The escalating incidence of petrol smuggling across Nigeria’s borders is put at a whopping 42 million litres per day, raising Nigeria’s estimated daily consumption of 60 million litres to 102 million. This has forced the country to spend between N140 billion and N150 billion on subsidy, which the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) lamented has made it unable to contribute to the Federation Account.
Experts blamed this partly on the failure of regulatory agencies and security operatives.
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Numerous actions and inactions by regulators in the financial sector, telecom industry, aviation and others, have led to, or encouraged, unfair practices, higher prices for consumers, deaths or damages, among others.
Many Nigerians have had their funds misappropriated, while others are at the mercy of loan sharks because regulatory agencies often fail to use their powers to sanitise the system and protect the consumers.
The Centre for Analysis of Risk and Regulation categorized these failings failure of informed analysis of a situation; inappropriate supervision; jurisdictional overlap among different bodies; political failure, and inadequate resources for a regulator to insufficiently address a problem.
Customers groan over arbitrary charges for electricity, metering
Electricity consumers have continually decried arbitrary charges, the lack of meter for their buildings and other poor services offered to them by electricity distribution companies (DisCos).
There are 11 DisCos that interface with over 10 million registered electricity consumers with the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), saddled with the responsibility of regulating the sector.
As complaints mount over billing and lack of meters, the NERC pushed the DisCos to create customer complaints centres across the 11 zones. They are to handle complaints, and those that are unresolved are forwarded to the NERC, which created about 19 Forum Offices across the six geopolitical zones to handle such issues.
In spite of these, consumers have continued to lament poor services and unresolved complaints in the Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry (NESI).
Shamsudeen Ibrahim, a resident of Abuja, under the Abuja DisCo, said previously N10,000 vending got him 386 units as at November, but he only got N197 units with the same amount recently, owing to the recent rise in electricity bills.
“According to my calculation, that is about a 49 per cent increase. We are just being deceived that the increment is not more than N4,” he noted.
John Okon said he had expected 38 units for vending of N1,000 but got 19 instead, showing a 50 per cent increase.
Another customer, who also spent N10,000 and had expected 380 units, said he was shocked to get less than that. “Just less than two weeks ago, the unit after the increment for N10,000 was 120 units, which is around 68 per cent hike.”
Mr Precious Abu, a barber shop owner in the Kuje area of Federal Capital Territory (FCT), said he used to get about 118 units for N3,000 before the previous increase, but it has been cut down to half.
According to the NERC quarterly report for the second quarter of 2020, being the latest to be released so far, there were 203,116 complaints between April and June 2020. This was slightly less than the complaint volume from consumers in the first quarter of 2020.
The document obtained by our reporter indicated that out of these complaints, the DisCos resolved 189,684.
While the Enugu DisCo had the highest complaints, Yola had the lowest. A review of customer complaints indicates that estimated billing, metering and service interruption remain the most significant areas of concern for customers, accounting for 64.9 per cent (131,789) of the total complaints, NERC stated.
At the Forum Office level created by the NERC, there were 2,815 complaints from customers who were dissatisfied with DisCos’ decision on their lodged complaints. However, these NERC offices only handled 53.52 per cent of the 2,815 complaints as it held just one sitting, blaming COVID-19 restrictions and the lockdown. The NERC also stated that three in every five disputes handled by the Forum Offices was resolved.
How we’re tackling complaints
Responding to how the commission is doing its regulatory works and ensuring that it tackles complaints, the NERC, in its latest report stated, “To ensure improved customer service delivery, the commission, on a regular basis, continues to monitor and audit customers’ complaints handling and resolution process by DisCos.
“The commission also continuously monitors the operation and efficacy of its Forum Offices, which were set up to redress consumers’ complaints not adequately resolved to the customers’ satisfaction by the responsible DisCos.”
Telecom consumers complain of drop calls, data depletion
Many of the telecom subscribers across the country still complain of drop calls and data depletion, even as the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) said it was ensuring maximum protection for consumers.
