Against the backdrop of the recently celebrated World Consumer Rights Day (WCRD), Nigeria’s telecom regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has reaffirmed its commitment to protecting the over 60 million unique telecoms consumers in the country. SAMSON AKINTARO reports
Nigeria recently joined the rest of the world to mark the 2021 World Consumer Rights Day (WCRD), a day, which is celebrated every March 15, to raise global awareness about consumer rights and needs. With over 60 million unique subscribers and over 200 million active subscriptions, the telecommunications sector is, no doubt, one of the sectors with the largest consumers in Nigeria today. It was, therefore, not surprising when the regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), marked the consumer day in grand style with a renewed commitment to the consumers’ protection. This year’s theme of the celebration, “Tackling Plastic Pollution,” underscores the need to protect consumers against the adverse effects of plastic wastes being generated from their consumptions. According to the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, the theme spoke to the centrality of the regulator’s efforts at addressing electronic wastes from mobile phones, most of which components are plastics.
Protection against plastic wastes
Speaking during the event, Danbatta said the telecoms regulator was mindful of the fact that many ICT and telecom devices have plastic components, whose waste materials could worsen plastic pollution. He said: “We reckon that improper disposal of such disused ICT plasticembedded products has a grave implication on public health and, especially in achieving Goals 11, 12, and 13 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030. “These goals speak to the imperative of adhering to practices that enhance Sustainable Cities and Communities, Responsible Consumption and Production, as well as Climate Action respectively.” The EVC said the objective of the regulation was to manage e-waste; promote reuse, recycling and other forms of recovery; improve the environmental management system of operators in the telecom industry and reduce greenhouse emissions as well as enhance sustainable development efforts. He added that the Commission, worried by the recurrent cycle of fraudulent deployment of fake and substandard mobile devices – usually made of iron and plastic components – had collaborated with the Office of the National Security Adviser and other relevant government agencies to inaugurate a committee to implement Mobile Devices Management Systems (DMS). “This initiative is designed as a public-private partnership aimed at combating the proliferation of fake, counterfeit, substandard and cloned communication devices in the telecommunications industry. “The expected result of this initiative is that only genuine materials malleable to enduring usage are available for consumer use. “The Commission also implemented a strict type-approval process that ensures all equipment used in the telecommunications industry are of a suitable standard, both for the good of the consumers and for the preservation of our environment,” he said.
The Nigerian Communications Act 2003 enjoins the commission to protect the interest of consumers. This, Danbatta said, the Commission had done religiously, through subsidiary legislations, guidelines and directions that proactively address consumer concerns and stipulate responsibilities of all stakeholders. “We had made declarations to curtail excesses of some operators and to expand the frontiers of freedom for the consumers. Warnings had been handed out and fines have been imposed on erring operators. Determinations have also been made by the Commission to ensure consumers are neither shortchanged nor denied their privileges and rights. “The NCC demonstrated the foregoing to reveal the extent it could go to defend and protect the interests of telecom consumers and to successively restate its commitment to its ethos of fairness, firmness and forthrightness – the doctrinal tripod of its regulatory mandate.” He added that Commission had ensured full compliance with Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) cards registration guidelines by the service providers and telecom consumers. “This is to ensure proper registration to stop the use of improperly-registered SIMs, which usage is difficult to track. Having a credible subscriber database helps in tracing a SIM card to the real owner in case of any criminal investigation. This will help in curbing the painful rise in the tempo of kidnapping, robberies, banditry and similar crimes committed with the aid of the use of SIM cards,” he said. “We have made arrests and pros-ecutions in the past in this regard and through this effort, we have been able to sanitise the telecoms ecosystem of improperly-registered SIM cards that pose threat to national security. It is therefore pertinent to say that the linking of SIM and National Identity Number (NIN) database will further help us in this direction toward protecting the consumers and all citizens at large. In this regard, the Commission wishes to echo the voice of Mr. President by thanking all telecom subscribers for their understanding and co-operation in the on-going SIM-NIN harmonisation exercise,” he added.
Addressing consumer issues
According to Danbatta, between 2019 and 2020, the Commission had resolved a total of 11,288 telecommunication consumer issues. This, according to him, represents 99.1 per cent of the total complaints received within the period, which stood at 11,327. While the consumers are to first register their complaints with their service providers, unresolved issues are escalated to the regulators for resolution. “Thousands of complaints have been received from consumers and escalated by the Commission to service providers for quick resolution to the satisfaction of affected consumers. In our latest report, of the 11,327 genuine consumer complaints received through the 622 between 2019 and 2020, 11,288 which translates to 99.1 per cent, have been successfully resolved,” the EVC said. Danbatta added that the Commission has also reviewed the Consumer Complaint categories and Service Level Agreement (CC/SLA). “The CC/SLA provides complaints categories, the timelines for resolving complaints and prescribes penalties for defaulting operators. This has ensured quantifiable improvements in consumer complaint management process by the operators,” he said. The EVC said the Commission, in keeping with global best practice of digital public communication for information and complaints management, has continued to leverage social media platforms of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube, to inform and educate consumers and to use them as its complaints channels. In addition, the NCC Consumer Web Portal serves as an alternative online channel for lodging complaints and making inquiries. He added that the specially created tollfree number 622 and DND shortcode 2442, have been very active, noting that they are emplaced respectively to enable consumers escalate unresolved complaints earlier reported to service providers and to manage unsolicited messages.
Consumers’ interest is key
For Danbatta, the regulator exists because there are consumers in the industry, hence, its regulations will be geared towards their protection. “I wish to reiterate that all activities of the Commission are designed to give assurance to the consumers that their interests are of paramount importance to the Commission. This is because without the telecom consumers, there will be no telecom operators and there would be no regulator. “Therefore, we seize this opportunity to assure millions of telecom consumers across the country that the Commission will not rest on its oars until the challenges of telecoms consumers have been reduced to the barest minimum. “Suffice it to say that NCC uses the occasion of this year’s World Consumer Rights Day to restate its commitment to protecting, informing and educating the telecoms consumer. “We call this our PIE Mandate to the consumers, which embodies our philosophical commitment to strengthening all our consumer-centric initiatives and policies,” he said. Earlier in his remark, the Executive Commissioner, Stakeholders Management at NCC, Adeleke Adewolu, said as a consumer-centric organisation, NCC aligned with all visions that call attention to concerns about consumer rights and the need to secure them, because the prosperity of any business or service takes life from its consumers and stakeholders. “In 2017, NCC expressed unequivocal commitment to the centrality of the telecom consumer in the telecom ecosystem by declaring that year as Year of the Telecom Consumers. Before then and after, we have been unwavering in our commitment to the primacy of the consumer in the architecture of telecommunications industry in Nigeria. For this reason, NCC has received many awards and we will not rest on our oars,” he said.
ICAF lauds regulator
Also speaking at the event, the Chairman of the Industry Consumer Advisory Forum (ICAF), Prince Ighoovie Majemite, commended the telecoms regulator for its efforts at protecting the consumers in all its regulatory decisions. “Over the years, NCC had created a veritable enabling environment for a robust telecommunication industry that speaks to good customer experience. NCC’s steadfastness in protection of the industry and consumers rights and privileges are not compromised,” he said. He said ICAF as an advisory forum had been working hand in hand with the Commission and had offered many solutions, which had been implemented by the regulator. Some of the solutions, according to him, include DND, porting of phone lines and unused data rollover, among others.
The telecoms regulator has, no doubt, demonstrated that the consumer is at the heart of its existence. However, more still needs to be done to ensure prompt resolution of consumer issues and ensure better protection of the consumers against abuses from service providers.