The Government has a duty to protect its people from any form of harm to human health through the use and purchase of items to meet daily needs. In light of this, the Nigerian Consumer Protection Council (CPC), whose aim is to protect and enhance consumers’ interest through information, education and enforcement of appropriate standards for goods and services was established by Act No. 66 of 1992. The Council however commenced operations in 1999, with its main functions encapsulated in section 2 of the CPC Act.
Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) refers to goods which are sold at a fast rate and used frequently by consumers, they can also be said to be bought at a relatively low cost. Examples are soft drinks, packaged foods, beverages, detergents, soaps and toiletries. At least one FMCG is used in a household every day, which shows the importance of FMCG’s. As a result of this, it is imperative that appropriate legislation for the management of these FCMGS be adopted in order to protect consumers of these goods from harmful and injurious effects and to ensure proper monitoring of manufacturers and distributors of such goods. Such legislation is also required in the event of any injury, to provide speedy redress to consumers’ complaints.
The Consumer Protection Council (CPC) Act, enacted in 1992 is the primary law in Nigeria which centres on a pragmatic approach to enforcement of consumer rights making the Act consumer focused. Section 6 of the Act provides that consumers can bring complaints where they have suffered a loss, injury or damage while Section 8 provides for opportunity for consumers to get redress which makes the Act adequate to meet consumer rights.
However, there have been instances where foreign or harmful substances have been found in FMCGs, most especially in soft drinks and beverages and cases where packaged food items have caused bodily harm and in extreme cases death. Although the rights of consumers highlighted in the Act have been abused on several occasions by these FMCGs, it has most times been difficult for consumers to get redress as the evidence of proving negligence or bodily harm or injury from the purchase of the goods is almost impossible to prove. This is because the claimant must show that the negligent act resulted in damage to his person and claimants are often faced with the difficult task of proving the link between the act complained of and the alleged injury or damage.
In Nsima v. Nigerian Bottling Company (2014) LPELR- 22542(CA) the court held that ‘the most fundamental ingredient of tort of negligence is the breach of the duty of care. And that until a plaintiff can prove by evidence the actual breach of the duty of care against the defendant, the action must fail. He must show the acts or omissions, which constitute negligence’.
Although the CPC Act makes provision for redress to complaints made by consumers through negotiation, mediation and conciliation a good alternative to court processes, the effectiveness of the Act and the ability of the Council to protect the rights of consumers through the monitoring of products manufactured by FMCG companies is still in question.
Violation of provision of the Act attracts a fine N50, 000 or five years imprisonment or both which is commendable however the fine seems intangible a fine for FMCG companies. Another huge problem is the high rate of illiteracy which makes consumers unaware of their rights and remedies available to them in an event of purchasing harmful or substandard goods.
Therefore, it is important for the Council to organise and undertake campaigns and other forms of activities that will increase public consumer awareness and ensure that consumers' interests receive due consideration at appropriate forums. This initiative by the Council may also serve to provide redress to obnoxious practices or the unscrupulous exploitation of consumers by companies, firms, trade association or individual. It is only then that consumers can have respite and make FMCG companies accountable for the effects of their products on human health.
Open Society Initiative for West Africa ‘Research Report on the State of Consumer Protection In Nigeria: A Review of Consumer protection in the Telecommunications sector in Nigeria’ (January 2014) http://www.consumersinternational.org/media/1532727/consumer-protection-in-nigeria-research-report-eng.pdf
Jyoti Pradhan and Dr. Devi Prasad Misra, ‘Measuring Customer Based brand equities of FMCGs in Indian Rural Markets-An Empirical Study’ http://www.ijbmi.org/papers/Vol%283%291/Version-1/H03101051062.pdf
Ebitu Ezekiel Tom, ‘Consumer Rights, Consumer Protection and Public Policy in Nigeria: A Critical Review’ http://www.ccsenet.org/journal/index.php/ibr/article/view/42610