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CONSUMER PROTECTION AND TELECOOMMUNICATIONS SERVICES IN NIGERIA


Project topic for Law department

CHAPTER ONE

1.0       INTRODUCTION AND Definition OF terms

General Introduction

In today’s world where science and technology reign supreme, telecommunications have been identified as the bed-rock of socio-economic, cultural and political development. It is at the threshold of all human existence and modem civilization. Technological advancement especially on the area telecommunications has remained the cutting-edge that the world’s civilized nation have over others. And this is shown in their strong commitment and reliance on the development of the sector.

The telecommunications industry has been accepted as an essential infrastructure that promotes the development of other sectors such as the agriculture, education, industry, health, banking, defense, transportation and tourism. None of these can effectively operate without telecommunications. Hence, in order to be relevant in the new millennium and beyond, many nations of the world have shown great commitment to telecommunications development Nigeria in fact is not left out in this global quest, as it has recently embraced several steps towards development of its telecommunication sector in paicu1ar and the communications industry in general. Instances that readily come to mind include:

the liberalization of the telecommunications industry [1] through the establishment of the Nigerian Communications Commission (Ncc) [2];

the adoption of the Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) [3], which serves as a viable alternative to the then analog System (NITEL);

 Investment into satellite technology [4] etc.

However, it is unfortunate that the sector which had shown great promise for success, has today failed to realize the level of efficiency expected of it. Instead, the horrible woe of Consumers of telecommunications services in Nigeria has reached an unbearable height.
Consequently, has tended to undermine the efforts of successive government to attain socio- economic emancipation. Telecommunication industry in Nigeria there fore, could without mincing words be described as one largely plagued by high rate of inefficiency
[5]exploitation [6] unsatisfactory service delivery and poor customer management.

Today also, protection of consumers of goods and services has been identified as being
imperative to socio-economic emancipation and technological transformation Thus no modern nation which is serious in its developmental agenda could ignore its telecommunications sector. The above concerns therefore make this work (which examines the level of legal and institutional protections available to Consumers of telecommunications services in Nigerian), very essential. coming at a time when the nation is in her desperate match to economic development
[7] under the current transformational agenda of the Federal Government [8]

Generally, this study examines the complex issue of consumer protection in Nigeria with particular reference to Consumers of GSM telecommunication, services. Emphasis is placed on understanding such questions as, what rights inhere on these consumers, what liability attach to the service providers and what the role of the relevant stakeholders are in protecting the Nigeria Consumers Information for this work is derived from the available literature, as well as important researches conducted by authoritative government and agencies locally and internationally. The study reveals that consumers’ awareness of existing laws and agencies meant for Consumer protection in Nigeria is rather too low.

The only explanation for these is ignorant on the part of consumers and poor awareness
creation and commitment on the part of the regulatory agencies. The direct consequence of this is
minimal (if not total absence) enforcement of consumer rights against the service’s providers. At
the end, this study make such recommendations, among other ones, for an intensified consumer education and enlightenment as the most strategic method for improvement of the situation.

the end, this study makes such recommendations among other ones, for an intensified consumer education and enlightenment as the most strategic method for improvement Of the Situation.

Definition of Terms

Consumer

Definitions make for clarity. To achieve this clarity often times simple questions maybe asked. On this direction therefore, it is pertinent to ask the question ‘who is a consumer? The term ‘consumer’ has been variously defined by scholars and researchers alike. There is however, no agreement on a straight-cut definition of the term [9]. While some restrict the term to contractua1 relationships others prefers an extended meaning that includes corporations, ultimate users and persons who lawfully comes in contact with a product or services as consumer 
The Chamber English, Dictionary, defines the tem as “one who consumes as opposed to a producer; one who uses an article produced”
[10]

The Osborne ‘s Concise Law Dictionary, on its own, defines it as “a person to and from whom goods or services are or ought to be supplied in the course of a business carried on by the  supplied and who does not receive them on the course of business carried by him. [11]”               The Black’s Law Dictionary defines a consumer as:

