Consumer Protection Council (CPC), is obliged with the responsibilty of protecting Nigerian consumers from exploitation and hazardous products. Director General of Consumer Protection Council ( CPC ), Barr Babatunde Irukera speaks with John Okekwu and Mary Amodu on creating better solutions for the needs of Nigerian consumers.
I am Barr Babatunde Irukera, The Director General of Consumer Protection Council. An indigene of Egbe, Yagba West L.GA, married with kids and a graduate of law. While growing up, because of my love for airplane, I thought of becoming a pilot, as time went on, I took interest in acting, then surprisingly, through guidance and counseling I discovered myself then took a decision to study Law.
I attended University of Ife, Nigeria (1989), were I obtained my degree in Law and admitted to practise in the Supreme Court of Nigeria in 1990. Later got admitted to the Washington State Bar (1996). Then I was made to head the commercial litigation and competition teams in SimmonsCooper Partners (SCP).
I must say, my university days was fun as a Law student while looking forward to when I will start practicing as a Lawyer. The realities of being a lawyer are different from idealism that motivates when you are a student, but I feel I have stayed true to my desire and the calling of being a lawyer. Am an active member of both the Nigerian Bar Association and American Bar Association, spent my entire legal career in Nigeria and the U.S, then plaintiff employment lawyer representing minorities and vulnerable people against large corporations in Nigeria, holding large companies accountable for their products and conduct.
How did you receive the news of your appointment?
It took me by Surprise I must confess, although I am familiar with the consumer rights and protection terrain.
What are the functions of Consumer Protection Agency?
Essentially, the CPC’s role is exactly what the name says, protect consumers from exploitation, hazardous products, educate them about their rights, and provide remedies when those rights are violated
What is your agency doing to help consumers add value to their money?
First, we are working on how we can restrict sub-standard products in the market. Recently, I held a meeting with companies, associations so that we can have a regulatory approach from a standard policy which we both mutually agreed. This is to ensure that the consumer protection council do not come to police or wreck anyone, but coming to an understanding on what is appropriate, fair and how to treat consumers best by making sure the manufacturers are accountable to them.
CPC is encouraging the manufacturers to also create their own mechanism for addressing consumer issues. The biggest way to get the consumers is not in complains we get but how we resolve those complains is the work we do, this equips us with service supply while ensuring they are brought to the barest minimum. That is the key focus. I also held a meeting with key food beverages association where we agreed on a joint working committee on what should be their compensation policy in their industry alert for sub-standard products to consumers that is to create a satisfactory approach to remedy.
For instance, in a case where you find a foreign object in a drink which in one way or the other caused reaction to a customer, in issues like this, we try to create an understanding on fashioning out the industry where they would be mandated to pay a stipulated amounts as compensation.
What is your agency doing to regulate the high cost of commodity in the Country?
The consumer protection council (CPC) is not a pricing authority. Many times pricing is really a matter of supply and demand. Is a very complex economic analysis and because Nigeria is a free market. However, the provision in our law states that the pricing mechanism is done as a measure of exploitation or an unscrupulous manner. Each sector regulator has a role to play in creating, implementing, policing and maintaining standard in violation of laws, because they apparently overlap. What we do is, we leverage on what our strengths and provision of law in our agency and provision of law in their agency and work on it.
What are the Measures put in place to authenticate products?
The biggest department in the Consumer Protection Council (CPC) is the surveillance department which scrutinize and do some investigative gatherings. We also have a number of tools we use, like intelligence and information alert mechanism. We also have some other agencies like Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON) whose infrastructural roles are tailored in such areas, so we collaborate with them. Ofcos, we can wave the fact that the Nigeria market seems to be in a dilenma, reason being that consumers most times don’t have value for their money, even original brand producers are short changed and also the Nigeria manufacturers.
One of the things we considering are confiscation and prevention of sub-substandard products and also initiate a new regulation that will address the issue.
What is your take on the view that your agency and SON are doing the same thing?
That’s actually a mix up from people but the concept of Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and Consumer Protection Council ( CPC), they actually do not perform thesame role but there are overlaps. The primary role SON is to create standards, implement those standards and periodically review those standards. While CPC stands on the existing standards. So the fact that you have manufactured something up to standard you do not have a problem with SON and SON does not have any problem with you.
Whereas, in Consumer Protection even if you manufacture a product today, if that product causes problem like cohesion in the market between the manufacturer and wholesaler to restrict sales over-price, then we take actions. Basically, CPC are for end- users.
Is there any medium by your agency where complains are channeled?
Sure, we have a portal on the website and so far, the response has been huge but we also looking forward to expand the structure so that the portal can accommodate more users and easily accessed.
What are the measures to identify other consumables ?
There are some tools, some of which are perform by NAFDAC, SON and others. Recently we conducted an investigation where the target was on products that were reported to be fake and aint our products . One of the things we are using is “badge” to ensure the numbers are traceable.
Presently, we are working on improving traceability mechanism with companies and also considering a number of different technological solutions that can be easily scan through codes and confirms by sms or online to confirm the legislation of the produce.
During my research I discovered that you were an aspirant in 2015 election, what inspired your political career and do you intend to re-contest?
Well my approach to political office is slightly different. What inspired me at that time was my will and ambition to build a team that will provide solutions and help Kogi address some of the critical developmental issues. I did came up with a plan where I took it upon myself to travel across the 21 LGAs and then, I saw the need to contest which was an opportunity to really serve and inspire hope to the people, expand, share prosperity among them and promote the Kogi brand both in human and natural resource which we are blessed with.
If am still going to contest, that’s an open question.
Do I want to serve my people or do I want to be served? Oh yes!!! Most of my legal career is fighting for peoples right, consumers right etc. So whether is a political office or my court room all I want to spend my life doing is fighting, advocating and protecting people. If docks line up the right way, serving the people of Kogi State will become practicable.
Has your Appointment derrain your plans for your profession?
In reality, success is a journey not a destination. I am grateful to God, I have been successful in the courtroom and with my job it has been an addition for me
How do you intend to make impact in Kogi State?
Part of my plans is to set up an office in Kogi State. Regarding reaching all, I am already preparing my advocacy plan to the FGN and NASS that Nigeria’s greatest asset is not oil, but it’s people and market, so it’s vital that the protector of that market is accessible to all. If the National Orientation Agency(NOA) can have an office in every LGA, why can’t CPC? We Are advocating this all the way to the very top.
Away from your career, how did you meet your wife?
I met my wife during my National Youth Service Corp( NYSC) in Lagos camp though she didn’t give me much attention until 2years later. I must say, our courtship was purposeful in sense that I knew she was the person i was going to spend the rest of my life with so i worked towards it.