A consumer is an individual who makes the final use of goods and services provided by a firm. Therefore, consumer protection can be defined as the various ways and methods adopted by the government and private organisations to ensure that consumers are not cheated or exploited by the producers and middlemen and that they derive maximum satisfaction from the consumption of goods and services they pay for.
Consumer protection endeavours to protect the consumers against the exploitation by unscrupulous sellers who may want to offer false credit facilities, low quality and harmful goods, deceptive weights and measures. In exercising their rights, consumers must fully take cognisance of the latin expression, “caveat emptor,” i.e ., buyers beware. The protection of consumers is more enhanced in advanced countries than in underdeveloped countries.
A consumer is an individual who makes the final use of goods and services provided by a firm.
Consumerism can be defined as the organised efforts or actions of consumers or individuals to protect themselves against the unfair practices of businessmen. It can also be defined as a protest against business injustices and the efforts to correct such injustices.
Consumerism came into existence when a movement started in the 1960s to obtain a greater say in the quality of the products they bought and the information they received from sellers. They also sought to increase their influence, power and rights. This is the whole essence of the theory of consumerism.
Rights of Consumers
- They have the right to choose between alternatives.
- Consumers have the right to good things of life.
- They have the right to safety.
- The consumers also have the right to be heard.
- They have the right to be informed.
- Consumers have the right to get or receive value for their money.
- Consumers have the right to seek redress to correct any injustice.
- They have the right to live in a healthy environment.
REASONS FOR CONSUMER PROTECTION
- Substandard Goods or Low Quality Goods: Some producers sometimes offer for sale substandard goods without taking the consumers into consideration, hence the reason for protecting them to ensure that goods sold are of high quality.
- Misleading and False Advertisement: The claims of some advertisers about their product may be deceptive, hence the consumers need adequate and correct information to make the right choice.
- Incorrect Weights and Measures: The consumers are offered protection in order to avoid the use of deceptive weights and measures in the sale of goods by the sellers.
- To Ensure Maximum Satisfaction: Consumers are protected so as to get maximum satisfaction from goods bought and value for money spent.
- Unreasonable High Price: The consumers must be protected from exploitation caused by high prices. This will ensure that fair and reasonable prices are maintained.
- Protection Against Harmful and Dangerous Goods: They should be protected against dangerous goods or goods which may be harmful. This will ensure that goods offered for sale are safe and uncontaminated, e.g. fake or expired goods.
- Credit Purchase Agreement: Since some consumers may not know the detail of credit agreement before entering into a contract, they must be protected against false credit facilities, e.g hire purchase.
- Rights to Choose Should not be Restricted: This will ensure that a consumer gets the type of goods and services he demanded for.
- Regular Supply of Goods: The consumers are protected to ensure regular supply of goods. This will guard against hoarding of goods. Goods and services will be provided where and when they are needed.
- Awareness of certain laws: Consumers need to be educated on hire purchase laws and other such laws.
- Inadequate instructions or direction: If instructions or directions for use are not given, consumers can make wrong use of manufacturer’s, items and suffer injuries or losses in the end e.g. tap, electrical items, etc.
Means by which consumers can be protected
- Formation of consumer associations to test whether items are of good quality or not and to make recommendations.
- There should be enactment of foods and drugs Act to see to it that all consumable items have expiry dates. Regular inspection of manufacturing places should be carried out to ensure that items are produced under hygienic conditions.
- Price control measures should be put in place to curb any arbitrary price increases.
- Formation of Standard Board or Quality Control Board to test the quality of every item before allowing its introduction to the market.
- There should also be an efficient hire Purchase Act to prevent repossession after 2/3 payment of the purchase price.
- Advertising organisation/board should be set up to censor all adverts before being shown on the screens.
- Rent Edict/Rent Tribunals should be on their toes to ensure that tenants are not cheated. There should also be sales of goods Act to ensure that quality goods are sold to consumers.
- There should be weight and measures Act to ensure that goods are sold in the right quantity, as well as trade description Act to ensure correct labelling on the goods.