One who consumes, individuals who purchase, use, maintain and dispose of products and services, users of the final product: a member of a broad class of people who is affected by a pricing policies, financing practices, quality of goods and services, credit reporting, debt collection, and other trade practices of which the state and general consumer protection laws are enacted. It also defined the term as a buyer of any consumer product; any person to whom such products is transferred during the duration of an implied or written warranty applicable to the product, any other person who is entitled by the terms of such warranty or under applicable state laws to enforce against the warrantor the obligations of the warranty. [12]

There are some statutory definitions of the term consumer. For instance, the Consumer Protection Council Act [13]defines it as “an individual who purchase, uses, maintains or disposes of products or services.

The Fair Trading Act of 1973 (UK) [14]states that a consumer means; any person who is either:

a person to whom goods are supplied or sought to be supplied (whether by way of sale or otherwise) in the course of business carried on by the person supplying or seeking to supply them; or

a person for whom services are sought to be supplied in the course of a business carried on by the person supplying or seeking to supply them, and who does not receive or seek to receive the goods or services in the course of business carried on by him.

Again, legal scholars have made attempts in defining the term “consumer”. Aaker and Day [15] for instance, equate the term consumer with citizens and made a deliberate reference to the area of service. According to them, “consumer interest is involved whenever citizens enter exchange relationships with institutions like hospitals, libraries, the police force and various government agencies, as well as with businesses.”

Shichffman and Kanu [16] defines the consumer in two different groups, namely:

the personal consumer, and (2) the organizational consumer. According to them,
the personal consumer is the individual who buys goods and services for her own use, for the use of the household or for just one member of the household, or even as a gift for a friend. The organizational consumers are all who buy products, equipments and services in order to run their organizations, whether for profit or non-profit. It encompasses private business, government agencies and institutions.

It is pertinent to observe that in all the above definitions, there is a common reference to such terms as “end, final or ultimate users” of goods and services. With apparent references to private business and government institutions as consumers in their own right.

There are judicial decisions over the years in favour of an extended definition of the term
“Consumer”. The landmark decision of Lord Atkins in the case of Donoghue v. Stevenson
[17]historically favours this approach. So also, did the decision in Gra,it v. 4ustF-(,lja,1 Knitting Mill [18]following the former. Moreover, the decision in Stenneit V. Hancor and Peters [19]concerning a contract of service was that a repairer of a lorry-wheel is in the same position as a manufacturer of product. Therefore, like the manufacturer, he owes a duty of care to anyone who may come in contact with his product or services, as to be liable to that same person should injury result there-of. The learned writer Monye also shares a view in line with these landmarks.

cases. According to her explanations, the term includes ‘contractual consumers; ultimate users as well as anybody who lawfully comes in contact with a product or service’ [20]
In this light therefore, it is safe to conclude that the cloth of “‘who a consumer is” is comprehensive enough to cover all persons within the exchange of value for goods or services, including telecommunications services.

Therefore a consumer of telecommunications services for the purpose of this work includes anyone who purchases, subscribes or uses telecommunications equipments, services, or otherwise comes in due contact with them.

1.2.2 Consumer Rights

All over the world today, the consumer has been recognized as possessing some basic rights in his very simple capacity as consumer of products and services. The term ‘right’ has been defined as ‘something due to a person by just claim, legal guarantee or moral principal; a legally enforceable claim that another will do or will not do a given act, a recognized and protected interest the violation of which is a wrong’ [21].

Salmon [22]conceives the term as ‘an interest or benefit recognized by law’, while Hart [23]describes it as being ‘essentially protected choices’. Here, we conceive ‘consumer rights’ as those legitimate claims of Consumers as well as to demand satisfaction for those claims or
Compe1satjon in defaults.

