Mrs. Ify Umenyi, the Director General of Consumer Protection Council (CPC), has had hectic time protecting the interests of the consumer in an economy riddled with sub-standard products. According to her, many importers have refused to play by the rules and a typical Nigerian consumer is being bombarded to no end with sub-standard goods and services.
This development made the Federal Government to introduce a policy of ‘Zero Tolerance on Sub-standard products’. Mrs. Umenyi, in this interview, shares her experience of fighting the consumers’ cause with Daily Sun. Excerpts:
The first challenge I would like to mention is illiteracy; the lack of awareness of the consumers. Most consumers get into the market blindly, not knowing what to look out for. And by not knowing that, they end up being victims by, just buying the ones that probably sell cheaper because, most of the times, you find out that there’s not much difference between the standard and sub-standard.
The differences in prices are usually very little. That is how greedy the criminals are. But to the consumer, even if it is only N500, it means much, not realising that with that cheaper product, he or she may even buy two or three of it before the year runs out. But if he had purchased the genuine one, he may use it for over a year or more. So, a lot of awareness needs to be created for our consumers, so that they know what to look out for when they go to the market to make purchases.
For products like drug, because of the great awareness created, every consumer knows you have to ‘shine your eyes’ to make sure there is an expiration date, manufacturing date etc. But in buying electronics or buying phones, they don’t even know that there are some serial numbers to look out for. So, there’s need for consumer education. Therefore, I am actually hoping that producers of genuine products will partner with agencies like Consumer Protection Council in educating consumers on the differences between genuine and fake products.
What the consumer should do
We usually advise the consumer to go back to the seller because, most times, it might be better for you to first complain to the shop where you made the purchase. We encourage that because going back to the shop does two things: it creates awareness to the seller that consumers are now more aware. It also helps the seller to be aware that the product he has sold is not the right product because, sometimes, the sellers claim they sell out of ignorance: that they just made the purchase. They didn’t know it was fake product.
So, if you do not go to them, they may still go back to get more of the product. So, when you complain and you do not get a satisfactory answer from the shop where you made your purchase, then your next step is to complain to Consumer Protection Council. There are various ways you can make your complaints – by sending just a text message because we can print out your text message; you can also send your complaints through the e-mail or in written statements.
You can walk into the nearest CPC office and put up a written complaint. If you are an illiterate, that is you cannot write, we can write for you and read back to you to ascertain we got your complaint right. And once we get the complaint, we do the needful, that is ensuring that you get the desired redress.
What is CPC doing to ensure consumers get easy access to redress?
Honestly, I will tell you that there is no bottleneck in CPC because we have one objective- we know that consumers are so vulnerable and so CPC tries to eliminate anything that can stall the consumers from getting redress. And we have a lot of cases we have resolved creditably. If you are in doubt, you can try us.
Your business is of benefit to the economy of our country. We took a decision to establish the Consumer Desk in all the major markets in the country. The Lagos Computer market is very critical market for us. In this age of information technology when everything is done online, you need computer, phone especially, now that the country is transiting from cash to cashless economy-all transactions are done online.
So, it is important that we ensure that the equipments, be it computer or phone that are sold to the consumers meet the standards. By the establishment of this market desk for the benefits of those who may say they don’t know what the standards are, they now have an office at their door step to make any enquiries to know what the standards are. For those of you who are importers, it is good for you to know what is expected of you; what the standards are; what the consumers and the regulatory agencies look out for when they carry out surveillance. In this collaboration, we are expecting that the executives of the market would assist us in sensitising their members on the need to just do the right thing.
You see, most of the times, when you go out importing substandard goods, what you end up doing is enriching other economies and impoverishing our own people. And most times, as you are importing substandard goods into your own area, other importers are equally importing other substandard goods to which you will fall victim. So, it is very important that we inculcate the habit of doing the right thing.
That is what the government is doing now. As a matter of fact, we believe in first making sure that people understand before enforcement. We don’t want to just go into enforcement without knowing that you are on the same level with us. The same level in the sense of knowing the standards that are expected of every product. Because when you buy the right thing, people will be happy, they would have value for their money, the goods lifespan and they would want to come back again.
They would want to also encourage others to patronize you. So, what we are doing is bringing in CPC, an agency that has the mandate to protect and promote the interests of the consumers. For CPC, consumers come first and you would agree with me that without the consumers, you have nobody to sell to. So we want to ensure that our consumers are given the right products so that when they make purchases, they would get value for their money.
What is the assurance that complaints would be redressed speedily and justice done?
Well, CPC is set up to make sure that consumers’ complaints are redressed to logical conclusions. We don’t do a haphazard or half standard job. What we are trying to do in CPC is to build the confidence of consumers.
If you buy a product and that product does not give you the service that you desired you might lose confidence in that product. So, instead of buying that same product again, the person might want to buy another product that will equally give him or her that service. At that point the choice is that of the consumer. That is what happens all over the world.
Laying complaint at CPC
We usually insist that you put everything in writing. You can text, you can e-mail us. We might listen to your complaint on phone but that is not all. If your office is close to our office, you can come over and lay your complaint. We now write the alleged saying that this product was bought from you. In any case, when you make your purchase, make sure you have your receipts. Receipt is very crucial because it is the only contractual document that you have for that purchase.
Without the receipt, the seller may deny that the purchase was made there. So, to make it easier for the customer and the CPC to redress the issue, you must get and keep a receipt of every purchase no matter how small. Actually, we are coming up with a regulation where everybody is expected to keep receipt. Again with the cashless policy, everything must be machined and it will also help government to know the volume of sales for the day or month. If the consumer is an illiterate, he or she has to get somebody to put his complaint in writing.
After writing, he will read it out for you so that you will confirm that what you said is what he wrote. Do you know why we insist that the complaint must come in writing? Written complaint is very important so that the complainant will not deny. This is also to make sure that consumers don’t complain for complaining sake. Once we get your complaint, we move into action by writing to the person/seller or the alleged.
If he or she does not respond after some time, we send a reminder. After the reminder, we now enforce the law. The essence is to satisfy the consumer, otherwise, he will not complain again. What we keep on emphasising is to encourage the consumer to complain by going back to the seller.