As the country’s dwindling economy continues to put Nigerians under intense pressure from record-high inflation and ceaseless devaluation of the naira, people are steadily getting poorer and poorer. However, the fact that Nigerians do not get proportionate value for the money they spend on consumer goods, social services and utilities is indeed a worse tragedy. This is the unfortunate situation Nigerians experience through substandard products, fake drugs, expired food items, poor telecommunication services and exorbitant electricity charges called estimated billing.
A recent story by the Daily Trust newspaper published on Sunday June 27, 2021 revealed how Nigerians groan under various forms of frustrations, financial losses, short-changes, extortions and sometimes loss of lives occasioned by the failure of regulatory agencies in their statutory mandate. For instance, arbitrary charges, lack of pre-paid meters and poor services offered to them by electricity distribution companies (DisCos) has been the most critical challenge of electricity consumers in most parts of the country. Yet, neither the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), which is saddled with the responsibility of regulating the sector nor the Consumer Protection Council (CPC) seem to be bothered enough to intervene for the over 10 million consumers registered with the 11 DisCos. This is even as the DisCos created customer complaints centres across the 11 zones to handle complaints.
In the telecom sector, the story is not different. Drop calls and data depletion are two common complaints among millions of subscribers across the country. Poor network service impedes access to the internet which affects many internet-based communications including zoom meetings, email messages, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Twitter, and other social media platforms. The same challenge also affects business owners from promptly concluding transactions, which in some cases lead to losses. Yet, the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) watches network providers get away with various forms of failures with no sanctions imposed on them. NCC neither compels telecom companies to apologize to customers nor penalizes them for poor services.
The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), which was established in 1992 is mandated to regulate and control the manufacture, importation, exportation, distribution, advertisement, sale and use of food, drugs, cosmetics, medical devices, packaged water, and chemicals. Yet, fake and adulterated drugs still flood markets where they are traded in wheel barrows. Soon after Professor Dora Akunyili left NAFDAC, the agency became a shadow of its former glorious days. Expired beverages, drinks and packaged food products are sold in open stalls and supermarkets without NAFDAC confiscating such consumables. While some people died prematurely for using fake or adulterated drugs, others have suffered permanent disabilities.
Although government established Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN) to control and regulate the practice of the engineering profession in all aspects, buildings keep collapsing and killing occupants or site workers, sometimes when the structure is still under construction. Even road constructions have not been spared from substandard execution of projects. Some roads start going bad few weeks after their construction; sometimes while the roads are still under construction. Yet, these construction projects are usually supervised by COREN registered engineers.
Petroleum marketers keep dealing with consumers through hoarding and under-dispensing of products particularly petrol. Where marketers are not under-dispensing, the pump-price per litre is much higher than the government approved price. While Nigerians continue to bear the brunt of these irregularities, the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) claims it is sparing no effort at sealing fuel stations caught in the act of infractions.
In the aviation sector, persistent flight delays by airlines is the major challenge faced by passengers. When flights are unavoidably delayed for more than one hour due to weather or other genuine reasons, aviation regulations provide that passengers are entitled to enjoy refreshment. There have been situations in which flights were delayed for 12 hours without even a bottle of water served to passengers. According to Mr Sam Adurogboye who is the General Manager, Public Affairs of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), which is the apex regulatory body, “there has to be a complaint” before the agency can take it up with the airline. I think a procedure that requires a passenger on transit to write a formal complaint was perhaps, from the onset, not meant to work.
Because of its broader functions and given its gross failure, the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) qualifies for the most inefficient regulatory agency in the country. SON was established by an Enabling Act No 56 of December 1971, with a commencement date of January 1, 1970 when the organization started functioning. SON’s mandate includes “preparation of standards relating to products, measurements, materials, processes and services amongst others.” SON is also responsible for certification of products, guaranteeing production of quality goods, improvement of measurement accuracies, and circulation of information relating to standards. The quality, size, packaging, and validity of most consumer goods sold in markets across Nigeria today is enough evidence that SON has become a dysfunctional agency.
The size of many consumable goods such as bathing soaps, washing detergents, and body creams, toothpaste, bottled and canned products has substantially shrunk. Rice, sugar, and other food items sold in bags have also had their sizes reduced. Clothing materials, footwears, dry cell batteries, home electrical appliances and many other household materials have all lost quality. Yet, Nigerians pay high for these substandard commodities. Could it be that officials of SON have compromised their functions as a regulatory agency?
Regulatory agencies have survived on inefficiency because of weak institutions, which include the legislature and the police. The heads of regulatory agencies are predisposed to fail in their respective mandate because they believe nobody would either ask questions about their failures or take punitive measures against them. The situation would not have worsened this much if, for example, lawmakers had remained unselfish in their oversight functions. Some of these agencies are empowered by law to liaise with the police and arrest violators of their provisions. But given the nature of policemen detailed to carry out such assignments, perpetrators of infractions on consumer goods and products would always get away with their illegalities.
A government that appointed people to head regulatory agencies has a duty to remove such chief executives from office when they fail in their responsibilities. This can be done through the supervising ministry of the agency found wanting since every department or organization is supervised by a ministry. May Allah guide us to serve and protect public interest in our duties as public officers, amin.