It ispertinent to note that order words, the existence the concept of right goes hand in hand with obligation or acquisition of a right presupposes the acquisition or Some liabilities Throughout this work, we prefer to use the word liability to obligation Liability has been defined as ‘the quality or state of being legally obligated or accountable’. It connotes legal responsibility to a person or to society, enforceable by civil remedy or criminal punishment Judicial interpretations have also helped Our understanding of the term liability. In the case of Fidelity Coal Co. v. Diamond [24]were held to mean “the state of one who is bound in law and justice to do something which may be enforced by legal action”

In Union  Oil Co. of California  v. Basalt Rock Co, [25] the court stated that liability means ‘a condition whichcreates a duty to perform an act immediately therefore that with relation to products and services, liabilityrefers engaged in the provision of products or services owed to any person or property by legitimate Contact with the product or services.

1.2.3 Consumer Protection

 Consumer protection is generally a concept that involves protecting consumer from unsafe or fraudulent products and services The Concept of consumer protection sterns first from the belief that consumers possess some basic rights expressly or impliedly recognized by law. Secondly,

from the fact that these consumers stand more often than not on a more vulnerable ground for exploitation than the producers and providers of services. Many consumers may not understand the technical components and technological involvements in some products or services. These factors therefore highlight the need for proper protection of consumers.

The Osborne ‘s concise law dictionary defines the phrase “consumer protection” as “legislation. which protects the interest of consumers.” [26] This definition, Monye points out as being clearly restrictive, as it excludes other forms of protection, which are not statutory, such as protection by judiciary, trade associations and other voluntary consumer organizations. [27]

The Encyclopedia Americana defines consumer protection as “safeguarding the buying public from dangerous or inferior goods and services and from fraudulent and other unfair selling practices.” [28] This definition is, however, not comprehensive. It has been shown that a consumer goes beyond the notion of buyers. Thus, any definition which confines consumer protection to the buyer is not appropriate.

Monyeon her own gives a broad definition of consumer protection. She said: “the act of
safeguarding the interests of the consumer in matters relating to the supply of goods and services,
fraudulent and hazardous practices as well as environmental degradation.”
[29]

1.2.4 Telecommunications or Telecommunications Services

‘Telecommunications’ and ‘Telecommunications services’ do not entirely mean the same, but non-the-less refers to one and the same thing. The later acquires an extended meaning that goes to explain its nature, while the former is commonly used in the communications industry, and is particularly favoured among consumers and consumer advocacy groups while the former is commonly used in the communications industry.

The Oxford Advanced Dictionary defines the term telecommunications as “the technology of sending signals, images and massages over long distances by radio, telephone, television, telegram, satellite, etc.” [30]

The Telecommunications Act of South Africa [31]defines “telecommunications” to mean;

the emission, transmission or reception of a signal from one point to another by means of electricity, magnetism, radio or other electromagnetic waves, or any agency of a like nature, whether with or without the aid of tangible conductors’. While it also defines “telecommunication service” as ‘any service provided by means of a telecommunication system.
The U.S. Communications Act of 1934 and Telecommunications Act of 1996
[32]defines ‘Telecommunications’ as “transmission, between or among points specified by the user, of information of the user’s choosing, without change in the form or content of the information as sent and received.” It further defines “telecommunications service” as “the offering of

telecommunications for a fee directly to the public, or to such classes of users as to be effectively available directly to the public, regardless of the facilities used.”

