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Published On: Tue, Feb 25th, 2014

This is poison, not soft drink

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By Emmanuel Onwubiko

The new management team at the Nigerian Consumer Protection Council (CPC), in Lagos, recently slammed Coca-Cola Nigeria Limited and the franchisee of its various beverage products – Nigerian Bottling Company for allegedly offering defective products for sale at the detriment of consumers across the country.

The uncommon courage displayed by the director general of this agency of the Federal Government will properly be understood when we cast our minds back to only a couple of months ago when the same Consumer Protection Agency under the immediate past hierarchy was busy hobnobbing with manufacturers and other service providers to such a ridiculous extent that at a time when most Nigerian users of the telecom services were embittered by the crass incompetence and insensitivity shown by some of the telecom services providers, the Consumer Protection agency funded with tax payers money was busy dishing out some crooked awards to some of these defaulting and perennially insensitive and professionally decadent companies most of which are run by foreign owners who also engage in notorious capital flight and treat their Nigerian staff as slaves.

Less than six months into her job apparently to revive the near moribund government agency, Ms. Dupe Catherine Atoki, the Kogi state born human rights lawyer has remarkably told Nigerians through her activism on the job that it will not be business as usual for criminally minded manufacturers and service providers in Nigeria. This new approach in the once moribund government agency has proved beyond the shadow of doubts that ‘all that it will take for evil to triumph is for good men/women to do nothing”, as stated by one of the European writers.

First, she went into battle with some foreign airlines doing business in Nigeria for their age long neglect of the consumer rights of the Nigerian international flyers and other passengers who have continued to be treated shabbily without the slightest modicum of respect like their opposites from Europe and America. She took her activism to these foreign airlines who in turn wrote in to the council to pledge their determination to respect the consumer rights of Nigerian passengers. But these foreign airlines have neither kept to their words nor have they been sanctioned by the relevant aviation officials in the Nigerian state and since the Nigeria’s Consumer Protection Council is hamstrung by paucity of operational fund and some hiccups in its enabling act, it is almost unable to bark and bite effectively to such an extent that these defaulting foreign airlines would be compelled by law to adhere strictly to their professional ethical code of conduct.

But with the ongoing but slow process at the National Assembly of the proposed amendment to the enabling Act, it is the aspiration of millions of disadvantaged and oppressed Nigerian consumers that the national law makers will have the courage to amend the relevant sections in the Nigerian Consumer Protection Council’s Act to make it much more powerful and equipped with the needed tools to bark and bite for the benefit of Nigerians.

Well, as a good lawyer with solid number of years of post call practice, Mrs. Atoki has galvanized the resources and officials available to her in the new office to begin a vigorous campaign to name and shame some of these bad manufacturers and service providers to compel them to improve on the quality of products and services that they take to the Nigerian markets. In the last couple of decades, many Nigerians have lost their precious lives due mainly to substandard and poorly manufactured products that they have consumed in the past and because there was no proactive Nigerian Consumer Protection Council, it was cumbersome for most Nigerians to obtain redress. The Standard Organization of Nigeria has also failed to stop Nigeria from the notorious position as the dumping ground for substandard products from foreign jurisdiction such as China and India.

This inertia on the part of the Consumer Protection Council may have changed going by the new war against poisonous drinks that are packaged under very inhabitable and unhygienic environment by manufacturers and supplied to Nigerians for their consumption and due to poor consumer rights education, majority of Nigerians are still unaware of their rights and duties as consumers. The Nigerian Consumer Protection Council on Tuesday February 18th 2014 took the war to the doorsteps of one of the World’s most popular soft drinks brand- Coca Cola whereby she directed that steps be taken to improve the hygiene status of their products.

This conclusion, according to Mrs. Dupe Atoki, CPC’s director-general, became imperative consequent upon an investigation by the council arising from consumer complaints about “rusty bottle tops, rusty cans and foreign particles in beverage products of the Nigerian Bottling Company under licence of Coca-Cola Nigeria Limited. The panel, after five hearings, held between September 2013 and February 2014, substantiated the allegation of product defect and violation of the Consumer Protection Council Act.”

She added also that although “the investigation was premised on two half-filled cans of Sprite, it led to a plethora of findings, among which are: that the cans of Sprite are products of the Nigerian Bottling Company under license of Coca-Coca Nigeria Limited; that the cans of sprite were defective and had health and safety implications for consumers; that the Nigerian Bottling Company does not have a detailed written shelf life policy for dealing with expired products; and that the Nigerian Bottling Company’s grievance resolution policy does not cover instances where the consumer suffers physical injury from consumption, or compensation in instances where replacement will be inadequate.”

On his part, Adeyanju Olomola, Head, Public Affairs and Communications, Nigerian Bottling Company (NBC) said “Nigerian Bottling Company Limited and Coca-Cola Nigeria Limited hold the Council and, indeed, all regulators and stakeholders in high esteem and will continue to work with them to make any necessary improvement.”

Emmanuel Onwubiko on www.huriwa.blogspot.com

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