386 Days Of Consumer Rights Campaign
Exactly 386 days, or approximately 9,264 hours ago, President Goodluck Jonathan approved the appointment of then Nigeria's representative to the African Human Rights Commission Mrs. Dupe Catherine Atoki to head the Nigeria's Consumer Protection Council.
Mrs. Dupe Catherine Atoki has had over two decades of law practice in the area of human rights advocacy and protection. When therefore her appointment was made public, critical stakeholders took considerable notice and also wished that the consumer rights of Nigerians would be much more vigourously protected.
Officially, this upwardly mobile legal practitioner born of Kogi state origin of Yoruba parentage assumed duty at the Abuja headquarters of the agency and declared her commitment towards ensuring adequate protection of the rights of Nigerian consumers.
In mid May of last year when she took over the helm of affairs, she met the management team and told them pointblank that the organization must properly project itself as a relevant tool for the economic development of the nation, through the execution of its mandate.
As someone from the private sector, she must have been well aware of the enormous credibility deficit staring the Nigerian Consumer Protection Council in the face given that Nigerians are about the most widely abused consumers globally because of weak regulatory and policy frameworks.
The kernel of her inaugural message could be reduced into the following charge; "potentials of the Council should be brought out to further justify its relevance as an organization focusing on the disadvantaged".
She asserted that 'my focal point is to ensure Nigerian consumers are protected, to ensure that the ordinary person on the street knows his/her rights, knows when those rights are being abused and where to report to when abused".
'We have a lot to do in defining our priorities. We can identify areas that affect the generality of the common man. We don't have the luxury of time. I have four years to spend and by the end, I want to show that the Council is able to deliver appropriately through its mandate,' Mrs. Atoki declared.
As someone who has travelled around the major nations of the World, she charged her management and staff to strive to maintain excellence and thoroughness in the discharge of the statutory roles of the agency with a view to ensuring that Nigerians get only the best in terms of products and services.
Her words; 'potentials of becoming an industrialized economy, but we cannot if indigenous manufacturers are competing with cheap but sub-standard and fake products'.
She charged the Council's management and its entire workforce to join hands with her in fast-tracking the pace of the organization so that 'the mandate given to us becomes more effective.'
Atoki's inaugural pledges reminds me of what the erstwhile Director General of National Agency for Food and Drug administration and control [NAFDAC] wrote in her memoirs on how she achieved the legendary success ascribed to her when she headed that body.
Writing in the book titled "The War against Counterfeit medicine: My story" Dr. [Mrs. ] Dora Akunyili noted that she assumed duty to notice that the weakest links in NAFDAC's regulatory activities were poor monitoring and enforcement. She then proceeded to roll out more effective strategies to change the tide positively.
As someone with intense interest with the goings on in the Consumer Protection Council over the years, I agree that the new team at that agency has indeed commenced vigourou consumer rights campaign but will surely do excellently well if the enabling Act is quickly amended to make it more effective and to reduce the number of council members which I believe is on the high side.
I am told that the Executive Council of the Federation has begun a move to submit a proposed legislation to strengthen the mandate and power of the Nigerian Consumer Protection Council and I only wish that the current National Assembly can pass this bill as quickly as possible. The Council must be clearly supported by all and sundry t ensure that the serial abuses of the rights of Nigerians including the serious breaches of the rights of air travelers both locally and internationally are well protected.
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority has really failed to protect the consumer rights of passengers and it is fitting and appropriate that the Nigerian Consumer Protection Council is allowed to carry out the mandate for which it was set up without let or bureaucratic hindrances.
Emmanuel Onwubiko is Head, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria and [email protected]; www.huriwa.org.