Ensuring consumer protection for standard living in Nigeria

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Consumer protection

Western companies often recall already-dispatched products like cars, drugs and foods that were later judged inadequate or unsafe for consumers. Even some Asian countries reportedly execute people who produce, permit or circulate substandard goods for their citizens. Not hearing of product-recall by any company in Nigeria points either to the producer’s excellence or consumers’ lack of choice. “A beggar has no choice” is a common statement in Nigeria for expressing people’s desperation when adapting to terrible options. Yet, with a proper evaluation and adjustment of Nigerian society and productivity, Nigerians will intensify consumer protection for standard living.

 

Around 2005, Prof Dora Akunyili endeared herself to Nigerians by tackling the import and distribution of substandard drugs and foods. Under her watch, NAFDAC[1] raided shops and warehouses, seized and burnt harmful products and instilled fear on the perpetrators. Unfortunately, those exercises did not end the production and importation of substandard and harmful drugs, foods and other commodities. Instead more Nigerians specify and import inferior products from Asian and other producers for more gain while endangering Nigerian consumers. The result is a spread of substandard phones, electronics, drugs, vehicles, unhealthy foods and other deficient commodities in Nigeria.

Consumer protection begins from local productivity

Humans form societies to collaborate in using their natural resources to produce and distribute goods and services for growth.[2] Since each person cannot produce everything he needs, people specialize to produce the best of what they can. Eventually, they trade what they produced from their specialty for other peoples’ specialized products within or outside their locality. The sustenance of this trade depends on the people’s competence, integrity and commitment to produce and exchange quality products. However, societies that depend on other people’s products, without producing tradeable goods and services, are often exposed to substandard products.

 

Why is Nigeria not productive?

Due to the repressive style of government colonially imposed on them, Nigeria and many other African countries lack industrial productivity. Colonialists formed Nigeria by brutally binding various kingdoms and communities under a militarized government[3][4] for exploiting resources.[5] Before independence, colonialists replaced themselves with Europe-trained loyalist-indigenes[6] to continue exploiting various people’s mineral resources[7][8][9] in exchange for foreign consumer goods. To appear democratic, Nigerian government created ministries, states, and local governments for sharing money (tickets for foreign products) as salary, infrastructure and charity. Hence, Nigeria/Africa became dumping ground for most substandard, damaged and hazardous products and elements from industrialized nations.

 

Utility products (electronics, vehicles, machines, building materials and petroleum products)

These technical products are mainly derived from mineral resources like iron ore, copper, gold, glass-sand, aluminium, crude oil and others. Different communities in Nigeria have large deposits of these minerals and intelligent people who can process them for production. However, Nigerian government militarily seizes all the mineral resources for industrialized nations who use them to produce and sell expensive utility products to Nigerians. Since Nigerians are excluded in these processes of productions, those countries can easily neglect measures for consumer protection for Nigerian products. Also, ignorance of these product’s right use and installation pose physical and financial dangers to Nigerians.

 

A Nigerian goes to repair his television-screen, fridge or phone-screen and the price is almost high enough for a new one. After spending to repair damage-prone products, Nigerians end up buying more gadgets than their budget. Some Nigerians have died or been injured in events of buildings collapsing from substandard building materials and other fake products. Some get burned in their kitchens for using substandard gas cylinders or having damaged machines and engines from adulterated fuels. Some phones and other electronic gadgets explode to kill or injure the owners, or simply damage as waste of resources. Any attempt to rebuke marketers of substandard products receives the innocent disclaimer “Oga, na so I buy am”. Unfortunately, instead of intensifying efforts for consumer protection, some people laugh at the victims for not being smart.

 

Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) is the institution that checks the quality of goods produced and circulated for consumer protection. However, the insignificant local productivity, dependence on foreign goods and proliferation of substandard goods weakens their functionality. Presently, it is not clear if they have the will and technical capacity for ensuring consumer protection. The porosity of Nigerian borders with the poor officers’ training and equipment makes smuggling these products easy.

 


Food

Ensuring consumer protection in food is vital to national security[10], since everybody in the society eats food and drinks water. It cuts across various sectors and stages of the society from getting water, crop/livestock farming, processing, preservation, preparation and delivery. There are numerous risks at each stage of water and food production capable of harming huge populations of the society.

  • Water: Industrial and domestic waste, unregulated preservation, purification and packaging techniques can contaminate water and endanger the society. Unfortunately, due to poverty, illiteracy and unemployment many Nigerians lack access to potable water as they drink from wells and boreholes. And due to the haphazard social structure in Nigeria, government rarely cares about regulating especially foreign companies’ water-pollution activities.

