human rights lawyer has remarkably told Nigerians through her activism on the job that it will not be business as usual for criminally minded manufacturers and service providers in Nigeria. This new approach in the once moribund government agency has proved beyond the shadow of doubts that 'all that it will take for evil to triumph is for good men/women to do nothing", as stated by one of the European writers.

First, she went into battle with some foreign airlines doing business in Nigeria for their age long neglect of the consumer rights of the Nigerian international flyers and other passengers who have continued to be treated shabbily without the slightest modicum of respect like their opposites from Europe and America. She took her activism to these foreign airlines who in turn wrote in to the council to pledge their determination to respect the consumer rights of Nigerian passengers. But these foreign airlines have neither kept to their words nor have they been sanctioned by the relevant aviation officials in the Nigerian state and since the Nigeria's Consumer Protection Council is hamstrung by paucity of operational fund and some hiccups in its enabling act, it is almost unable to bark and bite effectively to such an extent that these defaulting foreign airlines would be compelled by law to adhere strictly to their professional ethical code of conduct.

But with the ongoing but slow process at the National Assembly of the proposed amendment to the enabling Act, it is the aspiration of millions of disadvantaged and oppressed Nigerian consumers that the national law makers will have the courage to amend the relevant sections in the Nigerian Consumer Protection Council's Act to make it much more powerful and equipped with the needed tools to bark and bite for the benefit of Nigerians.

Well, as a good lawyer with solid number of years of post call practice, Mrs. Atoki has galvanized the resources and officials available to her in the new office to begin a vigorous campaign to name and shame some of these bad manufacturers and service providers to compel them to improve on the quality of products and services that they take to the Nigerian markets. In the last couple of decades, many Nigerians have lost their precious lives due mainly to substandard and poorly manufactured products that they have consumed in the past and because there was no proactive Nigerian Consumer Protection Council, it was cumbersome for most Nigerians to obtain redress. The Standard Organization of Nigeria has also failed to stop Nigeria from the notorious position as the dumping ground for substandard products from foreign jurisdiction such as China and India.

This lethargy and inertia on the part of the Consumer Protection Council may have changed going by the new war against poisonous drinks that are packaged under very inhabitable and unhygienic environment by manufacturers and supplied to Nigerians for their consumption and due to poor consumer rights education, majority of Nigerians are still unaware of their rights and duties as consumers. The Nigerian Consumer Protection Council on Tuesday February 18th 2014 took the war to the doorsteps of one of the World's most popular soft drinks brand- Coca Cola whereby she directed that steps be taken to improve the hygiene status of their products.

This conclusion, according to Mrs. Dupe Atoki, CPC's director-general, became imperative consequent upon an investigation by the council arising from consumer complaints about “rusty bottle tops, rusty cans and foreign particles in beverage products of the Nigerian Bottling Company under licence of Coca-Cola Nigeria Limited. The panel, after five hearings, held between September 2013 and February 2014, substantiated the allegation of product defect and violation of the Consumer Protection Council Act.”

She added also that although “the investigation was premised on two half-filled cans of Sprite, it led to a plethora of findings, among which are: that the cans of Sprite are products of the Nigerian Bottling Company under license of Coca-Coca Nigeria Limited; that the cans of sprite were defective and had health and safety implications for consumers; that the Nigerian Bottling Company does not have a detailed written shelf life policy for dealing with expired products; and that the Nigerian Bottling Company's grievance resolution policy does not cover instances where the consumer suffers physical injury from consumption, or compensation in instances where replacement will be inadequate.”

In arriving at the decision, the Director General said the council also found that NBC does not have a detailed written shelf life policy for dealing with expired products, and that the NBC's traceability policy fails to effectively address the real purpose as the company often relies on information as to the place of purchase of the product.

According to Mrs. Atoki, the council had made comprehensive recommendations for system change in NBC and CCNL ordered remedial actions on all aspects, including that both companies subject their manufacturing process to the Council's inspection for 12 months. This is believed, is to ensure compliance with safety standards and regulations, besides formulating, and making available to the Council a shelf life policy within 90 days, to facilitate the removal of expired products from the market.

From the reports quoted in the media, the defaulting companies are also to review within 90 days their grievance resolution policy to address compensation for injuries, or compensation in instances where replacement will be inadequate and review their supply chain management policy within 90 days to include retailers in order to minimise the distribution of defective, non-conforming or expired products.

For many years Nigerians have suffered and continued to smile even as they keep consuming cheap poisonous drinks disguised as soft drinks and because it has always been this attitude of 'to your tents oh Israel' in Nigeria, most Nigerians have nowhere to run to for redress except those few rich elites who have the wherewithal to hire expensive lawyers to head to court and to undergo grueling court sessions before getting any resolution which most times never arrives till their deaths because these big time multinationals have enormous financial firepower to sustain prolonged legal warfare which most Nigerians cannot afford.

The decision of the Nigerian Consumer Protection Council to confront these powerful manufacturers should be applauded and supported. Nigerians in their millions are expressing optimism that the new management at the Nigerian Consumer Protection Council will sustain the fight and not give in to the intense intrigues and bribes that these defaulting manufacturers are sometimes accused of buying up Nigerian government officials. Nigerians are praying for the Nigerian Consumer Protection Council to consistently remain consistent in this line of honest advocacy to achieve better results and safeguard the lives of Nigerians.

Already, the alleged defaulting firm in Nigeria have gone full swing into propaganda to try and save their public image. Clem Ugorji, Public Affairs & Communications Manager, CCNL who defended his firm, said “as responsible organisations, NBC and CCNL take all matters relating to products very seriously and remain committed to maintaining the highest international quality management and food safety standards and certifications. Because consumers are at the heart of everything we do, both organisations also take a responsive approach towards satisfying customers and consumers".

On his part, Adeyanju Olomola, Head, Public Affairs and Communications, Nigerian Bottling Company (NBC) said “Nigerian Bottling Company Limited and Coca-Cola Nigeria Limited hold the Council and, indeed, all regulators and stakeholders in high esteem and will continue to work with them to make any necessary improvement.”

Emmanuel Onwubiko; Head; HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA;[email protected];www.huriwa.org

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Emmanuel Onwubiko and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

Articles by Emmanuel Onwubiko