In order to check the unfair practices of producers and middlemen, various legislations or laws have been enacted by the government.
Some of the laws to protect the consumers are:
- Food and Drug Act 1955.
- Weight and Measures Act 1963.
- Price Control Decree 1970.
- Trade Description Act 1968.
- Standard Organisation Decree 1971.
- Hire Purchase Act 1975.
- Sales of Goods Act 1893.
- Rent Edict.
1) Food and Drug Act 1955
The law makes provisions for the regulation of the manufacture, sales and advertisement of food, drugs etc. The Act provides that:
- goods that has poisonous or harmful substances is unfit for human consumption.
- food or drug which is adulterated must not be sold.
- goods sold must be properly labelled and advertised.
- goods sold must follow the prescribed standard.
- goods manufactured, stored or preserved under unsanitary conditions must not be sold.
2) Weights and Measures Act 1963
The weights and measures act regulates the units of measurement used in trade. The Act provides that:
- the consumers must be protected against exploitation in weight and measures.
- the standard weight and measures are used.
- some goods like sugar, milk etc must be packaged in prescribed quantities.
3) Price Control Decree 1970
The decree was introduced in the wake of astronomical price increases during the civil war years. The main goal was to control inflation by fixing the retail prices of some commodities. The provisions are:
- protection of the consumer from paying exorbitant price.
- prevention of hoarding by sellers who refuse to sell at controlled price.
- stabilisation of general price levels.
- imposition of price control on some goods.
4) Trade Description Act 1968
The trade description legislation was introduced to prevent the deception of consumers by false advertising. It prohibits misleading description of goods and services.
The provisions are meant:
- to protect consumers against misleading description of goods and services.
- to prohibit false description in terms of quality, etc.
5) Standard Organisation Decree 1971
The decree established the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) to standardise methods and products in industries and to ensure compliance with government policy in standardisation. The Decree is meant:
- to provide the necessary measures for quality control of raw materials and finished goods.
- to ensure that the policy of government on standard specification and quality are maintained.
- to undertake preparation of samples that are standardised.
6) Hire Purchase Act 1975
The hire purchase act was passed with the fundamental objective of placing a break on the catalogues of injustices inherent in hire purchase transactions. The Act provides for the following:
- requirements relating to hire purchase and credit sale agreements.
- termination of agreement by hirer before making final payment.
- appropriation of payments.
- recovery of goods on hire purchase.
- the rights of the hirer in determining terms of agreement.
- the conditions and warranties relating to the agreement.
7) Sales of Goods Act
Sales of goods act was introduced to regulate the respective rights and duties of the vendor and purchaser. The provisions provide that:
- The seller has the right to sell in any contract of sales.
- The goods are fit for the purpose for which they are required.
- There is an implied warranty that the buyer will enjoy quiet possession.
- The goods must be of merchantable quality.
- The goods must correspond with description.
- The bulk of the goods must correspond with the samples.
8) Rent Edict
The rent edict was introduced to curb the excesses of landlords and agents. It serves to accomplish the following:
- To control rents charged by landlords.
- To curtail the activities of caretakers and agents.
- To fix rent for certain categories of houses, having taken into consideration the areas where they are located.
- To ensure compliance with the edict.
- To ensure the rights of the tenant.
AGENCIES RESPONSIBLE FOR CONSUMER PROTECTION
- Consumers Association.
- Manufacturers Association.
- Rent Tribunals.
- Price Control Board.
- Food and Drug Department of Ministry of Health.
- Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON).
- Environmental Protection Agency.
- Public Health Department/Unit.
- Professional bodies.
- Ministry of Trade and Industry.
Consumer associations are formed by consumers to protect their rights and interests. They study the prices and the quality of goods sold in their locality and make recommendations to their members. Examples of consumer associations include: Tenants association, consumer co-operative association and association of electricity consumers.
Objectives of Forming Consumer Association
- To act as a check against exploitation of consumers by the manufacturer.
- To check arbitrary increases in prices of goods.