 

  • The unregulated use of fertilizers and chemicals in genetic modification, treatment, planting or breeding, processing, preserving and packaging foods can poison a society. It also affects the feeding of livestock, which eventually affects human consumers. Unfortunately, Nigerian government’s seizes all mineral resources that could have been used for producing agricultural machines and chemicals for different stages of food production. Hence, Nigerians depend on foreigners for rice, tea, wine, juice, chocolates, milk, groundnut-oil, frozen meats, canned-foods, corn-flakes, oats, brewery-malts, etc. This dependence on foreign food hinders the enforcement of consumer protection in Nigeria/Africa. News about plastic rice, decaying meat as frozen food, oil-chaff as milk and tea etcetera terrify Nigerians because we do not produce ours.

 

After the tenure of Prof Dora Akunyili, NAFDAC’s combative effort for consumer protection in food reduced significantly. Thus, Nigerians eat imported/locally-made food from untrusted sources that often write different label compositions from the content of their products.

 

  • The level of hygiene and caution in the process, environment and persons preparing these food for direct consumers bear great risks. Hence, even after importing healthy/unhealthy foods, there is also a case for consumer protection in preparing them without regulation. An unannounced visit to kitchens, backyards and chefs of some hotels, restaurants and canteens could trigger vomiting. The water they use for washing foods, utensils and preparing the foods often appear too dirty and harmful for humans. Unfortunately, many Nigerians are too poor and desperate to check or seek alternatives.

 

Drugs and medical services

Consumer protection in drugs and medical services cannot be overemphasized since diseases and accidents can happen any time. Due to possible danger in drugs and medical services, their production, prescription and administering are reserved for specially-trained pharmacists and doctors. Engineers produce medical equipment like syringe and lab-machines; chemists and pharmacists develop drugs; while physicians prescribe and use them to treat patients. Also, the nurses, physiotherapists and other medical assistants provide varying degrees of medical services for patient treatment. An error in any of the processes of production, prescription or administering can lead to deaths, deformations or permanent incapacitation. Hence, advanced societies institute agencies to monitor and validate these processes for safety, efficient treatment and availability to their citizens.[11]

 

Unfortunately, Nigerian restriction on mineral resources for producing machines for medical utilities and drugs reduces the chances of consumer protection. This pro-colonial resource-seizing plot denies Nigerians the opportunity to develop, manifest and earn from their productivity. It also removes the Nigerian people’s capacity to afford the healthcare that is mostly based on imported medical products. Being created for seizing and supplying resources to colonial powers, Nigerian government hardly cares about citizens’ health or productivity. And since many Nigerians are too impoverished to afford standard healthcare, many healthcare-givers travel outside Nigeria for wealthy clients/patients.[12] The few remaining healthcare-givers are highly insufficient[13] for the huge number of people seeking orthodox healthcare and scarce medical resources.[14]

 

The absence of locally-made medical utilities, costliness of imported ones and scarcity of medical practitioners creates space for quack practitioners and substandard utilities.[15] In poverty, ignorance and desperation, many Nigerians die or get injured by quack doctors and unregulated traditional medicine. Dissolution of the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN), which enforces ethical conducts in healthcare, opened the gate for abuses.[16] Due to scarce manpower, some professional medical practitioners become overworked, careless, rude or exploitative. To obtain funds from pharmaceutical companies, some health workers enrol patients into medical researches without informed consent or compensation. Unfortunately, the people are often ignorant, poor or intimidated to know, report and get justice for medical abuses.

 

The NDLEA[17] checks the flow of drugs in Nigeria, while the Nigerian Medical Association regulates the medical practitioners. Yet, the scarcity and costliness of orthodox medical resources and healthcare-givers make Nigerians too desperate to patronize quack doctors and drugs. Nigeria, her government and laws were not created from the people’s consent, [18] but by colonialists’ intention for exploiting mineral resources. Hence, consumer protection in healthcare and other programs that do not involve auctioning resources for foreign exchange receive half-hearted response from the government.

 

Education, religion and general information

Human beings act and relate with the world and their environment according to beliefs formed from several sources of information. Sources of information for these influential beliefs include academia, religious doctrines, cultures, social media, internet, movies and songs. These beliefs influence and promote several tendencies and practices in the society depending on their propagators’ intentions and persuasiveness. They could promote positive tendencies like patriotism, generosity, sincerity and modesty or negative tendencies like violence, greed, selfishness and indifference. Also, they can mislead people by providing improper suggestions for particular problems in the search of meaning in life. In general, these information form basis of beliefs and practices that positively or negatively influence human life in the society.

