Fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) are products that are sold quickly and at relatively low cost. Examples include non-durable goods such as packaged foods, beverages, toiletries, over-the-counter drugs and many other consumables.
The value and importance the FMCG sector plays in the daily life of every Nigerian places a huge responsibility on the government for effective governance and regulation of the sector. The government’s role, apart from creating a conducive business environment, is also to protect consumers by regulating market activities. In furtherance of this objective, the following agencies were established: the Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON), the Consumer Protection Council and the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). We will now examine the roles and responsibilities of these agencies as well as their effectiveness or otherwise in achieving their objectives:
1. The Standards Organisation of Nigeria: The Standards Organization of Nigeria was established by Act No. 14 2015(as amended). The main objectives of SON are to:
- provide assurance to Nigerian consumers on products and guarantee value for money;
- ensure effective control of non-complying products in the Nigerian Markets;
- promote a level playing field in the market for both locally manufactured and imported products and to
- protect genuine manufacturers and importers from product adulteration by ensuring that only certified products are in the markets in the long run.
Consequently, the duties of SON include: evaluation of quality assurance by the certification of systems, products and laboratories throughout Nigeria; the establishment of a “Standards Organization of Nigeria Conformity Assessment Program (SONCAP)” to ensure that all products imported are up to the expected standards. Furthermore, the Organisation under the amended Act has been empowered to impose fees, fines or penalties on a person who contravenes any regulation of the agency.
2. The Consumer Protection Council was established under Chapter C25, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 (as amended) and is committed to protecting and enhancing consumers’ interest through information, education and enforcement of appropriate standards for goods and services and to promote an environment of fair and ethical trade practices. The Consumer Protection Council is the government agency responsible for protecting consumers from unwholesome practices and assisting them in seeking redress for unscrupulous practices and exploitation. The agency encourages trade, industry and professional associations to develop and enforce quality standards designed to safeguard the interest of the consumer.
3. The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) was established by Decree 19 of 1999 (as amended) under the Federal Ministry of Health. It is responsible for regulating and controlling the manufacture, importation, exportation, advertisement, distribution, sale and use of food, drugs, cosmetics, medical devices, chemicals and packaged water.
NAFDAC ensures appropriate tests are conducted and compliance with standard specifications are maintained for the effective control of the quality of food, bottled water and the raw materials as well as the safeguarding of the production processes in factories and other establishments. The Agency undertakes appropriate investigations into production premises and raw materials for food and establishes relevant quality assurance systems including certification of the production sites. The role of the agency also includes the inspection of imported food facilities, to ascertain relevant quality assurance systems necessary for certification of the imported food product.
The above agencies play a major role in protecting the Nigerian consumers. This was evident between April 2001 and December 2004, when counterfeit products (drugs, food, cosmetics, medical devices, chemicals, and water including variety of drinks) valued at over N8.0b (US$60 million) were seized and destroyed in Nigeria by the NAFDAC thereby reducing the incidence of counterfeit medicines to 15.7% from 40%.
Effective the 1st of February, 2018, the Standards Organisation of Nigeria introduced a Product Authentication Mark (PAM) aimed at checking locally produced items and imported products. This is a sticker with security features and quick response code, which can be scanned by a smart phone. It is applied on each product to ensure traceability and demonstrate their conformity to approved standards.
This new certification introduced by SON is a commendable development. However, what effect would this new introduction be expected to produce? Currently, we have the mandatory conformity assessment certification for locally manufactured goods and a certification for exports but not much difference is evident in the standard of goods in current circulation.
For example, attempts were made to export 72 tonnes of yam to the United States of America (US) in June 2017, but this shipment was rejected by the United States government because the yam were found to be rotten upon arrival in the US. Also, when the Volkswagen emission incident occurred in 2016, it took the Consumer Protection Council approximately two months to address the issue.
Admittedly, there are laws in place and the attempts by the government to curb these practices are laudable. But more needs to be done to ensure the enforcement of laws, preservation and transportation of both perishable and non-perishable consumer goods. As stated earlier, the activities of NAFDAC within a five-year period showed a drastic drop in the incidents involving fake medicines, but as time passed and the agency slacked its vigilance, the incidence of counterfeit and substandard medicines has again flooded the market by an unprecedented 64% increase.
The delay and cumbersome process to seek legal redress, the associated cost and the overlap of duties that exist with some agencies as well as the delay of the agencies to address complains has left consumers discouraged from seeking redress.
Enforcement of these laws and addressing infrastructural issues cannot solely be a reaction to a specific incident neither can there be a period of relaxation when it comes to its enforcement. It has to be a continuous activity to ensure that the lives which are at stake are constantly protected. In addition to effective implementation of the extant laws, the affected agencies should also review and effectively address consumer complaints. It could be suggested that a single consumer protection and enforcement of rights agency with multifaceted functions of dealing with every type of consumer complaints should be established in order to curtail the duplicity of functions that currently exist and encourage consumer participation.
The implementation of the consumer protection laws, the product authentication mark and the Nigerian quality mark are laudable attempts at consumer protection. However, beyond the enactment and implementation of consumer protection laws and policies, the Federal Government needs to be more proactive in terms of consumer education, public enlightenment on acceptable standards and consumer participation. Furthermore, apart from sensitization of the general public, some of the laws currently in use require amendment in order to meet current realities that obtain within the FMCG sector.