FCCPC: Riding On The Wings Of Alliance To Protect Consumers

By Isaac Asabor
Mr. Babatunde Irukera
Mr. Babatunde Irukera

If there are activities that the leadership of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) is committedly been deploying, in accordance with its statutory mandate, to achieve results, they are unarguably that of its several regulatory tools designed formonitoring and modifying the behavior of service providers and manufacturers. Such activities, which are departmentalised include complaint resolution, surveillance, and enforcement, consumer education, as well as research, and strategy. In a similar vein, the leadership of the commission, particularly since Mr. Babatunde Irukera, became Nigeria’s No. 1 Consumer Protector, has been up and doing in the area of complaint resolution by using different mechanisms to resolvecomplaints that are filed in its offices that are variously located in Abuja, Lagos, Port-Harcourt, Awka, Osogbo, Minna, Bauchi, Katsina, and Kano.

Usually, consumers’ grievances and dissatisfaction are filed with the Commission as “Complaints”. The Commission receives these complaints in diverse ways including online, in person, in writing, and on multiple social media platforms. Most complaints are resolved as the relevant department under the commission uses one or more of its resolution tools, such as direct engagement, negotiations, mediation, conciliation, investigations, administrative hearings, and collaboration with other regulators. Investigations and hearings usually occur when a market intervention becomes compelling, or conduct is egregious or indicative of a pattern or widespread infraction.

In a similar vein, one of the vital tools which the commission utilises to protect consumers is market surveillance and enforcement where violations occur. This component of the commission’s work is both random and targeted. Most targeted interventions are on account of intelligence gathered by or provided by the Commission, including anonymous tips. Random interventions are a quality assurance mechanism. Some activities within this context are preventive and may lead to publishing Guidelines or Advisories on products in the market and restrictions on consumption or use.

Still, in a similar vein, the satisfaction and safety of the Nigerian consumer have remained paramount to the leadership of the commission, particularly in the ongoing dispensation under Irukera. In fact, the Commission is committed to nationwide quality assessment of products and services, through inputs into national and international standards, sampling, analysis, investigation, process auditing, development, and issuance of Guidelines/Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) in order to ensure that products, services, and processes are of good quality, safe and meet consumers’ expectation while giving value for money.

In fact, a fundamental factor in consumer protection is an educated consumer. As such, the Commission engages in routine and periodic consumer education to inform consumers of their rights, available enforcement mechanisms, and how to use the processes. Another vital aspect of consumer education is to provide information about key market developments such as Advisories, Warnings, Recalls, and similar interventions. The Commission conducts numerous specific and general awareness campaigns.

The Commission engages in domestic and global research on products and services, as well as changing or evolving market trends and consumer behavior. The objectives are to provide a database for organisationalplanning purposes on the concept of consumerism, develop strategies for interventions; and modify existing mechanisms to be more effective and/or efficient.

Also, research and strategy play a pivotal role in how the Commission accomplishes its mandate and allocates its limited resources.

Analysed from the foregoing backdrop, it is unarguable that the tasks that the commission is statutorily mandated with are collectively unwieldy. It is therefore not surprising that since Irukera became the Chief Executive of the commission on January 30, 2019, when the Protection Act that gave the commission its legal teeth was enacted, that he has never claimed that he can single-handedly protect consumers in Nigeria without support from any individual or organisation. He has been collaborating with industry, trade, and professional associations, and other relevant stakeholders, particularly civil society to align with. The foregoing, alliances, no doubt were not perfunctorily entered into as he is a strategist that understands that such alliances allow partners to scale quickly, build innovative solutions, and pave the way for the pooling of valuable expertise and resources.

Also, the reason and purpose for these collaborations are that; in addition to being an effective mechanism for educating consumers about their rights, it also provides vital channels for disseminating periodic and relevant information about emerging consumer-related issues. As such, and in furtherance of entering into alliances, the Commission has been able to maintain a register of non-profit Consumer Protection Associations (CPAs) that are recognised for their consumer protection work.

By riding on the wings of alliances, the commission has been able to perform its primary constitutional role; which is to protect citizens in the marketplace, particularly as it has been able to prevent abuse, exploitation, and any form of mistreatment or disregard with respect to consumers. Where something has gone wrong and the consumer(s) is/are aggrieved, the commission exercisesthe tools provided by laws and regulations to ensure remedies for consumers.

To grasp the philosophy behind the commission’s knack for partnering with other bodies, it can be recalled in this context, once at a media parley explained that, alliances, particularly with regulatory bodies, are expedient “As a matter of operation of law, consumer protection is a vital and joint responsibility on many levels. Because it is a crucial centerpiece of business, and a primary and critical role of government, it is not uncommon that there is dual, or multiple regulation and regulators. This duplication or multiplicity is not a conflict, nor is it unintended. On the contrary, it is an overlap. Regulatory overlap is a deliberate and common design to ensure complete coverage and protection which is paramount in consumer protection.

“As such, by law, several sector regulators also have statutory responsibilities to protect consumers in their sectors. Although the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) has overall oversight over protecting consumers across all sectors, the concurrent regulatory jurisdiction and approach in the laws seek to improve protection outcomes by fostering collaboration.

“To accomplish this, the Commission promotes and engages in strategic alliances with sector regulators and other parties with whom a partnership can reinforce consumer protection and prevent mistreatment or exploitation of citizens. Apart from the regulatory convergence on consumer protection with other regulators, institutional objectives convergence with the Commission’s mandate occurs with civil society, and sometimes, development partners. Some of these strategic alliances define the Commission’s processes or how issues are addressed in different sectors”.

As well known, FCCPC is established by law to protect citizens in the marketplace with its role being essentially to prevent abuse, exploitation, and any form of mistreatment or disregard with respect to consumers. Where something has gone wrong, the commission exercises the tools provided by laws and regulations to ensure remedies for consumers.

Against the foregoing backdrop, it is expedient to say that industry, trade, and professional associations and other relevant stakeholders it has partnered with so far since Irukera came on board include, but are not limited to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA), National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) and Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON).

Others are International and Regional Development Partners such as African Consumer Protection Dialogue Conference (ACPDC), United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO).

Given the foregoing, there is no denying the fact that the Commission has been riding on the wings of alliances to Protect Consumers.