 

Ensuring consumer protection in belief-forming information in the society is like protecting one’s computer from virus installations. First, it requires social definition and agreement on the society’s goals, and the values and practices for achieving the goals. Second, it requires identifying, certifying and regulating the society’s sources of information according to the agreed values. Third, it requires refuting harmful information and holding people responsible for behavioural and other damages resulting from their misleading information.

 

Unfortunately, being a product of colonial violence, Nigeria has never had a defined and agreed goal for its existence.[19] Using extreme violence and suppression, colonialists merged culturally different kingdoms and communities under a militarized government for resource exploitation. To sustain the exploitation and mental dependence, colonialists used formal education, alien government and foreign religions to demonize the people’s cultures.[20] Hence, most information circulating in Nigeria’s academic, religious and political sphere bear neo-colonial signatures for alienating Nigerians/Africans from their origins. These information aim at permanently distracting Nigerians from retrieving their mineral resources for local productivity and economic independence.

 

Beside the mind-conditioning information, people conjecture and disseminate information (often incorrect) in Nigeria without verification. Unfortunately, Nigeria’s information regulatory bodies – Ministry of education and communications – retain the appeal for conforming to foreign dictates.

 

Services (banking, telecom, insurance, transport, installations and repairs)

Service is providing any form of skilled or unskilled labour. It includes modifications, improvements, protection or enablement work performed on an individual or his idea or possession. Services feature in fashion, transport, internet, banking, communications, construction, hospitality, installations, repairs other forms of labour. To meet people’s modification and enablement needs in a society, individuals train themselves to specialize in particular services. This training leads to efficiency in providing services without wasting people’s time and resources, nor damaging their possessions.

 

Efficiency in providing services is highly dependent on the possession of skills and quality instruments for each service. Unfortunately, Nigeria’s seizure of resources makes it difficult for Nigerians to locally design and produce tools and materials for providing services. It also makes many Nigerians poor and unable to pay for proper training for relevant skills in providing services. Thus, Nigerians rely on costly foreign materials and foreign-trained manpower for standard services, thereby increasing the cost of standard services.

 

Unemployed Nigerians who are unable to acquire proper training and modern tools for standard services use their inadequate knowledge and substandard tools. This results in the low-quality services obtained from Nigerians, struggling to survive by providing services with insufficient training and tools. Some Nigerian car-repairers who lack adequate knowledge and modern equipment have contributed to waste of life and resources in auto-crashes. In banking, communication, browsing and other services, the inadequacy of ethics, skills and modern equipment has resulted in loss of money, time and other resources. Unfortunately, the rampancy of the attendant misfortunes suggests an absence or insufficient regulation in service providing.

 

Social reorganization for ensuring consumer protection in Nigeria

Given the level of poverty and desperation from Nigeria’s social structure, it may be impossible to uphold consumer protection without reorganizing the society for local productivity. If people depend on foreigners for almost everything, they will have little power to enforce consumer protection. Thus, a sincere government will arise to reorganize Nigeria’s social structure for local productivity and proper consumer protection. The process of social reorganization may include:

  • Conducting a social research to ascertain and acknowledge the different Nigeria’s peoples and their respective lands and resources.[21]
  • Organizing intercommunal conferences among sections and groups towards a national conference for Nigerians to choose their mode of partnership. Thus, constitutional decisions and laws will be developed to reflect the people’s beliefs and agreement for better partnership.
  • Inviting local/foreign-trained specialists to train the people to process their local resources for advanced production, and to protect their environment against pollutions.
  • Releasing people’s resources for them to manage, sanitize their environment and pay tax to central government. This will encourage government to protect the people’s productivity for better tax-returns, and encourage citizens to produce modern tools and commodities. A gainfully productive people will eventually afford and demand standard goods and services from fellow productive people. And local companies will be eager to recall products capable of damaging their reputation and eventual market share.