‘Telecommunications service’ is further defined to mean ‘service of any description (including electronic mail, voice mail, data services, audio tex services, video tex services, radio paging and cellular mobile telephone services) which is made available to users by means of any transmission or reception of signs, signals, writing, images and sounds or intelligence of any nature, by wire, radio, visual or other electro-magnetic mean but shall not include broadcasting services’ [33]

The Nigerian Communications Act is later in time to the above legislation. It chooses to define
‘telecommunications’ and ‘service’ separately thus;

“Telecommunications” means ‘any transmission, emission, reception of signs, ‘.writing, images, sounds or intelligence of any nature by wire, radio, visual or other electro-magnetic systems;’
“Service”, ‘except where the context otherwise requires, means application, content,
network or facilities services or any combination of these services.’
[34]

1.3       History of Consumer Protection in Nigeria

Consumer protection and product safety initiatives over the years undoubtedly include efforts of

Consumer protection and product safety initiatives over the years undoubtedly include efforts of governments, non-governmental organizations, businesses and private individuals. These efforts were to provide, protect and enforce the rights of the consumers of products and services in the society.

            While the idea of consumer protection is not new in Nigeria or in the world generally, the sense in which the concept is used today and the interest it seeks to protect have flourished in recent times in tandem with society’s technological and economical advances. For instance, such idea as keeping water, foods and drugs meant for public consumption, pure and safe is an idea as old as civilization that shows a clear sense of consumer protection. In the western world for example, King John of England as long ago as the year 1202, had proclaimed a law that prohibited bread from being contaminated with any ingredients, such as ground peas or beans [35]. In 1785, the State of Massachusetts passes a law on food adulteration, becoming the first State to do so [36].

            In Nigeria, the history of a formal consumer protection legislations dates back to the colonial era with the enactment of some ordinances [37] by the then colonial government. Those ordinances (with amendments done thereon) subsisted (despite Nigeria & s attainment of full republic i.e, State) up until 1964 and 1974 when the Pharmacy Act [38] and Food and Drugs Act [39] were respectively enacted to replace them. Consumer protection laws in Nigeria in the modern sense of its significant usage are however of recent origin. From the early l970s, a great deal of laws directly touching on various areas of consumer protection was promulgated [40]. There were significant provisions on both administrative and normative frame-works for regulating.

consumer’s interest in some of those laws. For such administrative organs there were established for instance the Standard Organization of Nigeria. And for normative frame-works, there were provisions dealing on price, quality, quantity, efficiency, reliability and fair-trading [41]. These provided the initial impetus for consumer awareness and advocacy, and also gave rise to the establishment of many solely advocacy organizations. [42]

The early 1990s and 2000, saw even more direct legislation on consumer protection [43] that practically revolutionize the concept of consumer protection in Nigeria especially the landmark promulgation of the Consumer Protection Council Act and the  Communications Act.

1.4       Origin of Telecommunications Services in Nigeria

It is pertinent here to briefly trace the development of GSM telecommunications from a global perspective, so as to achieve a comprehensive understanding of its fascinating origin. Globally the idea of a cellular network was first developed in USA 1947 [44]. Again, the first idea of a cell- based mobile radio system was conceived at the Bell laboratories in (USA), in 1972 [45]. It was only intended to be used for military purposes as a way of supplying troops with more advanced
forms of communications, Mobile cel1u1ar systems were not introduced for commercial use until the 1980s.

From 1947 till about 1979 several other different forms of broadcasting technology emerged around the globe, especially in Europe [46]. However, each country during this period developed and operated its own system, with coverage limited to operate only within the boundaries of such country. This was an undesirable situation froth with so many challenges [47], as it among other things prevented cell phone use from country to country within Europe. In a quick move to address the many disadvantages, the Conference of European Posts and Telecommunications (CEPT) in 1982, formed the Group Special Mobile (GSM) in order to develop a pan-European mobile cellular radio system [48]. With time, the group’s acronym, GSM became Global System for Mobile Communication and subsequently the name for its network service, -hence the common use of the term “GSM telecommunications service”. By early 1990s this group developed a digital system [49] that was adopted by CEPT, as opposed to the then analog cellular systems, which was still being operated in the United States [50]. In 1993 there were already 36 GSM networks in over 22 countries. At the same time, GSM also became widely used in the Middle East, South Africa and Nigeria [51]. Several other countries adopted the network as the new worldwide standard.

