Consumer rights protection: what the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) needs to learn from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC)

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Introduction

The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority is the apex regulatory body for aviation in the country while the Nigerian Communications Commission is its counterpart for the telecommunications industry. Both regulatory agencies of government are involved in regulating two of the most vital industries in the country with the daunting task of ensuring that these industries provide the quality of service that those who pay for it deserve. While there is a general culture of flagrant abuse of consumer rights in the country due to various reasons ranging from poor legislative framework for consumer protection, consumer apathy and unawareness, amongst others; the trend seems to be changing for the better especially with the telecommunications sector. There is a sign of hope that business is no longer as usual in the industry.

Some laudable steps by the NCC

Like a sleeping giant awakened by the sound of war, the NCC seems to have risen up to the challenge of regulating the biggest telecoms market in Africa. Indeed this is overdue as the Nigerian telecom consumer has been the victim of massive exploitation by service providers and until very recently, the consumer was actually at the mercy of the service providers who took full advantage of the regulatory lapses in the industry to rip off consumers while providing sub-standard services and making huge profits at the detriment of the consumer. The last one year has witnessed a tremendous revolution in the regulatory style of the NCC and some of the proactive steps taken by the Commission deserve mention.

First is the ban on promotions by the service providers since November, 2012. This has brought a lot of sanity to the market as consumers are able to make choices based on quality of service and information rather than just being victims of promotional gimmicks which the service providers hitherto used to lure consumers to their networks. Most of the promotions were actually very suspicious and dubious. There was a case of standing the chance to win an aircraft by one service provider for recharging your phone with up to N3000 within the 90 days of the promo. A winner was actually alleged to have emerged but the credibility of the report remains very doubtful and considered by many Nigerians as a scam. There was no televised presentation of the prize which would usually be the case with such a high profile event. Only doubtful media reports alleging that the winner was contacted via facebook. Although the ban still stands, most of the service providers have resumed various forms of promos to woo consumers especially with the introduction of mobile number portability MNP.

The second action of the NCC worthy of mention is the reduction in the charges for short message service (aka text message). The NCC, after due consultations, evaluation and analysis issued a direction on the 3rd of January, 2013 to all telcos to reduce the charges for sms from N10 to N4 which amounts to a 60% reduction in the amount charged with a one month deadline. Since 4th of February, 2013, consumers have enjoyed the new tariff for national text messages sent across all networks. This shows the level of exploitation that telcos have been involved in for providing services that fall far below international standards.

The climax of the regulatory revolution that has swept across the Nigerian telecoms industry is the recent introduction of mobile number portability in the country. This service allows a consumer to switch from one network to another while retaining their old numbers. This is one area where consumers have been held to ransom since the introduction of GSM services in the country. Many subscribers were forced to stick with their original service providers because of their contact numbers which they felt the need to maintain for convenience and consistency. This left many subscribers opting for more than one service provider due to the poor service rendered by the telcos such that they are not stranded at any point in time. MNP has changed the face of competition in the industry while forcing service providers to focus on quality of service which should be the main attraction for the consumer. MTN is reported to be the biggest looser of subscribers while Etisalat is the biggest gainer since the introduction of MNP.

Conclusion

The NCC has taken several other steps to monitor and sanction erring service providers with various fines for infractions and this has helped to boost the quality of service delivery in the industry. While the NCC must not rest on its oars, this is a good point to commend the Commission for rising to occasion and protecting the interest of the telecom consumers. It is hoped that with the trend, Nigeria will become a haven for telecom investment as the market remains very attractive with huge potentials waiting to be explored. It is on this note that a clarion call is going to the NCAA to adopt the regulatory style of its counterpart for the aviation industry. No doubt the major challenge with the industry is the huge capital that it requires to operate smoothly. However, this is not connected with the quality of service provided to the flying public. Basic ethics and professionalism must be the hallmark of aviation services. Consumers must be well catered for where their flights are delayed and refunds must be feasible where flights are cancelled or where the passenger missed he flight due to the fault of the airline staff or its agents. There is a new passenger bill of rights by the NCAA which seeks to protect the interest of the airline passenger. Nigeria has had fewer problems of policy formation and legislation and mostly a problem of implementation. Time will tell if the NCAA is actually up to its task of regulation as the flying public have been subjected to gross ill-treatment for years without any plausible solution.

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