- To act as a guide against deceptive and misleading advertisement.
- To protect their members against consumption of harmful or dangerous goods.
- To educate the consumers about their rights.
- To ensure the correct usage of weights and measures.
- To promote and protect the interest of consumers.
- To pressurise the producers to produce high quality goods.
Manufacturers association is an association of producers who come together to ensure that the quality of goods produced is high and that the members comply with their professional ethics, e.g. Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN).
Functions of Manufacturers Association
- The manufacturers associations sponsor some of their members on trade mission to foreign countries.
- They also protect the interest of their members.
- They ensure uniformity in prices of goods.
- They ensure high quality goods and services.
- They ensure that members abide with their professional ethics.
- Manufacturers associations serve to inform their members about the latest developments in commercial fields.
- They serve as links between their members and government.
The rent tribunals are set up by the government to regulate any matter relating to rentage of houses, shops etc. Their establishment is aimed at curbing the excesses of landlords and agents by controlling the rent charged.
Functions of the Rent Tribunals
- To control rent charged by landlords.
- To ensure compliance with the rent edict by prosecuting offenders.
- To curtail the excesses of the agents and landlords.
- To fix rent for certain categories of houses, depending on the location.
Price Control Board
The price control board was established for the federation to control inflation by fixing the retail prices of certain essential commodities. The board also ensures that the provisions of the price control decree are enforced.
Functions of the Price Control Board
- To protect low income groups.
- To protect the customers from paying exorbitant prices.
- To stabilise general price levels and contain inflationary pressures in the economy.
- To prevent hoarding by sellers who refuse to sell at controlled price.
- To fix prices for some essential commodities.
Food and Drug Department of Ministry of Health
The Food and Drug Administration Department whose duty is now handled by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) is charged with administering the provision of the food and drug decree. The department has field offices where consumers can report cases of contaminated or adulterated food and drugs.
Functions of Food and Drug Department
- The department ensures that the provisions of the Food and Drug Act are implemented.
- It ensures the cleanliness of abattoirs and healthiness of animals.
- The department ensures that drugs to be sold are tested for safety purposes.
- It regulates and monitors advertisements in the media.
- The department educates the people about the dangers of some goods and drugs.
- It also monitors the sale of canned food.
Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON)
The Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) was established by the Federal Government of Nigeria in 1971. The functions of the organisation are:
- To standardise methods and products in companies.
- To ensure compliance with government policy of standardisation.
- To provide measure for quality control of products.
- To advise the Federal Government on national policy on standards and quality control.
- To test products to ensure that minimum specifications are met.
Environmental Protection Agency
The Environmental Protection Agency is a parastatal of the Federal Government. Its main objectives are:
- To ensure that regulations and rules concerning environmental sanitation and hygiene are strictly adhered to (This is also extended to goods sold within the country.)
- To ensure the treatment of polluted water and payment of compensation to inhabitants by the company that caused such pollution.
- To ensure disposal of refuse.
- To maintain clean sewage system.
Public Health Unit (Sanitary Inspectors)
Public health unit or department is the government organ that deal with complaints on dirty environments, shops, restaurants and food items that are not fit for consumption. They enforce the rules on sanitation of consumable goods and healthy environment.
Some professional bodies like The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria(ICAN), Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN) etc lay down rules and regulations about their profession. They ensure that members abide by the ethics of the profession by regulating their activities so as to protect the consuming public.
Functions of the Professional Bodies
The functions of professional bodies are:
- to ensure that members operate according to their professional ethics;
- to ensure compliance with laid down rules and regulations;
- to discipline erring members;
- to register members as professionals.
Ministry of Trade and Industry
The Ministry of Trade and Industry in collaboration with other organs administer government laws and regulations relating to trade and industry in a country.
Functions of the Ministry of Trade and Industry
- The ministry ensures that most goods imported or exported are regulated.
- It monitors the setting up of business.
- It enforces laws on trade and industry.
- The ministry ensures compliance with various acts, e.g. Trade Description Act.