In Nigeria particularly, the introduction of telecommunications services dates back to nineteenth century when at about 1886 the colonial administration established the first telecommunications facility [52]. However, this was mainly geared towards discharging administrative functions during the period rather than socio-economic development of the country. Accordingly, the introduction of public telegraph services linking Lagos by submarine cable along the west coast of Africa to Ghana, Sierra-Leone, Gambia and on to England was at the time a greater priority than establishment of a robust telecommunications network. This probably was responsible for the little attention paid to its expansion, with the result that at independence in 1960, the country had only 18,724 telephone lines for an estimated population of45 million people [53].

After independence and much beyond, little or nothing was done by the indigenous
government to better the situation of telecommunications development in Nigeria. Between
1960 and 1985, the telecommunications sector consisted of the Department of Posts and

Telecommunications (P&T) -in charge of the internal network and a limited liability company, the Nigerian External Telecommunications (NET) Limited, -responsible for the external telecommunications services [54]. NET was the gateway to the outside world.

Telecommunications development during this period was characterized by serious short-. falls between planned targets and their realization, principally because of poor management, lack of accountability and transparency and low level executive capacity. The installed switching capacity at the end of 1985was about 200, 000 lines as against the planned target of about 460,000 [55]. All the exchanges were analogue. Telephone penetration remained poor, equal to telephone line to 440 inhabitants, well below the target of a telephone line to 100 inhabitants recommended by ITU for developing countries. The quality of service was largely unsatisfactory. Telephone was unreliable, congested, expensive and customer unfriendly.
            Arising from the foregoing, in January 1985, the erstwhile Posts and

Telecommunications Department was split into Postal and Telecommunications Divisions. The latter was merged with NET to form Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL), while the Postal Division was reconstituted into Nigerian Postal Service (NIPOST). From the inception of NITEL [56], there was as could be said, a modest development in the Nigerian telecommunications industry. Thus, the actual provision of GSM telecommunications services (analogue) began in 1992, arising from a joint venture between NITEL and Digital

Communications Limited (“DCL”) of Atlanta through the Mobile Telecommunications Services Limited (MTS) [57]. However, Nigeria for the same old reasons was still lagging behind even less endowed African countries, let alone advanced ones.

This led to the process of deregulation of the industry, initiated to tackle the observed shortcomings. This process began with the establishment of the Nigerian Communications Commission [58] (NCC). The subsequent adoption of the Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) in 2001, served as a viable alternative to the then (NITEL) analog system, and was at the inception widely embraced by Nigerians, being found to be relatively efficient. However, this changed with time as operators in the industry experienced an unprecedented growth in customer base which later incapacitated the networks efficient function efficiently [59].




[4] This was kick-started with the establishment of the National Space Research and Development Agency NARSD4) and the approval of the Nigeria National Space Policy in 2001. Nigeria had in the quest for technological relevance embarked on the task of procuring its own satellites, This led to the launching of the country’s first satellite dish known as the Nigeria sat-1, in 2003 and a second Communications in satellite known as the Nigeria Communication Satellite (NIGCOMSAT), in May 2007 in China. The later was lost and replaced with NIGCOMSAT R by the Chinese in 2011. Recently, there was also a remarkable stride by the Nigeria’s NARSDA where successfully launched two satellites on the 17th day of August, 2011. One, an experimental satellite known as the NIGERIASAT X- wholly designed and built by a team of Nigeria engineers and an earth observation satellite known as the NIGERIASAT-2 in Yasny Southern Russia. Nigeria’s investment in satellites development is expected to yield several benefits some of which includes; to enable Internet access to even the remotest rural villages, to enhance  economic reforms, particularly in the areas of e-learning e-commerce tele-medicine, tele-education and rural telephony etc. Retrieved online from the THISDAY and the Nations Online Newspapers of l7hhI and l9 August, 2011 respectively.


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