Globally, there is an obvious disparity of knowledge and power relationship between the producers of goods and services and customers. Over the years, this disparity seems to lean towards the advantage of producers, who are strengthened by the tradition maxim “caveat emptor” (let the buyer beware) and the ever-changing and growing free market philosophy which tends to put the producers and suppliers at liberty to do whatever they want to do.
In Nigeria, in view of this situation, consumers have over the years been at the receiving ends in the hands of manufacturers and producers of diverse goods and services who not only shortchange the consumers through the proliferation of substandard goods and poor services that do not meet up to acceptable standard. So, as in the song of maverick Late Afrobeat exponent, Fela Kuti, the hapless Nigerian consumers simply continue to wallow in a suffering and smiling trajectory.
But then, that poignant narrative is about to change now, at least in Lagos. The Lagos State government recently set up the Lagos State Consumer Protection Agency (LASCOPA), with a view to offering Lagos consumers a platform through which they could be protected from producers of goods and services that treat them with ignominy.
It will be recalled that he Lagos State Government recently enacted the law that established the Agency. The law, which was passed by the State House of Assembly in 2015, has since been assented by the state Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode. Under the law, a convict would be mandated to pay penalty considered appropriate by court as compensation to consumers’ whose right has been infringed on.
LASCOPA has the statutory responsibilities to uphold the rights of consumers to be protected against marketing of goods and services which are hazardous to life; the rights of consumer to be informed about quality, quantity potency and purity standard and price of goods and services as the case may be, so as to protect the consumers against unfair trade practices; the rights of consumers to seek redress against unfair trade practices or unscrupulous exploitation of consumers; the right to be heard and assured that the interest of consumers will receive due consideration at the appropriate time as well as the right to consumer education and awareness.
Globally, consumer protection ensures the provision of proper and efficient means to protect the pecuniary, health, environment, safety and security interests of all legal persons against misleading, fraudulent and harmful business practices including manufacturing, trading, packaging, advertising, distribution and selling of goods and services to the ultimate consumers.
It needs to be emphasized that the need to protect consumers becomes imperative since the reliance on the rule of “Caveat Emtpor” (Let the buyer beware) is no longer an adequate protective measure because the principle is based on the premise or assumptions that the buyer knows what he wants, has knowledge necessary to choose wisely and has adequate contact with the sellers.
With the establishment of LASCOPA, the Lagos State Government is sending out signals that it would stop at nothing to ensure that consumers’ rights are protected in the State. According to the
General Manager of the agency Mrs. Kemi Olugbode, the Ambode administration is unyielding in its resolve to make sure that consumers not only get value for their money, but that they are actually helped to seek redress whenever their rights are infringed upon.
In actual fact, LASCOPA has already begun to walk the talk. Speaking to news men after the inspection of a facility and production process of Kellogg Tolaram, an industry located at the Lekki Free Trade Zone, Mrs. Olugbode revealed that the agency has zero tolerance for acts that are likely to undermine the interests of consumers in the state. According to the General Manager, the inspection visit to Kellogg Tolaram was necessitated by a new media report received by LASCOPA from a consumer about Kellogg’s Corn Flake.
While noting that her Agency is not out to witch-hunt any one, Olugbode insisted that the main concern of LASCOPA is the common good of all. She, therefore, urged consumers to take advantage of the services of the Agency and reach out to it whenever their rights are infringed upon.
Similarly, as part of efforts to sensitize traders and ensure the protection of consumers, LASCOPA recently embarked on a routine monitoring of some consumable products across the State. The exercise is designed to enlighten dealers of consumable products in the State to cooperate with the agency and give priority attention to consumer protection. The overriding goal is for the Agency to ensure that harmful products do not flood the market.
In furtherance of its bid to further sensitize the public about its operations and other issues related to consumer protection, LASCOPA recently joined the rest of the world to commemorate this year’s World Consumer Rights Day with an Awareness Walk. Speaking at the event, the Chairman, Board of LASCOPA, Mrs. Funmi Falana, reiterated that the Agency was established to guarantee the rights of consumers and help them seek redress when it is infringed upon. She said that the service of the Agency is free and at no cost to the consumer, adding that an aggrieved consumer only needs to bring their complaints to the notice of LASCOPA.
Similarly, in an attempt to ensure that its staffers are up to speed with Global Best Practices in the consumer protection related field, LASCOPA has been organizing capacity building trainings that are meant to furnish them in the efficient implementation of their statutory tasks. Some of the topics treated at the training includes: The role of standards in consumer protection, Consumer rights, Responsibilities of the Lagos State Consumer Protection Agency among others.
The coming on board of LASCOPA could not have come at a better time. According to Governor Ambode, in-spite of her huge commercial standing, Lagos has to contend with the highest reported cases of daily infractions on consumers’ right. In view of its immense commercial rank; Lagos has a huge and growing industrial presence. It, therefore, becomes necessary to put in place reforms that will ease doing business in Lagos with due diligence that will enhance consumers’ satisfaction.
With a membership that cuts across both the public and private sector, LASCOPA is expected to, in no small way; stem the tide of consumers’ right abuses in Lagos State. It is hoped that the agency would really live up to expectations by ensuring that consumers are well protected. This can only be done if its officials refuse to compromise on the principles that set up the Agency. It is only in doing this that we can rightly affirm that in Lagos, consumers are truly kings.
Meanwhile, aggrieved consumers could visit the Agency’s office at 2B, Soji Adepegba Close, off Allen Avenue, for necessary assistance. The Agency could equally be reached through the following medium: Facebook.com/lascopa Twitter:@lasgcopa Email:firstname.lastname@example.org, 08124993895, 09064323154 and 08092509777.
Ogunbiyi is of the Lagos State Ministry of Information & Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja