Compared to previous years, consumers in Nigeria won a few wars against manufacturers and service providers in 2012, as a result of the firm stance of regulatory authorities.
2012 marked the beginning of the partial enforcement of the cashless policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), which was aimed at reducing the amount of physical cash in circulation and encouraging more electronic-based transactions.
Proponents of the policy had argued that it was necessary for the economy, especially as the country prepared to be among the top 20 world economies by the year 2020. It was believed that Nigeria was a heavily cash-oriented economy, with cost of transacting becoming a burden on the banking system; which also made customers pay in the form of high rates and other charges.
Though, the implementation of the policy in Lagos is believed not to have gained the expected footing, it turned out to be an eye-opener in 2012. Also in the year, a rollout across the country was substituted with phased implementation in Port Harcourt, Kano, Aba and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Like the anxiety that greeted the introduction of similar technologies in the past, there was fear that the cashless policy would not take off but the experience in Lagos and a few places indicated that it could work in Nigeria if necessary awareness and technologies are put in place.
Again, the year had provided opportunity for stakeholders to learn a few lessons from the Lagos experience. Observers believe that the policy would remain lost in transit and translation if the Lagos experience in 2012 is not considered. It is also believed that as desirable as the initiative was, the execution in Lagos was hindered by technological hiccups, especially problematic Point of Sales (PoS) terminals.
In what looked like an evaluation of the whole process, the CBN had declared that the impact of the policy on the flow of business transactions, using Lagos State as a pilot test, had come to stay, stating that the PoS machines in the system had increased from 5,000 to over 200,000 to date.
CBN's Deputy Governor Operations, Mr. Tunde Lemo, made the declaration in Lagos during Cashless Policy Conference organised by the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, (LCCI), recently.
The Deputy Governor explained that the apex bank had put in place necessary machineries to ensure that issuance of ATM cards was done within couple of hours, unlike now that it takes several days to get the cards.
Fake Products, Promotions
Regulatory authorities like the Consumer Protection Council (CPC), Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), made efforts in 2012 to protect the interest of consumers in some sensitive areas, which put service providers and manufacturers on their toes.
For instance, the CPC asked the United Bank for Africa (UBA), to review its decision to introduce a policy, which put minimum operating balance at N25,000 for all customers who might require over-the-counter services.
In a letter signed by the Director General of CPC, Mrs. Ify Umenyi, and addressed to the Managing Director of UBA and the CBN, the council stated that the fears expressed by consumers over the policy gave CPC great concern about its impact on the banking public.
According to the letter; "A greater percentage of the Nigerian consumers may not be literate or versatile enough to utilise your options of mobile banking (U-Mo) or e-banking, thereby limiting easy access to funds and banking services."
The year also witnessed the most flamboyant brand promos where MTN offered an aeroplane as prize in its Ultimate Wonder Promo. The promos fuelled public outrage against such exercise, which forced the NCC to wield its big stick and ban all promotions and lotteries ran by telecommunications network operators in the country
Another breakthrough was the arraignment of a 38-year-old man, Mr. Luke Okonkwo, at Igbosere Magistrate Court, Lagos, for adulterating lubricant oil. Okonkwo, along with others on the run, were alleged to have faked Amasin Lubricant, Engen Super 200 of Amasco International Nigeria Limited, and was arraigned on two counts of conspiracy and unlawful adulteration and processing of Amasin oil.
Also stakeholders at the 2012 APCON summit in partnership with International Centre for Alcohol Policies, (ICAP) and Beer Sector Group, (BSG), set the agenda for alcoholic beverage advertisement to reduce health hazards, road accidents as well as other social vices claimed to have been aggravated by abuse of alcohol consumption.
The stakeholders charged brewers to adopt responsible approach to their promotion messages in line with global standard.
In an interview with THISDAY the co-coordinator of Consumer Advocacy Forum of Nigeria, (CAFON), a rights group, Sola Salako, argued that one of the ways out of the current problem is for government to empower the CPC and other agencies that focus on consumers' rights, with necessary apparatus that would make them be able to come between consumers and fraudulent organisations and individuals that are promoting fake promotions and products.
Salako, who pointed out that CPC has no financial muscle to follow cases of fake products to logical conclusion, also advised consumers to always aspire to know their right under the law from the year 2013.
Speaking further, she blamed the plight of many Nigerians on the absence of consumer education and a structure for resolving consumer issues, which she claimed frustrated many agitations last year. According to her, "The concept of consumerism is still almost nonexistent in the psyche of the Nigerian polity."
From aviation to banking, telecommunications to power, the problem of poor services and unconcerned attitude of operators to good offering still remained a problem in 2012.
Like the previous years, the manufacturing sector and small scale industries could not make the expected success in the year under review; thereby creating an increase in cost of production, which also led to high price in many areas.
On the poor services in the aviation sector, Mr. Cosmos Ogbe, who said he was denied flight twice in the year despite fulfilling his entire financial requirement lamented about the insensitivity of service providers in Nigeria.
A customer of Ethiopian Airlines, Mr. Aikhunegbe Malik, a lawyer, who had filed a N16.8 million suit before a Federal High Court, Abuja against the company over alleged breach of contract and missing of luggage, said airline operators were fond of taking Nigerians for ride.
In the action filed by Malik, the lawyer, who claimed to have travelled with the airline from United Arab Emirates (UAE) to Nigeria on September 10, 2012, was asking for the payment of N16,882,500 million as general, aggravated and exemplary damages against the company for his inability to get his luggage as at when due.
According to him; "I travelled with the Airlines from UAE with two different luggages weighting 20 kg each, which were properly tagged, but on my arrival in Abuja, I couldn't get one of the luggages and no explanation was given. It is only in Nigeria that such thing could happen," he said.
Call for Legislative Backing
One of the areas where critics often fault the operations of SON and CPC is that the two agencies are like toothless bulldogs, considering previous cases of fake products that were not followed to logical ends.
In what looked like a reaction to this, the SON in 2012 called for more legislative backing for its activities in ridding the country of substandard products and also initiated new measures to check the menace of fake goods in the markets.
SON said it would not back down on its zero tolerance for fake products campaign, which is aimed at reducing the over 80 per cent volume of fake and substandard goods in the country recorded in 2011 as well as improving Nigeria's image, which has been tainted as a result of the proliferation of fake and adulterated products.
The Director General of SON, Dr. Joseph Odumodu, while hosting the House of Representatives committee on commerce and industry led by the chairman, Mohammed Ogoshi,, in Abuja, noted that the visit, which is a performance of the committee's statutory oversight functions, is also an affirmation of the SON's response to the broad economic programmes of the Federal Government.
"Beyond that, it engenders hope in us that after now, we are sure of the tacit support of the Members of the House of Representatives in getting legislative backing for our activities," he said.
He listed some of the legislative backing being sought by SON to include a crucial review of the Act setting up the SON; speedy dispensation of justice, with particular reference to those who contravene products standardisation laws as well as deterrent measures in the law; increased funding for the SON and the need for adequate manpower for the SON.
He said the agency was prepared to prosecute manufacturers/importers and distributors of substandard products in the law courts and the court of public opinion. He said that at the end of the day, the House would have played its part well.
Responding, the committee chairman promised to offer the House's support while also commending SON for its activities in curbing the influx and effects of counterfeit and low-quality goods in the country.
"We are going to give you every support you need to deliver your mandate," Ogoshi said, urging the organisation to embark on awareness campaigns that will educate the populace on the likely implications of purchasing substandard products. According to him, this would enable consumers to identify and avoid substandard products.