Traders at the Sabon Gari Market in Kano said they still experienced drop calls, even after endless complaints to the telecom operators and the NCC.
The situation is the same at some parts of Kantin Kwari Textile Market, also in Kano.
One of the traders, Abdullahi, said his fellow traders had been experiencing drop calls and poor service in Sabon Gari for more than two years. The situation, he said, had been depriving them of some business transactions.
Some subscribers in Lagos also told Daily Trust on Sunday that they still experienced data depletion and drop calls, especially at the peak hours of the afternoon.
But the NCC said it had tightened the noose against cases of data depletion and wrong deductions of consumers’ credits.
The commission said while consumer protection remained a key focus area of its regulatory activities, it had accomplished significant improvements in this direction through various initiatives aimed at putting mobile operators on their toes to be more consumer-centric.
The NCC’s Director of Public Affairs, Ikechukwu Adinde, said that through the ongoing forensic audit, the commission planned “to get to the bottom of why consumers are experiencing data depletion and the possibility of compensating them for wrong deductions, which may arise from Short Message Service (SMS).”
He said the commission had insisted that despite the fall in data price, the forensic audit must be concluded and the outcome communicated to the chief executive officers of telecom companies.
He, however, noted that the commission had developed Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on data depletion, which are designed to inform consumers on activities that may result in faster depletion of their data, as well as enlighten them on measures to mitigate such. The FAQs are accessible on the commission’s website.
Hoarding, under-dispensing ‘fuel’ anger
Among fuel consumers across the country, the major complaint is that of under- dispensing by some retail stations.
But the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) said it had been sealing fuel stations caught for infractions.
The zonal operation controller for Abuja, Abubakar Buba, during a surveillance exercise to some petrol stations in the FCT recently, warned marketers to desist from hoarding the product and other infractions.
“As it is part of our regular exercise. The DPR will continue to intensify its surveillance activities on all the retail outlets within the zone, and violators will be sanctioned accordingly,” Buba said.
He said all fuel stations must ensure that manholes are properly covered after every stocktaking, ensure regular check for water, using pastes during discharge and before the commencement of sales, ensure the use of tamper-proof manholes and other seal devices on petroleum products.
According to him, hoarding, diversion, adulteration and under-dispensing will not be tolerated.
Flight delays, cancellations worry passengers
In the aviation sector, one of the major complaints from passengers has been persistent flight delays by airlines. This, over the years, has been a recurring decimal.
Daily Trust on Sunday reports that while delays could be unavoidable in some cases, according to experts, management of the crisis remains a source of concern when flights have been delayed.
According to the regulations, airlines are expected to provide refreshment for passengers when local flights are delayed for more than one hour.
However, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), which is the apex regulatory body, said that in most of the cases, passengers don’t write formal complaints to the authority for necessary action. This is despite the fact that the passengers’ bill of rights is displayed at all the airports to enable them know and understand their rights as consumers and take actions when those rights have been breached.
Speaking with our correspondent, the general manager, Public Affairs of the NCAA, Mr Sam Adurogboye said, “There has to be a complainant. When they complain, we take it up. When we take it up, we issue a letter of investigation. We will set up an investigation committee and invite all the parties.”
Adurogboye, however, explained that circumstances could actually result in flights being delayed, adding that passengers must be briefed sufficiently to avoid issues.
“If you have to summon every airline every day there is a complaint, we would end up grounding all the airlines.
“However, we support some delays if it is on account of weather. It is mandatory that airlines obtain weather information, study it before any flight. If they delay on account of technical issues and weather, we are in support of them correcting whatever happens before they go.
“What the airline needs to do, depending on the situation, is to explain to the passengers. If it happens before the flight time, you send notice to them not to even come to the airport at all.
“There are issues that are purely business decisions. The airlines need to call on the passengers on time and inform them,” he said.
He added that while the agency is not going to regulate any airline out of existence, it would not compromise on issues that have to do with safety.
