An advisory forum has been inaugurated by the Nigerian Communications Commission to enhance the protection of consumers. Dayo Oketola examines its relevance. Consumers of ICT products and services were supposed to have heaved a sigh of relief in respect of their rights when the regulatory body of the Industry, Nigerian Communications Commission, deepened its consumer rights protection initiatives by inaugurating a 12- man Industry Consumer Advisory Forum last week in Abuja.
Prior to the inauguration, NCC had strongly emphasised being consumer-centric as germane to telecoms operations and had, as a matter of regulatory responsibility, been innovatively informing and educating consumers on their rights through initiatives such as the Telecom Consumer Parliament, Consumer Outreach Programme, Customer Care Centre, and collaboration with consumer advocacy groups.
According to the Chief Executive Officer, NCC, Mr. Ernest Ndukwe, the covert or overt reasons behind the formation of the advisory forum is to ensure that consumers get better service from operators.
In view of the different consumers? needs, Ndukwe resolved that the commission would ensure that consumers? rights were fully protected in whatever situation whether it is in facilitating number portability, establishing call centres, providing computers and internet facilities in schools, ensuring that operators dealt promptly with consumer queries and requirements, protecting them from unfair practices by service providers, developing NCC contact centers and supporting advocacy groups.
He further said, ?ICAF initiative is very much in keeping with the focus of the NCC, which remains that as a regulator, we ensure that the interest of the consumer is at all times protected.?
According to NCC, the forum will act in advisory capacity, and make recommendations to the commission regarding the interests and concerns of the consumer of ICT products and services, the interests and concerns of physically challenged and the elderly; ensure that consumers are protected from unfair practices and facilitate the review of the Consumer Code of Practice Regulations 2007 as well as make recommendations on all issues to the commission.
The President of Consumer Right Project, Mrs. Alero Edu, who is the chairman of ICAF as well, as the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Chief Oluwarotimi Akeredolu; and the President of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria, ATCON, Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem; did not make any comment on what they perceived as the immediate challenges the group would have to deal with when contacted by our correspondent.
While the Corporate Services Executive, MTN, Mr. Wale Goodluck, did not also delve into the immediate hurdles the committee is expected to cross, he said that ?any attempt to create a forum for consultation and knowledge sharing is always a good thing and it is a step in the right direction.?
Industry watchers say that the immediate challenges ICAF will have to address in its advisory role revolve around issues like signal strength, call success, billing error, call drop, voice response time, successful recharge, successful enquiry, call centres operations, internet, quality of service, data and multimedia among others.
These issues, according to them, represent areas where consumers need much protection vis-?-vis what they are offered by telecoms operators. They say getting value in these areas will herald a new consumer- centric era.
Theft of mobile phones, according to experts, is among consumer challenges raising the need for a scheme to block such phones and make the crime unattractive. The anti-theft strategies used in some other countries include blocking of the mobile phones and rendering it useless for the thief and not just the sim card, which had been prevalent in Nigeria until recently when NCC conceived an initiative to curb the stolen phone menace.
Experts say that it is good that Nigeria is on the verge of tackling this menace through an initiative put together by the NCC and NetVisa GSMSecured Limited, in affiliation with the GSM Association and Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria. They urge that ICAF must move swiftly to help the regulatory body achieve the full aim of the programme.
A reported estimate of about one million phones have been stolen annually since the GSM revolution in Nigeria in 2001, a situation which the Chief Executive Officer, NetVisa, Mr. Emeka Uchendu, lent credence to recently.
Speaking to journalists, he said, ?The task of combating the menace of stolen phones in Nigeria is enormous and has risen to become a very frightening and national issue, mostly when a lot of lives are wasted everyday in the bid for criminals to steal mobile phones,?
The other issue that experts have raised is the quality of phones sold to consumers. Some phones are not approved by NCC and people have called for tighter control in that regard.
Experts also say ICAF must also look into the issue of number portability, a service which will allow subscribers to move from one network to the other without changing their SIM cards or altering their numbers. Many Nigerian consumers are not even aware of the availability of such service. The consumers have the right to know and enjoy the service.