 

Ensuring proper consumer protection in Nigeria

When people start producing commodities from their local resources, government can regulate their goods and services for consumer protection by:

  • Forming unions for different producers and service-providers to ensure proper training and periodic retraining on the ethics of consumer protection. The unions may include auto-repair unions, manufacturers, food-vendors’, private drivers, fashion-designers’, drug-dispensary, herbal medicine, electricians, builders and other unions. For efficiency, the unions will develop from community level to local governments, districts and states before national organisations. These unions will evaluate, certify and assist producers and service providers, who meet their requirements for consumer protection and sustenance. Each union will enabled to track the progress of their sector’s undergraduate students for eventual integration into the group.
  • Using social media and other communication channels to educate the then-productive society on consumer protection. This education will inform consumers on measures for identifying certified, reliable and affordable goods and services within the society.
  • Creating or improving industrial laws and courts for cases of neglect in consumer protection in production and service provision. This may result in payment for damages, fines, closure of offices and factories, prison terms, deportation for expatriates, etc.
  • Enabling existing taskforces or newly formed ones to check safety measures by producers and service providers in the society. And to check people who seek to supply goods and services to the society without adequate certification and regulation.
  • Returning substandard products to their originating countries, blocking the country’s products and prosecuting the importers.

 

Without producing our own goods and services, Nigerians will remain vulnerable to substandard goods and services that threaten consumer protection.

[1] National Agency for Food and Drugs ….. commission

[2] Cf. Aristotle, Politics, book 1, chapter 1

[3] Ogban Ogban-Iyan, Re-inventing Nigeria through Pre-colonial traditions, in Issues in contemporary political economy of Nigeria, (ed.) Hassan A. Saliu. (Ilorin, Sally & Associates, 1999). P77

[4] cf. Richard Dowden, Africa altered states, ordinary miracles. (New York: Public Affairs, 2010). p.445

[5] Cf. Walter Rodney, How Europe underdeveloped Africa (Abuja: Panaf, 2009). P.293

[6] Cf. Walter Rodney, op.cit. p.319

[7] Nigerian minerals and mining act 2007 act no. 20, chapter 1, Part 1, Section 1, paragraph 2 “… all lands in which minerals have been found in Nigeria and any area covered by its territorial waters or constituency and the Exclusive Economic Zone shall, from the commencement of this Act be acquired by the Government of the Federation…”  “No person shall search for or exploit mineral resources in Nigeria or divert or impound any water for the purpose of mining except as provided in this Act.”  “The property in mineral resources shall pass from the Government to the person by whom the mineral resources are lawfully won, upon their recovery in accordance with this Act.”

[8] Nigerian minerals and mining act 2007 act no. 20, chapter 1, Part 1, Section 2, paragraph 1

[9] Nigerian minerals and mining act 2007 act no. 20, chapter 1, Part 1, Section 1, paragraph 3

[10] T. A. Imobighe, Nigeria’s Defence and National Security Linkages (Ibadan: Heinemann Educational books Plc, 2003) p.19

[11] Frequently asked question on ethics” In American Medical Association. https://www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/frequently-asked-questions-ethics retrieved June 2, 2018.

[12] 15,000 Doctors Dump Nigeria for Overseas, https://www.medicalworldnigeria.com/2017/05/15-000-doctors-dump-nigeria-for-overseas#.WvkuBIgvzIV

[13] Olumuyiwa Odusote, “NMA raises alarm as 900 doctors resign from UCH, Lagos hospitals” In Punch, November 16,2017 http://www.punchng.com/nma-raises-alarm-as-900-doctors-resign-from-uch-lagos-hospitals/ November 16 2017

[14] “NHIS: Health insurance still elusive for many Nigerians” in Punch, 22nd December, 2017. http://punchng.com/nhis-health-insurance-still-elusive-for-many-nigerians/ retrieved 22nd May, 2018.

[15] Ben Aprioku, “Quacks may sack us, doctors warn FG” in Punch, 25th October, 2016. http://www.punchng.com/quacks-may-sack-us-doctors-warn-fg/ retrieved 15th May, 2018.

[16] Punch, November 5, 2017. Our people send patients abroad for organ harvesting ignorantly — NMA president, http://www.punchng.com/our-people-send-patients-abroad-for-organ-harvesting-ignorantly-nma-president/

[17] Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency

[18] cf. Richard Dowden, Africa altered states, ordinary miracles. (New York: Public Affairs, 2010). p.445

[19] Richard Dowden, op. cit. p.445

[20] https://robertlindsay.wordpress.com/2012/12/01/lord-macaulays-speech-to-british-parliament-1835/

[21] Chukwunwike Enekwechi, “The social research for a new Nigeria” in Restartnaija June 5, 2018. https://restartnaija.com/2018/06/05/social-research-new-consented-nigeria/ retrieved