Loan sharks hunt Nigerians
In the banking sector, issues are seasonal. The stiff competition amongst deposit money banks is one that ensures that issues do not remain unresolved for a long time. However, one issue that has remained and would linger for a while is the seeming rapid expansion of loan sharks in every nook and cranny of the country.
Generally overlooked by moneybags, many penniless Nigerians and those in financial straits are finding succour in collateral-free loan apps.
There are a teeming number of these loan applications run by various companies, such as Sokoloan, OKash, GetCash, Carbon, Branch, GoCash, QuickCheck, PalmCredit, Get Loans, and 9jaCash, et cetera.
A QuickCheck loan has interest rates, starting from as low as five per cent monthly on the first loan. Loans range from N1,500 to N500,000, with terms from 91 days to one year.
Interest ranges from two per cent to 30 per cent, with an equivalent monthly interest rate of one to 21 per cent. For example, if a loanee borrows N100,000 over six months (with a fixed interest rate of 13 per cent per month, three repayments of N25,000), he will cough up N150,000.
The no-hold-bar approach to loan recovery by the avalanche of loan sharks has become a cause for concern. They adopt every means possible, mostly name-and- shame to recover their loans.
The national president of the National Association of Nigerian Traders (NANTS), Ken Ukaoha, a lawyer, said, “The reality is that deposit money banks prefer to cater mostly for elite borrowers, and this has created the existence of a larger informal market for the poor and a smaller formal market.
“We think this has been very unfair to small traders because it ensures that the poor continue to pay more for credit, and therefore, becomes highly vulnerable to ruthless lenders,” Ukaoha said.
A director in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) who prefers to be anonymous said, “We have created several intervention funds that target those segments of our population at a very cheap interest rate. We have also created the collateral registry, which ensures that issues of collateral no longer stand as a stumbling block for genuine borrowers.”
Another complaint by customers in the sector centered around debit alerts on various payment platforms without cash or crediting the recipients. Some of these payment platforms or channels include online banking, PoS terminals, Automatic Teller Machines (ATM), USSD, banking apps and others.
It was gathered that it would take several complaints and even a petition to the CBN via the Consumers Protection Department before the monies are reversed.
“I had only N25,000 on Monday. I had a medical situation and quickly went to the PoS to withdraw N20,000 to go to the hospital. The transaction was declined but I was debited. I had to borrow money to access medical care. The money was reversed only after 48 hours. So just imagine if I had no option of borrowing money. What would have happened to me?” Titus Torsaar told our correspondent.
The Consumer Protection Department of the CBN said it had zero tolerance for service failure, especially where the bank hasn’t complied with the refund policy as stipulated on various transactions.
We treat consumer complaints from all sectors – FCCPC
The Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) has said that the Commission treats consumer complaints from all sectors of the economy.
The Acting Director of Legal Services at the FCCPC, Mr Tam Tam, said the Commission encourages consumers to seek redress first from the primary service provider or sales agent and if this fails, the complaint should be forwarded to the regulator of the sector if it has a complaint redress mandate.
However, Tam said if the regulator fails to address the complaints, it should then be forwarded to the FCCPC for action.
He added that despite this, it does not in any way discourage consumers from directly contacting FCCPC with their complaints.
On how the Commission treats consumer complaints, details sourced from FCCPC read thus: “Using different mechanisms, the Commission resolves complaints that are filed with it. Usually, consumer grievances and dissatisfaction are filed with the Commission as ‘Complaints’. The Commission receives these complaints in diverse ways including online, in person, in writing, and multiple social media platforms.”
FCCPC stated that most complaints are resolved using one or more of the Commission’s resolution tools, such as direct engagement, negotiations, mediation, conciliation, investigations, administrative hearings and collaboration with other regulators. Investigations and hearings usually occur when a market intervention becomes compelling, or conduct is egregious or indicative of a pattern or widespread infraction.
By Simon Echewofun Sunday, Francis Arinze Iloani, Zakariyya Adaramola & Chris Agabi, Abuja; Sunday Michael Ogwu & Abdullateef Aliyu, Lagos