ENHANCING CONSUMER PROTECTION IN NIGERIA: A REVIEW OF THE DISPUTE RESOLUTION PROCEDURE AT THE LAGOS STATE CONSUMER PROTECTION AGENCY (LASCOPA) AND THE FEDERAL COMPETITION AND CONSUMER PROTECTION COMMISSION (FCCPC)
Nigeria’s consumer protection law and policy have improved tremendously within the past few years. These advancements can be attributed to the implementation of state and federal consumer protection legislation and the diligent efforts of consumer protection agencies in fulfilling their statutory responsibilities.
Notwithstanding these improvements, we have experienced numerous situations where dissatisfied consumers turn to social media to voice their complaints about a company’s product or services rather than addressing the issue directly with the company. Furthermore, some consumers not only resort to social media but also file complaints with both the Lagos State Consumer Protection Agency (LASPCOPA) and the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) simultaneously. In extreme cases, dissatisfied consumers may even lodge petitions against a company with the Nigeria Police Force or the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for a mere commercial dispute relating to payment for goods and services. Unfortunately, companies or service providers often suffer the consequences when dissatisfied consumers take these actions.
Given the above, this article highlights the dispute resolution process outlined in the Consumer Protection Agency Law of Lagos State and the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act, 2018, for dissatisfied consumers. Additionally, it seeks to discourage the practice of multiple government agencies investigating a petition from a dissatisfied consumer on the same set of facts.
The Consumer Protection Agency Law of Lagos State
Section 2 (1) of the Consumer Protection Agency Law of Lagos State establishes the Lagos State Consumer Protection Agency (LASCOPA), while section 4 of the law identifies the objectives of LASCOPA to include protecting the under-listed consumer rights:
- The right to be protected against marketing of goods and services which are hazardous to life;
- The right to be informed about the quality, quantity, potency, purity, standard and price of goods and services as the case may be so as to protect consumers against unfair trade practices;
- The right 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 appropriate fora; and
- The right to consumer education and awareness.
Section 5 of the law lists the functions of LASCOPA, but for the purposes of this article, we shall highlight the following:
- Ensure speedy redress of consumer complaints through negotiations, mediation or conciliation;
- Instigate investigation in its own name whether upon the receipt of a complaint or not;
- Cause an offending company, firm, trade association or individual to compensate or provide relief to injured consumers or communities as a result of adverse effects of harmful products;
- Cause where necessary quality tests to be conducted on a consumer product.
Based on the provisions of sections 14 and 21 of the law, a consumer to whom goods are sold or delivered or any service provided or agreed to be provided has the right to file a complaint with LASCOPA within six (6) months from the date the cause of action arose. After receiving a complaint from a consumer, LASCOPA may proceed with the complaint or reject it within seven (7) days from the date it received the complaint provided that it gives the consumer an opportunity to be heard.
Upon approving a complaint, LASCOPA would invite the person against whom the complaint is made to state his case within fourteen (14) days or such extended period not exceeding seven (7) days. After receiving the response from the other party, LASCOPA will either settle the dispute or retrieve a sample of the product from the complainant and send it to an appropriate laboratory for testing. It should be noted that any party who is dissatisfied with a resolution of LASCOPA shall be at liberty to take its complaints to the court. Although the Consumer Protection Agency Law of Lagos State is silent on the timeline within which a dissatisfied party may approach the court, we believe it is necessary for the party to do so within six (6) years from the date the incident occurred. This is in accordance with the Limitation Law of Lagos State, which stipulates a six (6) year limitation period for tortious and contractual disputes.
The Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission Act, 2018
Section 1 of the FCCPCA lists the objectives of the Act as follows:
- Promote and maintain competitive markets in the Nigerian economy;
- Promote economic efficiency;
- Protect and promote the interests and welfare of consumers by providing consumers with wider variety of quality products at competitive prices;
- Prohibit restrictive or unfair business practices which prevent, restrict or distort competition or constitute an abuse of a dominant position of market power in Nigeria; and
- Contribute to the sustainable development of the Nigerian economy.
Section 3 of the Act establishes the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC), and section 17 of the Act lists the following as some of the functions of the FCCPC:
- Initiate broad based policies and review economic activities in Nigeria to identify anti-competitive, anti-consumer protection and restrictive practices which may adversely affect the economic interest of consumers and make rules and regulations under this Act and any other enactment with regards to competitions and protection of consumers.
- Resolve disputes or complaints, issue directives and apply sanctions where necessary;
- Protect and promote consumer interests.
Based on the provisions of section 146 of the FCCPCA, a consumer who is dissatisfied with the quality of a product or service provided is expected to first refer its complaint to the company that supplied the goods or services and refer the complaint directly to the industry regulator before filing a complaint against the company or service provider to the FCCPC. The FCCPC’s decision can be subject to an appeal before the Competition and Consumer Protection Tribunal (CCPT), while the decisions of the CCPT shall lie to the Court of Appeal. It is instructive to note that section 146 (2) of the FCCPCA allows a dissatisfied consumer to directly approach a court with appropriate jurisdiction to seek redress to its complaints. However, a consumer may not simultaneously initiate a complaint before the Commission and approach a court on the same complaint.
Overlap Between LASCOPA and FCCPC
A review of the functions and powers of the LASCOPA and FCCPC will show that there is an overlap between the two government agencies regarding consumer protection matters. While LASCOPA has jurisdiction over consumer protection matters within Lagos State, FCCPC has nationwide coverage. The overlap may sometimes result in both agencies investigating the same complaint by a consumer, leading to unnecessary strain on the company in question and additional costs incurred in responding to multiple investigations. This practice would undoubtedly hinder the ease of doing business in Nigeria and should be avoided.
As a law firm actively involved in consumer protection matters across various sectors in Nigeria, we have witnessed the efficiency of both LASCOPA and FCCPC in resolving complaints submitted to them. Therefore, we believe consumers don’t have to submit their petitions to both agencies simultaneously, as this would amount to duplication of efforts and a waste of scarce government resources. In cases where one agency is already investigating a complaint, the other agency should refrain from opening a separate investigation. If this suggestion is adhered to, it would promote a more streamlined and effective process for consumer protection in Nigeria.
Notwithstanding the occasional overlap between LASCOPA and FCCPC, both agencies play a crucial role in safeguarding consumer rights in Nigeria. Therefore, consumers in Nigeria need to approach either of the two agencies whenever a supplier of products or services cannot resolve their complaints, rather than approaching both agencies simultaneously or resorting to negative social media comments against companies.
This article provides general information only and does not constitute specific legal or procedural advice. For enquiries, please reach out to the authors at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.