Consumer Rights Day: Stakeholders lament poor protection for consumers in the digital age

By ADEJUWON OSUNNUYI

With the rate at which the world is fast embracing various digital platforms for business transactions, experts have expressed concerns over the near lack of protection Nigerian consumers are facing especially in the light of fraudulent activities as well as which online services and products to trust and what happens to the data they share online.

That we are now in the age where Facebook, Instagram and other digital communication platforms have taken over our normal visual markets cannot be overemphasized as consumers now prefer to use the online platform to transact business.

Speaking at the consumer summit put together by the Brand Journalists Association of Nigeria, BJAN as part of activities marking the 2017 World Consumer Right Day, with the theme, “Consumers Right in a Digital Age,” which was adapted from this year’s global theme ‘Building a Digital World Consumer Can Trust” experts called on consumers across the country to always make conscious and consistent efforts to understand the power of digital platform in order to protect themselves.

According to them, in the absence of governmental legislation protecting them, individuals must take the responsibility of equipping themselves on all right issues to enhance their protection as they must take pains to study details like product/ service reviews, contents e.t.c to monitor various trends if they must note any harmful intent or when they are unduly exploited.

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The speakers observed that with the poor level of awareness among average consumers, on the full strength and impact the digital platform can create in their lives, most consumers are basically helpless and defenceless against a huge, relentless and highly sophisticated onslaught from the digital world.

They noted that while there is absence of adequate legislative frameworks to protect consumers in the cyberspace, the total absence of any effective enforcement framework to protect the rights of consumers from any digital onslaught; aggrieved consumers only vent their grievances and move on instead of exploring avenues to seek redress to their complaints.

According to them, most digital organisations and managers, because of the loose protective framework in the digital space, have become extremely daring as they now engage the market in fewer, cautious ways and have promptly set aside the age-long practice of self- regulation.

In his paper, Mr. David Okeme, Chief Marketing Officer, Systemspecs/Remita, who was the lead speaker on the occasion, said the world of digital is so sophisticated that consumers must also be informed because “a lot of fraud is happening as a result of digital age.”

Okeme added that despite the fact that there are no legal protections against encroachment of consumers rights in Nigeria, consumers have to take every measure of protection.

He urged government, regulatory agencies, organisations to develop a regulatory framework that will aid consumers protection in the digital space.

Speaking in the same vein, Kayode Oluwasona, President, Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN) said consumers needed to be taught how to use digital and understand digital in order to be relevant in digital age, adding that AAAN is a responsible association that is self regulatory protecting the interest of the consumers.

According to Kayode Olagesin, Managing Director, Town Crier, “the responsibility primarily falls on the consumers to protect themselves against any digital fraud or other forms of abuse.”

All the experts agreed that adequate legislation and enforcement frameworks should be put in place to protect consumers from abuse in the cyberspace.

Goddie Ofose, Chairman, BJAN; Alhaji Bello Graba Kankarofi, Registrar/CEO, APCON; Sola Salako, President/Founder, CAFON; David Okeme, CMO, Systemspecs/Remita and Kayode Olagesin, MD, TownCrier at the Consumer Rights Day in Lagos, recently

They said that all stakeholders’ must unite, agree and establish a code of behaviours and standards that will guide all major activities in the cyberspace.

They added that instead of focusing on individuals championing consumer protectionism, institutions and systemic processes were advocated if consumer rights are to be entrenched and sustained.

Earlier, in his welcome remark, Mr. Goddie Ofose, BJAN Chairman, the symposium which is the fifth edition is the association’s decision in joining the rest of the world in celebrating the consumers and to deepen discussions on issues affecting consumers with particular focus on the plight of consumers in Nigeria.

Ofose noted that the World Consumer Rights Day (WCRD) which was started in 1983 is an awareness day observed on March 15 globally with the objective of instigating action among citizens for the international consumer movement.

He noted that in line with this year’s theme, Consumers Right in a Digital Age, while consumers undoubtedly benefit from increased access, choice and convenience that technologies deliver, questions that have continued to beg for answers are how to improve the quality of services, which online service consumers can trust, what happens to the data they share online and what are consumers right in relation to digital products/platforms.

“Presently, over 40% of the world population is now online compared with just 1% in 1995. In 2015, online retail sales generated $1.55 trillion. Research has revealed that while the telephone took 75 years to reach 50m people, Facebook took only one year and Instagram took just six months.

“No doubt, while technologies have brilliantly been helping people in every field, creating many new benefits including better communication, access to information and greater choice and convenience, we still need to ask ourselves, how safe are consumers ?” he submitted.

Notable practitioners and experts at the symposium include Alhaji Bello Kankarofi, Registrar/CEO of Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON), David Okeme, CMO, Systemspecs/Remita, Kayode Olagesin MD, Towncrier and Kayode Oluwasona, President AAAN, while Sola Salako, President and Founder, Consumer Advocacy Foundation of Nigeria CAFON) was the moderator.

The BJAN Consumer day is organized annually to bring together seasoned analysts, experts, and regulators to create a convergence of views on how the consumer can be truly treated as king.

It provides the platform for Nigerian consumers to ventilate their views on issues they face and highlight various shades of thoughts, ideas and suggestions on ways those challenges can be tackled or prevented while stirring up passion for data compilation and researches that will equip all stakeholders with accurate information that will help ensure that consumer rights are respected and protected.

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